Arsene Wenger has been under fire for most of the season. Is it just? There are many factors to consider.
Arsenal’s stunning comeback against Tottenham will no doubt breathe confidence into Arsenal’s chase for the top four. Tottenham could even be dragged into the fight for Champions League places with their next three games against Man United at home, followed by Everton and Chelsea away. However this season has been full of damning reports of Wenger’s reign, mainly due to the inevitable conclusion of finishing another season without a trophy.
The displays against Milan and Sunderland were very poor pilling the pressure on Wenger. One thing which was very apparent was the lack of incisive passing from midfield. Tomas Rosicky looked the only player capable of making a forward pass rather than sideways one in Milan, and much was the same story at Sunderland. Before the Tottenham game there were already people slamming his decision to select Yossi Benayoun over Oxlade-Chamberlain. This was a piece of tactical genius by the Frenchman. Since the departures of Fabregas and Nasri Arsenal have been unable to create the slick possession football in the final third of the pitch, instead opting for two flying wingers to support the ‘Reliant Robin’ up front. The wingers can be devastating against weaker opposition but do not retain possession as well as creative midfielders. This proved apparent against Tottenham who are usually so adept at keeping the ball themselves, which highlights the impressive performances of Benayoun and Rosicky. Another added factor was the hunger and desire of the players to press high up the field and win the ball back in dangerous areas and not invite a dangerous spurs side on to them. Team selection and tactical awareness for this critical game was spot on by Wenger and should go some way to showing the doubters that he still possesses the fighting spirit to take this team forward with some financial backing.
Despite the now positive feeling, there are still some issues which were glorified by the recent losses. Wenger has put his reliance and trust in certain players due to the lack of financial muscle in the transfer market. Some of these players have not been able to re-pay the faith shown in them by Wenger. The likes of Djourou, Squillaci, Chamakh, Arshavin, Park, Fabianski and Almunia are just not good enough for a club of Arsenal’s stature. The reliance on these players has been a combination of three factors. Firstly the lack of money which has been available after the recent stadium move and secondly the many unfortunate injuries Arsenal have had to deal with, often in the same position. Those two arguments go some way to defending Wenger’s faith, but he has to shoulder some of the blame for their continued selection. Surely the on loan Carlos Vela would be a more effective back up striker than Park and the recently sold Eboue a better back up right back than Jenkinson?
Wenger has rightly been criticised in the past for over defending his players for poor performances in the media, offering excuses when he should be expecting a higher level from them. This season there has been a slight change in his stance after significant defeats. Losses to United, Swansea and Milan have shown Wenger to be able of criticising his playing staff rather than excuses as in previous seasons. This is a key development and maybe has been a major cause for the continued resurgence of Arsenal after great setbacks such as the terrible start to the season, the back to back losses to Fulham and Swansea and now after the Sunderland loss in the FA Cup and capitulation in Milan. Who knows whether Arsenal would have tailed off so significantly in the league after the Carling cup final loss with this improved attitude of the team in responding to criticism from their manager.
The fierce pressure and poor results this season for Arsenal and their manager may in turn prompt a shift in Arsenal’s transfer strategy this summer. There are many reports suggesting Stan Kroenke is going to give extra funds to the cause, resulting in a large transfer budget if Arsenal achieve Champions League qualification. Van Persie is going to be offered a large wage increase in order to retain their prize asset. Wenger will be able to be truly judged in comparison to the likes of Mancini and Ferguson with finance at his disposal, and potentially prove the doubters wrong. He has undoubtedly made mistakes with his reliance on players but then again so have all managers, Eric Djemba Djemba springs to mind. People may also criticise the late deals in this window, but Arteta and before his injury Santos have been fairly impressive in their first season and Per Mertesacker can be likened to Koscielny in his first season, who is now an outstanding performer.
The Tottenham result can spur Arsenal to fourth spot, and who would bet against them after the scintillating performance at the Emirates. The comebacks of Sagna, Gibbs and in the future Wilshere may also prove a decisive factor. Maybe we won’t get to see Wenger handed the challenge of re-building the Arsenal squad in the summer if he misses out on the top four, as it is not a foregone conclusion being up against the likes of Leverpool and Chelsea. But If he is still in the helm at the beginning of next season after achieving a Champions League place for a 16th consecutive season, I am one Arsenal fan who will be happy to put my trust in the second most successful manager in the premier league era to plot our path back to once again competing for the league.