Time for the real leader to step up: Arsene Wenger

Since the departure of Patrick Vieira, it has been clear that Arsene Wenger does not value the position of Captain particularly highly.  Wenger himself substantiated this view as recently as a couple of weeks back:

“I don’t agree anymore when people say you need a leader on the football field.  Football has evolved and it is so quick nowadays; there is less time available for one person to lead the team. You need more shared leadership on the pitch.”

However, results do not support Arsene’s philosophy.  Think back, for example, to the last trophy Arsenal won – the winning penalty kick was taken by a certain Patrick Vieira.  Think back even further, to the Unbeaten season – the final, clinching goal, was scored by a certain Patrick Vieira.  The titanic Frenchman was never replaced, either as a midfielder of a skipper, and we are now suffering the consequences.

There are examples of successful sides where the position of captain is not of paramount importance.  Take the Manchester United side who were English and European Champions last season.  The armband was bounced between Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, and Rio Ferdinand, and I don’t really regard any of those three as ‘natural leaders’.  However, United have a totemic tyrant as their figurehead in Alex Ferguson.  He, from an off-field position, is the undoubted leader of the side.

Arsene desires the same kind of role.  And for a time last season, he had it.  When Cesc scored his winning goal in the San Siro, the players ran to celebrate with Arsene: their father-figure, mentor, and commanding officer.

Wenger is not a man who takes kindly to other influential figures impinging upon his control of first-team matters.  Anyone who doubts that need only look at his failure to expand the coaching staff or replace David Dein.  Perhaps by diluting the role of captain and assembling a squad without any obvious influential leaders, he felt he could build a team in his own image: one with a selfless, group ethos.

However, he had to give the armband to someone.  And instead of the fiercely determined Gilberto, or the affable Toure, he chose Gallas.  I think that decision will come to be regarded as the worst of Arsene’s time as Arsenal manager.  Gallas has been a disgrace to the armband: his self-serving nature typified by the fact that yesterday’s outburst (from which more emerges today) was timed to coincide with the French release of his autobiography.

But Gallas’ failure is only in part his fault.  Wenger took a massive gamble on him: let’s not forget this is a player who reportedly threatened to score an own goal if made to play for Chelsea again.  Arsene had alternatives and chose Gallas – it is the manager’s responsibility.

With rumours that Gallas has quit as captain flying around, and even some suggestions that the players are voting for his replacement, I am not pacified.  This is Arsene’s mess.  HE should strip Gallas of the captaincy, HE should choose the replacement.  There might not be obvious candidates, but there are certainly superior alternatives to Gallas: Fabregas and Clichy are two that spring to mind.

If the captaincy is changing hands, I doubt we’ll know anything about it until the teams emerge on to the pitch in Manchester tomorrow.  If Gallas is first out of the tunnel, I will be very diappointed in the manager.

3 months for Walcott; Astonishing Gallas quotes; Silvestre dressed as a gorilla

Our worst fears were confirmed this morning with the news that Theo Walcott has undergone surgery on his dislocated shoulder.  His recovery is scheduled to take at least three months, with the likelihood we may not see him play again before March.

It is the same injury that Walcott had on his other shoulder in 2007, and as I intimated yesterday, is the result of an inherent weakness in his shoulder ligaments.  There’s no point in us complaining about the fact it occurred whilst on International duty: it could have happened at any time.  Hopefully surgery will strengthen the shoulder and prevent long-term problems.

In the meantime it leaves us looking increasingly light in the midfield, with Emmanuel Eboue and Aaron Ramsey the men most likely to benefit from Walcott’s absence.  However, I wonder if Theo’s absence may be the catalyst for the steady introduction of Jack Wilshere into the first team: without Walcott’s searing pace, we will require another creative outlet, and Wilshere certainly provides that.

William Gallas is at it again.  He’s got plenty wrong in his time as Arsenal captain, but I think this might take the biscuit.  I urge you to read it yourself: in the interview, Gallas cites being spoken back to by an un-named 25-year old player (*cough*VAN PERSIE*cough*), and talks up his role in breaking up a row at half-time against Spurs.

These things, whilst unacceptable, ought to remain behind closed doors.  They are private club business.  It helps no-one for them to be aired in public.  Oh, except Gallas himself.  His motivation is absolutely clear:

“I am trying to defend myself a bit without giving names. Otherwise I’m taking it all (the blame).”

How brave of you.  What a show of responsibility.

Fuck off, Gallas.

Also contained within the interview is a veiled threat to leave if we fail to win anything this season.  Well, every cloud.

Finally, Gallas’ partner in crime, Mikael Silvestre, has appeared on Arsenal.com in what can only be described as a gorilla suit:

How can a man, literally dressed as a monkey, be talking about hoping to become a coach down the line?

God.  Our club is a bit embarrassing at the moment.

Bad to worse as Walcott dislocates shoulder

It never rains, but it pours.

With the side struggling, the last thing we needed was to lose one of our more in-form players during this most pointless of International breaks.

But when things aren’t going well, the last thing one needs is inevitably the first thing that happens, and the fears of Arsene Wenger can only have been confirmed tonight by the news that Theo Walcott has discolated his shoulder.

I hear it’s not the same shoulder he had an operation on in the Summer of 2007, but at this stage it’s hard to know whether that’s a good or a bad thing.  Walcott has a ligament weakness which burdens him with a natural propensity towards this kind of injury, and we can only hope that this isn’t the kind of dislocation that will reoccur as his career progresses.

In the short-term, we’re left in the awkward position of praying for Emmanuel Eboue to return to fitness whilst we wait for news of the extent of Walcott’s injury.

Only glorious day against United apart, this really isn’t a fun month for Arsenal fans.

What does “we lacked sharpness” actually mean? Anyone?

I’m still not sure what to write.

I am determined not to write another piece suggesting we buy a central midfielder and a centre-back.  What is the point?  It’s been said a million times already, and furthermore, I don’t think Arsene often reads Gunnerblog. 

Reading the manager’s quotes, it’s clear he’s finding it difficult to explain this side’s failings:

“You have to accept that the game is played by human beings and sometimes physically they have a drop. It is very difficult for us to have a rational explanation about what happened today. I believe that the team want it but it was just like a few other times this year where it is unexplainable why we don’t really play at our 100% potential.”

I’m sorry, Arsene, but it is your job to explain this “unexplainable” phenomenon, and fix it.  The closest he gets to an explanation is as follows:

“You can make all kinds of explanations but as a team we were not sharp.”

How many times have we heard that?  Or something similar, with Arsene’s familiar take on our English syntax: “We lacked a little bit sharpness today”.  And yet, I confess I have no idea what he actually means.

Sharpness means abrupt or acute.  Sharpness means to be a semitone above the intended pitch.  Sharpness is a port in Gloucestershire.  And now, in the glossary of Wengerisms, “sharpness” can probably be defined as “the ability to be any good at football whatsoever”.

We lacked a little bit sharpness on Saturday.  A lottle bit.

We have lost our aura.  We were always perceived as vulnerable on the road, but now we’ve started losing at home too, resulting in this rather damning verdict from Steve Sidwell:

“You look at the top four and you come to Arsenal thinking you can pick up points.  That’s how it looks to me. You can get points at Arsenal. Perhaps they don’t take their chances as well as Manchester United or Chelsea – those two are more clinical. And to be honest they didn’t really have any chances. I believe you play Arsenal home and away and think you can get a result.”

When one considers it’s only four years ago that we were regarded (quite rightly) as “Invincible”, it’s been a hell of a tumble from grace.

Nevertheless, this is not an unfamiliar situation.  In many ways, this season is reminscent of our league campaign in 2005/06.  We had just lost an excellent ball-wnning midfielder (for Patrick Vieira, see Mathieu Flamini), our defence was calamitous (for the ageing Sol Campbell, see any of Gallas/Silvestre/Toure), and we lacked any obvious leader.  Furthermore, our best player and talisman was going through the motions as he considered a possible move to Barcelona.  Henry ended up staying at the end of that season.  I’m not so sure Cesc will make the same decision come the Summer.

In the 2005/06 Premiership season, we lost eleven games.  With four defeats already this season, we’re well on our way to a similarly depressing total.  And this time, I don’t expect us to have a Champions League Final as consolation.

With an International break upon us, there’s plenty of time for reflection.  This will do for now.

Why this season isn’t a ‘Rollercoaster Ride’

With our results being as unpredictable as Heurelho Gomes’ goalkeeping, some have been moved to compare our season to a Rollercoaster ride.  In some respects, I can see why: much like the current campaign, A Rollercoaster Ride has tremendous highs as well as tremendous lows.  However, it is qualitively different by one rather large factor: a Rollercoaster Ride is fun.  Our season is not ‘fun’.  Want proof?

Arsenal 0 – 2 Aston Villa (Clichy 69 (og), Agbonlahor 80); Highlights here

Much like after the game at Stoke, I need a day to think about this one.

Come back tomorrow.  In all likelihood, it won’t be pretty.