Archive for November 23rd, 2008

The Arsene Paradox: Patience Required

Add comment November 23rd, 2008

Ow.  Just ow.

Manchester City 3 – 0 Arsenal (Ireland 45, Robinho 55, Sturridge (pen) 89)
Highlights here; Wenger’s Reaction here

A picture speaks a thousand words.

I’ve linked to Arsene’s post match reaction, but I can tell you now that there is no point in reading it. It’s an exercise in pure rhetoric from the manager. Our latest catastrophic result is not enough to prompt him to change the habits of a life-time: he will publicly defend his players until the day he retires.

Likewise, Arsene has decided to keep the details of the Gallas situation in-house, refusing to divulge the nature of the defender’s punishment and the future destination of the armband.

This is certain to frustrate fans who want to hear a bit of honesty from the manager. They are aching to know that Arsene is not as myopic as some would suggest. They want to hear him say that he knows he made a mistake with Gallas; that this team is not good enough and urgently require reinforcement; that the fans who travelled to the City of Manchester Stadium deserved better.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Arsene knows all of those things. In dropping Gallas and removing the armband, he has acknowledged that he made a poor choice of captain. And as for the quality of the team… well, results speak for themselves. With five defeats in the league this season, we’ve now lost more games than the likes of Hull City and Everton. Publicly slating the team will not help the situation. Arsene knows that he has been a significant part of the creation of a right old mess, but he’s going to clean it up behind closed doors, far from the public eye. If he believes that’s the best way to go about it, so be it. There is plenty we can criticise Arsene for at the moment, but his stance in post-match interviews is not one of them.

As the season goes on, I am increasingly reluctant to discuss the details of games. This is primarily because we are increasingly rubbish. Perhaps foolishly, many fans (including myself) expected an immediate reaction to the catharsis of Gallas’ absence. Sadly, it was not to be.

The result yesterday was extremely poor, but what else could be expected? We were missing some incredibly important players, and were coming off the back not only of the defeat to Aston Villa, but also the mid-week controversy surrounding Gallas. Furthermore, some players had only arrived back from International duty on Friday. Add in the fact that we’re plainly just not very good at the moment, and it was hardly a recipe for success.

None of the above is an attempt to excuse the result, but more to explain it. We were poor from front to back. Whilst the injuries we had going into the game were crippling, we ought to have a squad more capable of coping. And to add insult to injury (no pun intended), the worst culprits yesterday were not players like Gavin Hoyte, or Johan Djourou, who are usually well down the pecking order, but the likes of Denilson and Song: players who are becoming worryingly regular starters.

A common criticism of Arsene is that he is becoming too indulgent of the young players: that he has too much patience with players who are failing to perform at the required level. I would suggest that, paradoxically, Arsene is not showing enough patience with these players.

So obsessed is he with his youth project that he has thrown all the youngsters in at once, without the experienced pros required to groom them into world class players. The likes of Bendtner, Diaby, Denilson, Djourou – hell, maybe even Song, might well one day go on to be good enough to play for Arsenal. But they would be better served by being slowly blooded rather than thrown right into the fire of the Premier League. Denilson started, what, less than half a dozen league games last season? And now he is expected to be good enough to play every single game. On what basis?

The youngsters we have assembled are remarkable. But by playing them all in this unsuccessful, experimental side, we will kill their careers. Yesterday I saw fans calling for all of the youngsters I mentioned in the above paragraph to be sold. Arsene’s policy is resulting in the fans losing patience with players who are years from achieving their potential. Denilson is 19 (or maybe 20, I forget): he should be a bright light in the Carling Cup, someone we are excited about seeing in the first-team in the next two or three years – not someone held accountable for what is ultimately the failure of the manager to sufficiently strengthen the squad.

All of that being said, Denilson, Song, and Diaby reached new levels of insufficiency yesterday. Song in particular was occasionally guilty of just passing the ball out of touch, for seemingly no reason. Perhaps people in the crowd were calling for the ball and it confused him. Only Song himself knows.

It’s not right to pick out individuals: we were utterly insipid all over the park. I spoke yesterday about a leader emerging from adversity, but no player managed that yesterday. Gael Clichy, one of the candidates for the captaincy, made a hash of a clearance leading to City’s first goal, and looked jittery throughout.

Experienced pros like Silvestre and Van Persie were as poor as any youngster. We lacked direction or desire, and our best performers were undoubtedly the travelling fans, who spent the last twenty minutes of the game in raucous song.

The home fans must follow suit. It’s clear that the problems in this side cannot be correct overnight, and enduring support will be required. A piece of major surgery has taken place in removing Gallas, but a full recovery will take time. We must go game-by-game, and collate as many points as we can. We need to stay afloat, and get as far as January, when the cavalry must arrive.

Christmas is usually a time for unwrapping. However, we need to be wrapping up the youngsters in cotton wool and putting them back in the box.

Mark my words, this is a crisis. And in a crisis, you need a few grown-ups around.

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