It’s an unusual criticism for a Premier League side to face. It’s difficult to label a team “nice” or “not nice,” as any group is a composite of a variety of different personalities by its very nature.
That said, there is a growing sense that the current iteration of the Arsenal side has become a little too nice. There is too much warmth yet not enough fire. There are plenty of smiles yet a distinct absence of snarls.
It’s funny really; this never used to be the case with Arsene Wenger sides. In the first 12 years of Wenger’s reign, Arsenal accrued an outrageous 72 red cards in all competitions. However, the Gunners have long since cleaned up their act. In fact, last season Arsenal finished top of the Football Association’s Fair Play League.
It’s difficult to explain this transformation in the team’s character. One factor is the absence of several individuals who did much to damage Arsenal’s disciplinary record. A glance at those 72 red cards sees certain names recur again and again. However, Patrick Vieira has long since departed his North London home; Martin Keown is now a sofa-bound pundit, not a no-nonsense centre-half. The aggressive characters who defined the early part of Wenger’s reign are now but a memory.
The likes of Vieira would do whatever it took to ensure victory. Sometimes the rule book was merely another obstacle to glory, and Vieira hurdled that obstacle like he hurdled the challenges of opposing midfielders.
Arsenal’s slogan may be “victory through harmony,” but players like Keown were prepared to embrace the possibility of obtaining victory via conflict. They viewed the pitch as a battleground where it was essential to assert dominance by any means necessary.
The current Arsenal squad lacks the same uncompromising approach. There are exceptions: Jack Wilshere has fight that belies his diminutive stature, while Mikel Arteta remains one of the Premier League’s most stoic midfielders. However, as a rule, the Gunners have lost some of their edge.
It’s interesting that Arsenal are now linked with Liverpool’s Luis Suarez by the Mirror's John Cross. Suarez is not football’s most savoury character, but he is undoubtedly a winner. His actions at the 2010 World Cup made that plain: Suarez deliberately hand-balled on the line, earning himself a red card and the ire of football fans everywhere. However, he also ensured Uruguay progressed—the Uruguayan will do anything he can to increase his chances of victory.
Whatever your opinion of Suarez as a person, you can’t deny that he’d immediately add a clinical edge to this Arsenal team.
There are those who argue, with a degree of justification, that signing Suarez would undermine some of the club’s established values. However, there is a counter-argument: Acquiring a player with such a ruthless determination to win could help realign some of the club’s priorities.
Arsenal may need to toughen up to become title-winners once again.
Nice guys finish fourth.