Friday, 22 July 2011

You've missed the chance for a fresh start, Arsene

Words: 648. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
Any hope I had that the dreadful end to last season would give Wenger the push he needed to change his ways has disappeared.

The conclusion of our last campaign should have been the point where the manager admitted his attempt to bring silverware to the club through a mixture of young players and a few highly technical mid-market signings had failed. The dramatic nature of the collapse in form following the morale-destroying Carling Cup Final defeat offered an opportunity to justifiably turn to some of the squad, and staff, and say: ‘Thanks for your contribution, but it hasn’t worked and we’re going in a new direction which doesn’t include you.’

I’m not talking about sacking half the squad and replacing all the coaches but a significant change in approach or personnel was required to draw a line under an era of ‘good but not good enough’. Wenger himself admitted at the start of last season that this was the time for the squad to prove itself and it failed – why suppose giving them another chance will lead to a different outcome?

Same people, same problems
A lot of talk on the Asia tour has been about what a useful ‘bonding experience’ it has provided and how it has helped players put last season behind them. Frankly, I don’t believe it. When you look around a dressing room or beside you on the pitch and see the same people playing in the same way, making the same mistakes and showing the same attitude to the game, how can you really move on? The weeping sore of failure still needs to be cauterised, however much it hurts.

Some of the deadwood has either gone or appears to be going: Clichy and Denilson have passed through the exit door and Almunia and Bendtner are supposedly following. As I’ve said before, I doubt the loss of Clichy will affect us. He may go on to improve as a defender at Man City but he was never going to get better at Arsenal and whoever replaces him will have more attacking threat, as Kieran Gibbs has already proved in Asia.

But more needs to be done than just letting four average players go. For a start, replacements need to be brought in and ones that are proven to bring something new to the club. To my eyes, Gervinho, our one significant purchase so far, looks like more of the same.

Cesc and Nasri...
Some people will be surprised that I’ve managed to get so far into this piece without mentioning Fabregas or Nasri, the two people who have dominated our summer for all the wrong reasons. I haven’t raised them because there isn’t much to say beyond the obvious – it’s probably best they both leave now.

Over the years, I, like many supporters, have reassured myself by reflecting on how many players have left Arsenal and seen their careers nosedive. But increasingly that isn’t the case. Anelka, Vieira, Cole, Henry, even Campbell, have all picked up plenty of medals after moving on and I expect Fabregas and Nasri will do the same.

The loss of Nasri won’t hurt us on the pitch as much as people think as we have other similar players to replace him, and as I wrote last month, removing Fabregas would give us the opportunity to address weaknesses in our system and style.

But of course it is the symbolism of losing one or both of them that is more significant. Arguably our best two players, and certainly our most well-known player globally, leaving the club would just be further proof of our lack of ambition, our lack of determination to fight and scrap until we win. Signings will probably be made between now and the end of August but, with a heavy heart, I can’t believe they will represent anything other than tiny adjustments by Wenger to a project that needs a fundamental rethink.

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