Arsene Wenger in danger of tarnishing great Arsenal legacy
Arsene Wenger in danger of tarnishing great Arsenal legacy
But last Sunday’s defeat at Nottingham Forest, as Wenger, banned from the touchline, fretted toward the back of the stand was another low. It was a first defeat for him in the third round but it also laid bare the poverty of options Arsenal now have.
That they responded to that defeat by drawing 0-0 at Chelsea in the League Cup was typical. Inconsistency has become a familiar mode. The players, of course were largely different, but you would expect some measure of continuity of organization, discipline and attitude to run through the club. But what’s more worrying from an Arsenal point of view is that there was a time when we waited to watch his second string with a sense of anticipation.
In 2007, for instance, Arsenal blazed by Newcastle, Sheffield United and Blackburn with a team that included Justin Hoyte, Armand Traore, Denilson, Theo Walcott, Fran Merida, Henri Lansbury, Kieran Gibbs and Mark Randall, all of whom were in their teens at the time. They played fast, fluent, exciting football and they were regarded with a sense of awe. This, it seemed, was the future: Wenger was building a young army
of players brought up in his philosophy and they would dominate for years to come.
Only Walcott remains, body wearied by injury, his face oddly youthful despite his experiments with a beard, the oldest teenager in the world, and even he is likely to be gone by the end of the transfer window. These are the lost boys, the kids whose potential was never quite realized, and in whose stories is written the failure of late-period Wenger.
But worst of all is that the hope the new generation once offered isn’t there any more. That is not to say that the players are not talented. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, for instance, has slotted impressively into the first team (so long as he is played at wing-back rather than full-back, where his lack of heading ability can be exposed). But it is to say that the sense of stagnation has crept down from the top. The vivacity the young back-ups used to exude was gone. They did not lose at the
City Ground because of naivety or a lack of composure; they lost because of a basic lack of organization and drive.
That in turn raises ominous questions. Wenger has been an enormous positive both for Arsenal and for English football. He has helped revolutionize thinking on nutrition and recruitment. As well as his seven FA Cups, he has won three league titles, one of them passing through the season unbeaten, and reached two European finals. He has overseen the move to the Emirates. He stands alongside Herbert Chapman in the pantheon of great Arsenal managers.
And yet the stasis has been going on so long that, almost unthinkably, there’s a serious risk he leaves the club in a worse position than they were when he took over.
Wenger arrived in October 1996, replacing Bruce Rioch, who had quit following a dispute over transfers. The previous season they had finished fifth, 19 points off the top. The comparison is not entirely fair given how astonishingly good Manchester City have been this season, but at the moment Arsenal lie sixth, 23 points off the top. But last season, they finished fifth, 18 points off the top.
The side Rioch left included not merely David Seaman and the great back four constructed by George Graham but also Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright. Wenger quickly added Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka, and then, before the double-winning season of 1997-98, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars. But the nucleus of a good squad was there.
If Wenger left this summer (and he almost certainly will not), what would he leave behind? Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will be gone. Hector Bellerin has been persistently linked with moves away. Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere have long-term struggles with injuries.
After 22 years, half of them glorious, Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette doesn’t seem like much of a legacy.
‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay
- A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
- Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance
ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”