Arsenal will be looking to turn things around and qualify for the last eight of the Champions League…
It’s easy to see why so many Arsenal fans were left both disappointed and confused by their Champions League humbling at the hands of AS Monaco on Wednesday evening. The question is now, how can their manager – Arsene Wenger – possibly respond?
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The Gunners have won eight and lost three of their eleven games since the turn of the year, but it’s unfortunately easy to focus on those that went wrong, rather than those that went right. After all, defeats to Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and AS Monaco could prove crucial to their year.
Despite the results, Arsenal are on track to secure yet another top four finish, while they are still in with a chance of retaining the FA Cup, which they won last year to end their nine-year trophy drought… but the club’s supporters desperately want more.
Is Wenger the man to deliver that? As Jose Mourinho has pointed out in the past, the Frenchman enjoys a unique level of job security, with the club’s board unwaveringly committed to him. With no pressure from above, there is less pressure to succeed.
Wenger is stubborn, and he refuses to change his ways, even after results such as that against Monaco. He still wants his teams to play how they did ten years ago – when he led the Gunners to an unbeaten Premier League season – and seems blasé about their weaknesses.
Their defence has struggled to cope with strong counter-attacking teams for many years, while their passing style can be a little one-dimensional at times. Results such as the 2-0 win at Manchester City are misleading, because they make unrealistic promises of success.
The Gunners don’t have the consistency to capitalise. Just as it looks as if they’re building up a head of steam, they get caught out, just as they were by Europe’s rank outsiders Monaco – who only scored four goals in their six group games, before smashing three at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger has a wealth of brilliant attacking talent – Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozi… the list goes on, but are they all too much of the same ilk. Arsenal have been criticised in the past for not having a plan b, and it’s hard to see how they could ever significantly change their style.
In the absence of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, Francis Coquelin has been asked to single-handedly guard the back four in the defensive midfield role, and that’s an insurmountable amount of pressure to place on such a young player.
When he came off against Monaco, with Arsenal chasing a comeback, Wenger didn’t even bother to drop anyone deep, instead leaving a huge hole between defence and midfield – something that the French giants delightedly took advantage of.
Arsenal fans are as equally split as anyone, with a large percentage eager to see Wenger depart, with many others afraid of what will happen when he does, but it feels like the debate of whether he should or shouldn’t go is merely prolonging the inevitable.
You need to take risks in football, and eventually the Gunners will have to take the plunge. They need fresh ideas, they need a new style, and they need more invention – without it, they’ll continue to tread water for many years to come.