2 September 2017
By THADDEUS JUDE
The perennial problems that have plagued the Gunners have resurfaced again and this time, the “Professor” may not have any answers to the questions that will be coming his way.
Long running Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, in the coming weeks may continue to cover his face in shame, bite his finger in disgust, but never beat his chest in triumph because, as pundits say, the club seems configured to wobble in the current campaign.
At the start of every new season, there is optimism, and even at Arsenal, the atmosphere of negativity temporarily dissipates as fans look forward to the new season with the hope that “this will be our year”; after all, even Leicester won the league.
In recent years, Wenger has come in for increased criticism with the “Wenger Out” banners making more regular appearances on match days.
The campaign was particularly strong last season with Wenger’s contract up and the fans on his back due to some bad performances especially against the big teams in Europe where they were beaten 10 – 2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich.
There was a lot of uncertainty; however, Wenger tweaked Arsenal’s system to mirror Chelsea’s 3 – 4 – 3 formation and ended up beating both Manchester city and the champions themselves en route to winning the FA Cup. As a result, the French Manager was backed by the club and given a new two-year contract.
The new season started with the customary optimism of a new beginning; Arsenal had secured the signature of French striker, Alexander Lacazette, for a club record fee of £57 million. The season itself started with a win over defending champions, Chelsea, in the FA Community Shield, and all was well at Arsenal and perhaps this would be their year. Or, so it seemed.
While things seemed rosy at Arsenal, trouble was brewing beneath the surface – Alexis Sanchez endured a disappointing end to his nation’s Confederations cup campaign and subsequently made known his desire to leave the Emirates for greener pastures by putting in a transfer request, citing the lack of Champions League football as his reason for wanting out.
Due to certain financial difficulties encountered by the club on account of the cost of building the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal had become something of an academy for their Premier League rivals with the likes of Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie all moving to Manchester United and Manchester City and enjoying success at their new clubs.
However, Wenger seemed determined to avoid a repeat performance and stubbornly dug in his heels over the transfer of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester City. But while all the talk was about Arsenal’s talisman leaving, another player would be leaving the Gunners to bolster their Premier League rival: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain joining Liverpool.
Firstly, Arsenal looked like amateurs in the transfer market when compared with what their business rivals have done.
Manchester city has strengthened, Manchester United have done likewise, even Everton, a smaller club compared to Arsenal has done better business. Arsenal on the other hand only made the double signing of Alexander Lacazette from Lyon and Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer from Schalke O4.
The decision to bench both players is even more baffling considering that Wenger elected to play Chamberlain who is actually a right-winger at left wing back and kept his record striker on the bench against a team with a very shaky defence.
As it happened, Liverpool’s front trio of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah, and Roberto Firminho completely tore Arsenal’s defence to shreds while Kolasinac and Mustafi watched on from the bench.
Tactically, Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, outsmarted Wenger and his unwillingness to change played right into Liverpool’s hands.
Arsenal started with a 3 – 4 – 2 – 1 formation which left their makeshift wingbacks isolated against Liverpool’s wingers in one-on-one duels which they regularly lost. Playing Aaron Ramsay in midfield alongside Granit Xhaka proved to be ill advised as the Welshman often left his midfield partner isolated against Liverpool’s midfield making sure that the Gunners were overrun in that department. Wenger still refused to change the formation despite the obvious fact that it was not working and belatedly brought on Lacazette when the game was all but lost and it was just a question of how many Liverpool would end up scoring. Overall, Wenger was both unable to motivate his players for the challenge and fell short tactically, a recipe for defeat at any level of football.
Last season, Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions league, for the first time in over two decades under Arsene Wenger. The positive was that they could then emulate Manchester United; that is, conquer Europe’s second tier competition and return to the Champions league rejuvenated and ready to take on the big boys at the top instead of perennially being knocked out at the first hurdle after the group stages.
The plan seems to be falling apart, however, with the Gunners currently six points behind league leaders Manchester United after just three games and a minor dressing room mutiny beginning to rear its head.