In troubled waters

The Arsenal board has promised Arsene Wenger large sums of money to plug the evident gaps in his team, yet mere money is not the answer. By Brian Glanville.

“Wenger must go!” shout disappointed, disaffected Arsenal fans but it’s evident enough that Arsene Wenger will stay in his managerial role at Arsenal for all the recent humiliation of the Gunners. Defeat at humble Bradford City in the League Cup, defeat at home by modest Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, embarrassing defeat again at The Emirates, 3-1, by hugely superior Bayern Munich in the European Champions Cup.

How much of all this disaster was Arsenal Wenger’s fault? There seemed no excuse at all for the debacle at Bradford. Defeat by Blackburn was arguable thanks to Wenger’s decision to rest three of his key players till too late in the game.

That shrewd judge and former star Gary Lineker opined on the evening of the Blackburn disaster that a team such as Barcelona willingly fielded a full side, Lionel Messi included, a few days a before European game; though that 2-0 defeat in Milan may suggest that reaction isn’t always avoidable.

As one who watched with some dismay as Arsenal succumbed so ineptly to Bayern, however, it was hard not to feel that Wenger had made a number of potentially and actually fatal decisions. Not merely in the contentious way he deployed his troops, but in the transfer policy which had created weakness where once there was strength.

The little Spaniard Santi Cazorla had been an inspiration to the team from midfield in many previous matches but here he was, stuck out on the right wing where he was manifestly ill at ease, this at once depriving the team of the kind of pace and penetration Theo Walcott could have provided — while he looked wasted in the centre whatever his personal preference — and deprived midfield of Cazorla’s inspiration.

The decision to sell Alexandre Song to Barcelona — there was no way of a stopping the invaluable Cesc Fabregas from returning there — made scant sense, depriving the midfield as it did of an essential ball winning player; capable, too, of the occasional decisive through pass. Arteta, used in that role, is a constructive midfielder, vulnerable when it comes to defence.

As for the defence itself, for so long in the time of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and company the pride of the Gunners, the acquisition of the huge, slow turning German international centre back, Per Mertesacker, has been anything but reassuring. Even when facing the ball against Bayern he seemed consistently all too vulnerable.

In goal the 22-year-old Pole, Wojciech Szczesny has moments of distraction. Was he in part to blame for Blackburn’s devastating winning goal by blocking a shot not to safety but straight to the on-rushing Kazim Richards? Beyond all doubt Jack Wilshere, that supremely precocious talent, was as good as any Bayern player on the field, fully and magisterially recovered from the injuries which put him out of the game for 17 months. The complete classical inside forward on whom the Gunners relied for so many years, from Alex James through Jimmy Logie to Jimmy Bloomfield and George Eastham. But for all too much of the Bayern game, he was flogging a dead horse, and the only Arsenal goal came from an extraordinary lapse in the Bayern defence.

Bayern are formidable but not unbeatable. They have lapsed far behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundeliga. Chelsea waging a war of attrition and counter-attack, beat them in their own stadium in the final of last season’s Champions League. But the Gunners made them look invincible, their strength complemented by Arsenal’s failings.

Alex Ferguson supremely apart, few managers can last indefinitely and Wenger who arrived at Arsenal in 1996, unknown despite his Monaco successes to an insular English press and public, has done exceptionally well in his long stewardship. But he needs support, he needs help and where, now, is he going to get it? Not from an absentee chief shareholder in the American multi-millionaire Stan Kroenke with his myriad of sports franchise in the USA, his huge vineyard, his scant awareness of soccer. Not from Ivan Gazidis, a talented money man who has made huge profits from the club and earned a fortune himself but is no football expert.