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.
India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown
- India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
- Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high
DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.