Arsene Wenger has received a lot of criticism over the last 12 months, perhaps more than ever before. In that time, Arsenal have averaged 1.9 points per game in the Premier League and won the FA Cup thanks to a final victory against champions Chelsea. Given that the club are only willing to make one high-profile addition each summer while other clubs spend routinely, that return is respectable.
After every defeat, it appears that almost all the discussion among fans and the media is regarding Wenger and whether he deserves his job and the power he has at the club. That debate is exacerbated by the team’s frequent capitulations in big games, for which the Frenchman must take a degree of criticism. However, the discussion has become self-perpetuating. When players see that so much of the blame is going on their manager, it becomes a sub-conscious excuse. If those players knew that a performance like the one at Liverpool would result in themselves facing a media hounding, we can be sure that those capitulations would be a thing of the past. The problems at Arsenal therefore say as much about player power in the modern game and the lack of accountability as they do about Wenger.
One of the major criticisms of him is that he is too trusting of his players and lacks the versatility to adapt his tactics based on the opposition. And yet, when he dropped Alexandre Lacazette at Anfield or Alexis Sanchez at Stamford Bridge, both in favour of the more industrious Danny Welbeck, he received a lot of pre-match criticism. If Jose Mourinho had made a similar decision and his side put in a performance akin to the one in the 0-0 draw at Chelsea, many would proclaim it a ‘masterclass’.
Some suggest that Arsenal have the same old problems, which is debatable. Immediately after the stadium move, the club signed too many lightweight midfielders who lacked the muscle to compete in physically games. For that, the manager was partially at fault. In the last few seasons though we’ve seen Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin join the first team setup, all of whom are powerful, even if they lack in other areas.
Wenger would like to sign another Patrick Vieira, who was excellent at everything, but those types of players cost the kind of money that Stan Kroenke and the board aren’t willing to spend. With that in mind, recruitment this summer has been positive with Sead Kolasinac and Lacazette impressing early on, and performances have been in line with what the expectations should be.
Away to Stoke, Lacazette had a perfectly good goal ruled offside and Olivier Giroud missed a late sitter. At Chelsea, they created the better chances but Welbeck, Lacazette and Kolasinac could not score from good positions. The Gunners could easily have an extra five points and sit third in the table, one point off the leaders, without Wenger doing anything differently – they are 6/4 with Betway for the top four.
It is understandable that a lot of Arsenal fans want their long-serving boss to be gone. However, focusing solely on him relieves some of the pressure on the players and board, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe Wenger is no longer the genius that built the 03/04 Invincibles, but he is still doing a reasonable job amid the challenges he faces.