Category Archives: Arsene Wenger

Some thoughts on the cruel sacking of Claudio Ranieri

I wonder what was going through the warped mind of Leicester City’s chairman when he sacked the history-making Claudio Ranieri earlier today. Whatever it was, it can’t have been guilt or compassion. Likewise, I would love to have seen poor Ranieri’s reaction to what will surely go down as the most unfair and most callous Premier League sacking this generation will ever see.

He brought the Premier League crown to the King Power stadium and etched the names of his players into the history books forever. The feat was easily the most remarkable story to come out of football since the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989. It showed smaller clubs, and fans, the world over that money was indeed not everything. It proved that to break into the crop of top Premier League teams was achievable even by the written off.

Whatever your club’s colours, today is a dark day for football. One has to wonder where simple human values, like fairness and decency, and giving your fellow man a second chance lie in the modern era. For his wondrous efforts last season, Ranieri deserved the chance to re-promote Leicester in the (now highly likely) event of relegation, or if he managed to keep them up, then the funds to compete or improve for next season.

Of course, the irony is that Ranieri is now a victim of his own success. Success he brought to a club used to battling it out for promotion in the Championship and relegation in the Premier League. His dismissal, unspeakably cruel and thoroughly undeserved even if Leicester are struggling this season, exposes the uncomfortable fact that football is now run by the impatient, the disloyal and the heartless.

The only comforting part of the news was my renewed faith in and respect for the values expressed by my own team, Arsenal: a focus on the bigger picture, loyalty and having a long-term vision. These aspects to the club are frequently derided, but in times such as this it is worth thinking about the merit that they still have in football. This, if any, is the comparison that Arsenal fans ought to be making.

Arsenal’s noisy Twitter contingent, ever in the mood to make a story all about them, have been quick to use today’s news to take unwarranted jabs at Arsene Wenger, who – as I shall reiterate – I do not think is the man to take the club forward. ‘Ranieri sacked 9 months after overachieving with Leicester, Wenger still in a job after 13 years of underachievement’. This is a false distinction and an unnecessary comparison. I think this for two reasons.

Firstly, 13 years of ‘underachievement’ is blowing things a little out of proportion. Bigger clubs entered the sphere of ‘top teams’ and did so wielding huge financial resources. Arsenal struggled to adapt in this period, admittedly, but also had financial restrictions and the loss of big players of their own to deal with.

Secondly, it is precisely the lack of loyalty and shocking impatience that, in the context of things, should be the focus of today’s anger. This is not to say that Wenger hasn’t made mistakes and should necessarily remain at the helm for another ten years, but Ranieri’s sacking should serve a powerful reminder of the inherent value in fairness and gratitude. It is Leicester’s board, not Arsenal’s, that have it wrong on loyalty.

The odds on Leicester winning the league last season were 5000-1. After today, the odds on any manager staying at a club for more than eighteen months will be roughly the same.

My take on the Xhaka-Coquelin conundrum

To my relief, Arsene Wenger confirmed earlier on that Francis Coquelin will miss only a few weeks, not the few months many were predicting when he limped off against Chelsea at the weekend. Wenger told reporters in his pre-Basel press conference: “Coquelin is out for the game tomorrow – it should be a short-term injury. The scan was quite positive.” Let’s hope his layoff is even shorter than predicted.

Injury aside, it seemed a good opportunity to weigh in with my take on the ongoing Francis Coquelin-Granit Xhaka conundrum. For the next few games at least, our summer signing will take the reigns as Arsenal’s anchor man, possibly partnering Mohamed Elneny in midfield, and fans will get to see how well he holds himself in the position. I am fairly confident that Granit will thrive, but as ever, remain slightly sceptical. Here is how the Xhaka-Coquelin debate is misguided, and how it should really be framed.

I am a huge fan of both players, first and foremost. Prior to his signing, I did not know much about our new Swiss superstar, but I am exponentially glad that he was purchased. Xhaka has already displayed his sumptuous range of passing and is clearly suited to Arsenal’s style of play. Upon his arrival, he was billed as a box to box player who could do pretty much anything. I seem to remember quite a few Arsenal fans on Twitter (not that Twitter should necessarily be considered a barometer for public opinion) calling for him to be given the armband in the wake of Mikel Arteta’s departure from the club.

I resisted these calls as I felt he needed more time to acclimatise to his surroundings both in the Arsenal dressing room and in England. His English may well be good, and he did have the armband at Borussia Monchengladbach, but Arsenal will inevitably prove to be a vastly different challenge. I also have growing reservations about Xhaka’s tackling ability; a central aspect to the position he is expected to play, and one, I think, that Francis Coquelin is beginning to master. I would at this stage encourage readers at this blog to take a look at Granit Xhaka’s recent disciplinary record:

Three red cards in the Bundesliga last season and a total of 73 fouls isn’t exactly something to write home about. More interestingly, in his first league appearance for Arsenal this season, against Liverpool on the opening day, he misjudged all six of his attempted tackles, resulting in four fouls and a yellow card. It is worth noting, also, that he came off the bench and played just 24 minutes. The ‘Daily Cannon’ has a piece on the issue that some readers may be interested in:

It is clear to see, therefore, that Granit Xhaka will need to improve upon his disciplinary record and improve the timing and intelligence of his tackling. It is fantastic to see him score in two games on the bounce, but if fans crave for him to start games in the holding position, a more objective assessment of his qualities may be in order. I am not saying he will not improve and mature on the pitch, and nor am I saying that he should not be given the opportunity to start a string of games at the base of midfield (as he now shall). I merely ask that Arsenal fans consider that sometimes a player’s weaknesses can determine where and when he plays, rather than said player’s strengths.

The biggest straw man in this argument concerns Granit Xhaka’s shooting ability. Undoubtedly impressive though it may be, it is not the job of a holding midfield player (if that is his true position) to rifle home from 30 yards. A picturesque goal from any side’s holding midfielder is a gem, credit to the team and nothing to complain about, but the concern I have is that two quickfire goals away at Hull and Nottingham Forest have skewed the fan base’s perception of Granit Xhaka’s competence sitting in front of the back four.

Don’t get me wrong. His goals were fantastic; what a left foot he has. Francis Coquelin is nowhere near as assured in front of goal, or indeed from long range, but has successfully managed to suppress the rash tendencies he overtly displayed earlier on in his Arsenal career. That is why watching him hobble off against Chelsea on Saturday was so disappointing. He has provided boundless assurance for the defence in his last year and a half in the Arsenal team that to imagine it without him has become quite difficult.

He isn’t in the side to be Mesut Ozil. He isn’t in the side to attempt bending, long-range efforts. He is in the side to protect the back four; a job, dare I say, he does magnificently. If Granit Xhaka’s struggles with tackling and disciplinary continue, it will only become more difficult to make the case for him to start in the holding position. I can envisage Arsene Wenger playing Xhaka next to Coquelin for much of the season (though this could well be a hand forced by injuries to other key players, like Cazorla), but I do not suppose that Francis will find himself frozen out of the team by an albeit talented new player with a hefty price tag.

It is entirely possible, I must concede, that I am underestimating Granit Xhaka. I hope I am. I hope he proves my worries wrong and develops into the world’s best, but my ever-present scepticism tells me he will have to do a lot more than score a few goals to displace Francis Coquelin from a role he has played expertly this season.

David Cameron’s bad week matched only by Arsenal’s

Only a mob of violent leftists could make a tax-avoiding Tory look good

When angry leftists and violent, lawless thugs march angrily through the streets of London, I have a tendency (as was the case yesterday) to be more concerned about the well-being of the police officers present than about the political exploits of parading lunatics. I don’t think I’ve seen such a disproportionate and childish response to the actions (which are buried in the past) of a politician. I was particularly angered by pictures of bloodied female police officers, who in attempting to do their jobs, were cut and bruised thanks in no small part to the petulance of Left-wing hate mobs.

The Prime Minister was quick to apologise for any past connections with legal tax avoidance (something many of his critics are, I suspect, also connected to in some way), despite being pushed on the issue multiple times before admitting what he had to hide. My personal view is that those demanding Cameron resign yesterday were attempting to ride the waves of momentum instigated in Iceland just a couple of days ago.

David Cameron hasn’t done anything wrong from a legal perspective, contrary to what the malevolence of protesters may imply. His unfortunate week has been blown up out of all sensible proportion for the purpose of political point-scoring. Many Left-wing figures in the media, as well as newspapers and politicians have been quick to denounce Dave’s dealings as immoral and deceitful, and have been awfully quick to call for his head.

I’m not a fan of David Cameron for various reasons with which I will not bore readers, but I don’t think he should resign over connections to tax avoidance. His £30,000 worth of shares in an offshore fund was sold before he became Prime Minister, and the heckling he has received over his father’s behaviour has been rather petulant. As world leaders go, Cameron is actually remarkably uncorrupt, fair and responsible. Recent bumps aside, he clearly enjoys the role of Prime Minister, and likely isn’t willing to give up the post any time soon.

Arsenal’s annual capitulation comes a little late

Credit to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger for taking us along for the ride until at least April this season. Usually, early March is spring time for cracks at The Emirates, and Arsenal fans are left, bound to helplessness as they watch their team’s title chances erode away for all to see. To fans of rival teams, it must be quite hysterical by now.

Yesterday’s game at Upton Park was fantastically entertaining, but a game not won is a bad game for a title chaser. Particularly bizarre was Wenger’s decision to leave Petr Cech on the bench as he watched replacement David Ospina prove once more that he, in fact, does not have what it takes to play consistently for a top team between the sticks. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but Arsenal’s defensive display yesterday afternoon was certainly one to forget. Gabriel, too, was poor.

Though at times we looked unstoppable going forward (I can think of several attractive attacking sequences which, if fruitful, could quite easily have killed the game off in the first half), fans could sense that the team lacked any real desire or coordination that title winners would have been capable of in order to see out victory. Commentators and neutrals may have enjoyed the six-goal feast, but I, being somewhat ambitious, did not.

To compound upon this misery, Tottenham look set to finish above Arsenal for the first time in over two decades this season; a fact which Arsenal fans will do their utmost to pretend does not bother them, whilst it secretly eats away at their patience. Patience, by the way, which is gradually thinning thanks in large part to Arsene Wenger’s repeated failures.

I didn’t bother to read or listen to Wenger’s post-match comments, but no doubt over the next couple of months he’ll trot out the same, recycled nonsense about financial restraints, injuries (which to my astonishment seem to linger even with new medical staff) and lacking a component which will not be drafted in during the summer. The refreshing success of Leicester this season has, at least, been a timely reminder that many of Arsene’s managerial excuses can now be put swiftly to bed.

Arsenal are in need of a culture shift…starting at the very top

Another visit to Old Trafford, another shambolic performance.

I don’t bother with anger anymore. If a decade of resignation has taught me anything, it is that while the situation at Arsenal is helplessly rigid, emotion simply isn’t worth it. Pessimism has been a faithful ally of mine over the years; I’d recommend it to any Arsenal fan looking to embrace lost hope. Pessimism is comforting even at the worst of times.

As a fan, anger can only take you to the point at which you seriously consider support for particularly players, the board and, crucially, the manager. Though I made up my mind on Arsene Wenger five years ago, after the sale of three key players in one window without adequate replacements, I can’t bring myself to express any intense passion against him after watching Arsenal fail because I realise that the situation is a vicious cycle of arrogance, hopelessness and naivety.

Because Arsenal’s problem, that is their innate inability to recapture major silverware (no disrespect to the FA Cup, but the top tier teams do now privately consider it a consolation prize) under Wenger, is one which cannot be unpicked or solved without a major revamp of club principles, activity and attitude. And it starts from the very top of the club.

My own mind has been made up over Arsene Wenger for almost five years now, but rarely do I revisit it in person or through social media because it is an argument that I am tired of having. Division in the fan base, for the most part, is unhelpful and counter-productive. I think Arsenal need to embark upon a search for a new manager, regardless of the club’s more recent FA Cup successes.

But Arsenal won’t look for a new manager, will they? Who would dare pursue such a campaign? Who at Arsenal Football Club would dare point the finger at Wenger, lay down rigorous ultimatums and demand results? Pressure at the club’s summit is non-existent. And why? Because turnover is good, and as long as turnover is good, Gazidis and Kroenke are able, quite wrongly, to deflect quite a lot of blame.

Piers Morgan’s Twitter summary (just after full-time at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon) of Stan Kroenke was stunningly accurate when he noted that ‘Kroenke lives in LA, never goes to games and couldn’t care less so long as [Arsenal] finish in the top four’. It is a sad and damning verdict of a club with so much footballing potential.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger need a cultural wake-up call. Players (many of whom winners on the international scene) need to have imposed upon them an attitudinal shift, from the very top to the very bottom of the club. Until such a lackadaisical approach to success is ousted, failure to claim the game’s two major prizes will only linger on ever longer.

Stan Kroenke’s absence, not just from games, but from club life and fan interaction in general, is particularly emblematic of a club in desperate need of a killer mentality. One would have thought that the owner of one of the world’s largest and most successful brands would at least attempt to adopt a far more hands-on approach to overseeing club progress.

Such a void at Arsenal’s peak has caused nothing but a vast breakdown in authority. It has positioned Arsene Wenger in such a way that he is no longer accountable to anybody but himself. His role at the club has changed from manager under the guidance of David Dein (my, do Arsenal miss him), to manager and caretaker director.

The lack of an authoritative figure overlooking and pressuring Arsene Wenger has ensured that success is no longer compulsory at Arsenal; rather it is optional. Almost twelve years have passed since the Premier League trophy was held by Arsene, and I cannot help but think that Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho would not have been afforded such a long, fruitless period of time in charge of their respective clubs.

Stan Kroenke has, over recent years, repeatedly reiterated his claim that he did not become Arsenal’s major shareholder in order to win trophies. For Silent Stan, adding to his already impressive franchise is about nothing more than professional and economic vanity. He isn’t interested in validating his purchase through silverware so much as he is in the health of his bank balance.

Arsenal’s bolstered commercial standing, through hefty sponsorship deals and a shiny new stadium, has been welcome from a financial perspective, but if results on the pitch do not reflect alleged success in the boardroom, then fans are not getting their money’s worth, and the morale of the fanbase is left completely depleted. Fly Emirates is a nice little furnishing for our strip, and The Emirates may look lovely from the perspective of the BT Sport helicopter crew, but the reality is that the club’s intense commercialisation has merely papered over quite noticeable footballing cracks.

And this is what I mean by an attitudinal shift. Arsenal’s management, players and staff have come to accept second best. We have, as a club, become too comfortable with the obligatory Champions League places, that we seem too timid to really push on. With nobody to hold to account, and no sharp changes in management or ownership on the horizon, fans are left to witness the effects of a vicious, repetitive cycle; one in which there seems to be no way out.

It’s time for a major culture shock at Arsenal, and Stan Kroenke must be central to it. If LA is too warm and cosy to leave, then perhaps it is time for an Usmanov takeover. Something needs to change amongst the spine of Arsenal Football Club, and since I do not propose or support a player exodus, it is absolutely time for a fresh face to come in and take the reigns. Something revolutionary needs to happen at The Emirates.

Something. Anything.

Arsene Wenger has no excuse not to win the Premier League this season

Ian Ladyman was absolutely correct in his article in today’s Daily Mail to criticise the sub-standard quality of the current Premier League season. Much like English teams in Europe, domestic football at the highest level has, thus far, been a salad of disappointment, understatement and inconsistency.

Whilst Leicester have, without any real doubt, been the competition’s standout performers at the half-way point, their relative success has been more so a designation of the campaign’s more general absence of quality than it has a testament to Leicester’s emergence. And that isn’t to say that the Foxes’ uprising hasn’t been enjoyable (or indeed, deserved).

Throw in a December Jose Mourinho sacking, some Louis Van Gaal temper tantrums and a Jamie Vardy Premier League goalscoring record, and even the casual fan can paint a rather vivid picture of the apparent demise of the Premier League’s ‘big four’ (Who are they again?). It has been a bizarre concoction of football so far, to say the least.

Though I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out, the betting man likely wouldn’t stake anything too significant on a shock Ranieri title win, or a Watford Champions League qualification just yet. And I wouldn’t say, either, that the surprise packages of each season aren’t joyous to watch. Every season throws up a treat for the casual viewer; the difference in this campaign is that there are more than could have been predicted.

And who is making any predictions at this point? As an Arsenal fan, I’d like to be able to say: ‘It’s ours this year’ – but is it? How can a side so savagely taken apart on the south coast last week be considered title favourites? I suppose Arsenal’s positioning atop a peculiarly distorted Barclays Premier League is further evidence of the lack of consistency or desire shown by any of the league’s giants in 2015.

Chelsea have capitulated in humiliating fashion, Manchester United are less exciting to watch than the BBC’s ‘Antiques Roadshow’, and Manchester City – most ironically – cannot seem to buy a goal away from home. It’s no wonder that an injury-plagued, defensively brittle Arsenal side will enter 2016 in pole position for league crowning. No wonder at all.

So this season (of all seasons), Arsene Wenger simply has no alternative. He must, for the sake of his pride and for the sake of retaining key players, guide his team to Premier League glory for the first time in eleven and a half years. There couldn’t be a better managerial candidate for the job in a year which has proved most turbulent for many of his rival competitors.

Failure to take full advantage of such a glaring (and remarkably achievable) opportunity would render recent cup successes almost meaningless, cause further disenfranchisement amongst fans and allow those surrounding Arsenal in the hunt for trophies to re-group and re-organise.

I think Arsenal have put together a relatively convincing first five months of the season, but it won’t be enough to cement enough confidence in the fan base that a league victory is imminent, and one does worry about the bolstering of other clubs in January, or the ever-present possibility of further injury crises. It just wouldn’t be Arsenal without the obligatory calf strain or three in the new year now, would it?

The Premier League’s shockingly narrow and unconvincing materialisation will not (I should think) continue for too much longer, and Wenger had best learn not to underestimate traditionally weaker clubs going forward. For a team so consistently brandished as ‘naive’, a little composure and solidarity could propel our boys forward and help clinch the trophy that has evaded us so fervently for over a decade. The fans and a cluster of returning absentees, too, will be vital both home and away.

Against my better judgement, I think it important also shed light on Tottenham’s subtle rise to fourth place (and only four points adrift) is perhaps the most striking piece of evidence for the Premier League’s blatant openness. Surely the unthinkable will remain unthinkable for the foreseeable future?

Arsene Wenger, take note. You are more than capable of finishing the job off; you just need to prove it. In this, most uncompetitive of Barclays Premier League seasons, failure to capture that elusive (and for truly the first time years, *winnable*) trophy will blotch your legacy permanently. Another season of league disappointment will bear no excuse for you.