Ranking the 5 Players Who Have Let Arsene Wenger Down Most This Season
While Arsene Wenger has been the target of most of the Arsenal fans’ ire this season, the defeat at Crystal Palace saw a watershed moment. Finally, the supporters turned on their own players, chanting “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” at the Gunners' underperforming stars.
The debate over Wenger’s future is understandable. However, it’s also meant that thus far his players have had a relatively easy ride. Now, it seems that the tide is beginning to turn. Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira told Sky Sports he thinks the squad need to take more responsibility for the mess the Gunners find themselves in:
It is true that people are doubting his capability to manage the team… but I think you have to look at the players and in some situations the players have been letting Arsene down a lot because coaches have responsibility but players have responsibility as well.
You can work the whole week in how you want to play but when [the] players [are] on the field they are the ones who have to fight and if you don't do it then it is a problem.
So we can talk about Arsene, we can talk about other things but I think it is important for players to take responsibility and look at themselves in the mirror.
Wenger tends to be fiercely loyal to his players. Unfortunately, it seems they’re unwilling or unable to reciprocate and protect their manager to the same extent.
In this piece, we identify and rank the five players who’ve let Wenger down most this season. Read on to discover the first player who has failed to repay the manager’s faith.
5. Hector Bellerin
It was Spanish full-back Hector Bellerin who was singled out by the Arsenal fans at Selhurst Park. When he went over to collect the ball for a throw-in, the Gunners supporters first refused to give the ball back before serenading Bellerin and his team-mates with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt.”
When Bellerin went over to the fans to commiserate at full-time, he was greeted by boos and had to be consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
In truth, these incidents probably weren’t personal attacks. Bellerin merely happened to be the player closest to the fans when they chose to voice their frustrations.
However, the fans would be justified in feeling somewhat disappointed in Bellerin’s performances this season—particularly in 2017. It won’t have escaped their attention that since signing a lucrative new contract in November 2016 (h/t Sky Sports), his performances have tailed off dramatically.
While injuries have played their part in his dip in form, Bellerin looks a far cry from the player who tore up and down the right flank with ease in the first few months of the season.
Last month, Bellerin spoke to Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo (h/t Sky Sports) about his devotion to Wenger:
The loyalty to this person is worth more than money, it's something very important to me. That he's there [Arsenal] carries a lot of weight for me.
It’s about time his performances reflected that stance.
4. Granit Xhaka
When Wenger bought Granit Xhaka for Arsenal in May 2016, he made the Switzerland international one of the most expensive central midfielders of all time. However, thus far, Xhaka has failed to deliver against his £35 million price tag.
Until this summer, Wenger had only parted with that kind of money to recruit established world-class stars like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. There was, therefore, understandable expectation that Xhaka would hit the ground running and make a positive impact in the Arsenal midfield.
However, his first year in English football has been far from a smooth transition. That’s not his fault—it’s easy to sympathise with a player attempting to find his feet in a team short of form and confidence.
Nevertheless, Arsenal and Wenger are right to expect more from Xhaka. With Santi Cazorla out injured, the Gunners boss needed the former Borussia Monchengladbach man to step up and fill the void. He hasn’t.
3. Aaron Ramsey
Wenger’s faith in Aaron Ramsey knows few bounds. Whenever the Welshman is fit, he seeks to crowbar him into the team, often at the expense of balance and shape.
This season, that confidence in Ramsey’s ability has been sadly misplaced. Although the midfielder enjoyed an outstanding Euro 2016 with Wales, he has been unable to transfer that form into his club side.
In fact, Ramsey has been largely disappointing since his excellent 2013/14 campaign. Injuries have been a factor, but even when fit, he has struggled to maintain any kind of consistency.
In this season’s Premier League, Ramsey has not scored a single goal and has recorded just one assist. One of Wenger’s trusted lieutenants has effectively deserted him.
2. Mesut Ozil
Ozil appears to feel he is the target of unfair criticism for his Arsenal performances. In an interview with German outlet Bild (h/t Goal), he said:
People know what I have achieved. That I am a World Cup winner, played for Real Madrid, set up 20 goals last season [in all competitions]. When the team's on a bad run, somebody needs to be singled out, sadly most of the time it's me.
Ozil seemingly believes his performances are assessed on different criteria to those of his team-mates. However, as the club’s record signing, should he not expect a degree of scrutiny? What’s more, he is more gifted than many of his team-mates, so it’s only right to expect him to offer more on the field.
Nothing can excuse the listless performances Ozil has produced in the second half of the campaign. The fact he has also allowed his contractual negotiations to drag on has also doubtless contributed to Arsenal’s malaise.
After Ozil’s excellent 2015/16 campaign, Wenger would have been expecting big things from his chief playmaker this season. Unfortunately, Ozil has wilted as the pressure has mounted.
1. Shkodran Mustafi
Shkodran Mustafi is by some distance the most expensive defender Wenger has ever bought. Unfortunately, he does not appear to be one of the best.
An inflated market—and Arsenal’s evident need a for a centre-half contributed—to Mustafi’s enormous price-tag. However, Wenger must have thought that in signing an established Germany international he would be getting a reliable centre-half.
Instead, Mustafi has looked prone to nerves and poor decision-making. His tendency to go to ground often leaves Laurent Koscielny isolated and Arsenal’s defensive shape ragged.
At 24, Mustafi has plenty of time to improve. However, this season he has fallen well short of the level that Wenger and the Arsenal fans expect.