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Arsenal’s 90 Minutes in Hell and What They Can Do to Avoid A Recurrence

“If this was a boxing bout, the referee would have ended it a long while ago.” – Match commentator, Liverpool and Arsenal.

This comment came on the heels of the #MayweatherMcgregor fight in Las Vegas wherein the referee had to end the fight in the 10th round to save Mcgregor all the “Floyd punishment” he was receiving.

It was the perfect description of Liverpool’s dominance on the day at Hellfield, Anfield.

A match that was dubbed the pick of the weekend unfortunately became a one-sided affair when Liverpool controlled the proceedings from the beginning of the encounter till the blast of the final whistle. As one tweet captured it,

To equate the Liverpool player with the Algerian born French maestro was not an exaggeration on the evening going by his performance.

So, what went wrong for the Gunners – or is it the Gooners?

Make no mistake about this, Arsenal is not a bad team. A team that boasts of world class players and internationals in their own rights like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Shkodran Mustafi, Olivier Giroud, Alexandre Lacazette, etc. is not a small team. Why is a team packed with World Cup winners struggling to make an impact in the Premier League and the Champions League? The only problem I think is leadership.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.
Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal affairs since the year 1996 and did achieve a lot of great things for the club; including a 49-match unbeaten record in the league that is yet to be replicated by any other team since.

A glorious 2003/2004 season if you ask me it must be said. But after their heroics of getting to the final of the Champions League in 2006, there has been a downward spiral for the club. It was as if the exit of the last notable “invincible” Thierry Henry, started a free fall for the club.

Apart from the four FA Cups won during since then, Arsenal has never looked like worthy challengers for the Premier League crown, talk more of the Champions League where they have failed to cross the last 16 hurdle since 2009 when they were defeated by a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Manchester United.

The statistics just show that it has been the case of a diminishing returns for the club. It is also a sad fact that Arsenal for 13 years have not been able to lift the Premier League crown even though they are the only team to still have consistency in terms of being managed by the same man for over two decades.

The past few months have not been exactly great times for Arsenal fans. They know it and they’ve never hidden their displeasure, expressing it with their frequent #WengerOut on social media.

It is just obvious that the hunger has disappeared from Wenger, a one-time feisty manager who was not afraid to get into a war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson in their days of rivalry and not too long ago, with Jose Mourinho while he was still at Chelsea.

The last game against Liverpool showed a man who was not bothered about the fortune of the club because even while his team was 3-0 down, he just sat in his chair and chewed on his fingernails. This is not the case for other managers that will want to salvage something from the game and will continue to charge their players to attack and play better.

Some readers might say that I have gone for the obvious by taking cheap shots at the man but in all sincerity, the buck stops at Wenger’s table, no matter how we want to look at it.

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Arsene Wenger needs to do more if Arsenal are going to improve.

I think Wenger has lost the team and it will take a miracle to psyche them up for the coming campaign that will see them compete on four fronts. To salvage something for himself and the club, Arsene has to make some hard decisions. Making such hard decisions for the team is one problem that he has always had.Right now, these decisions have become a necessity.

First, there are too many unsettled players in the team. To keep them against their wishes is to create a sense of complacency and a nonchalant attitude in the team. Sanchez, Chamberlain – now reportedly off to Chelsea, Mustafi, Ozil, Bellerin and so many others are all unsettled.

While some want to leave the club to where they can win trophies, some want better contracts and some others are not comfortable with their current positions on the pitch. These issues have made the team look like they lack the focus and hunger to carry out their professional tasks.

It must be said that although the players are paid to do their jobs, it is the job of the manager to motivate, unite and psyche them up for the overall interest of the team. This job also extends to knowing which players fit the various tactical approaches to be employed on the field of play. Unfortunately, the body language of the Frenchman has said a whole lot of other things.

It is absolutely unnecessary for the club to try to run down the contract of a player that is no longer happy to play for the club. Alexis Sanchez in today’s market is worth over £90m. Isn’t that incentive to sell him off already?

With one year to go and the high probability that he will not sign a new contract, it will be better to sell him off NOW and get a hungrier player to replace him. It has to be a player who will be focused on the job and will want to make a name for himself.

Arsenal still has the players that can confidently replace him in the team. Maybe not adequately, but they will do a good job. It is now left for the manager to tweak the team in a way that the team will get over him. No player is indispensable.

Manchester United last year signed a 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic and albeit performing above expectations, his role was more in the dressing room than on the pitch. It was for the same reason that Jose Mourinho brought back Didier Drogba for one year to help him win the title on his return to Chelsea.

While citing names like Ozil, Sanchez and Cech, club legend, Patrick Vieira, pointed out that the team does not lack leaders. Maybe he’s right. But what he has failed to point out is that, out of these three, two of them whom the team depends upon the most are unsettled. How can they lead when they see their futures outside the team?

Arsenal needs a leader now more than ever.

Futhermore, there is another weakness that Wenger has exhibited for some time. This is the loyalty syndrome which he bears for his older players. X-raying the team against Liverpool, Bellerin played the left wing back role even though he is a right footer and has played the right back role for over two years.

It was a wonder to see Kolasinac who has impressed since coming to Arsenal on the bench. In the same vein, what was Ramsey and Welbeck doing on the pitch while Coquelin – a much more defensive minded midfielder – and Lacazette – a deadly finisher – were sat on the bench.

Even though some will want to go with the argument of Wenger wanted to play familiar foes, you do not keep your AK 47 at home and go to battle with a revolver. It is Arsene Wenger’s team and he alone bears the responsibility.

I was also shocked that Arsene Wenger who is a world class manager, played the high line against an attack that boasts of runners like Mane, Salah and Firmino who can hold their own against Usain Bolt. It also means that Wenger’s tactics are actually questionable and even at 2-0 down before Salah went on the solo run to score, there were no answers forthcoming.

Wenger has become a legend in Arsenal and the rule of diminishing returns has set in. I do not see Arsenal getting better under his tutelage and unless the Arsenal Board of Directors want to continue being self serving in their decision making, the best time to let him go is now to allow for another manager to bring hunger, drive, vibrancy and new ideas to the team. To continue with Wenger is to continue with mediocrity and complacency.

Wenger does not believe that his actions are costing the team even as the continue to go down the doldrums. The time for the board to act is now, to save the fans of the continuous misery and shame that they have been through in recent times. He does not need to be sacked, he should be asked to save face, resign and go on vacation. It is not too late to do the right thing.

 

Author

Victor Ndulewe

Rotimi "Papi" Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi is the owner of ForTheGoal. A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @rotdav to keep up with his writings and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.

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