Arsenal’s embarrassing collapse against Anderlecht in the Champions League has reopened the debate on the future of Arsene Wenger and re-ignited criticism of his defensive blindspot.
Already there are calls from some fans for him to be replaced at the end of the season — despite signing a new three-year contract in May — as old wounds, which had been patched up by an FA Cup victory and the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, begin to reopen.
After the careless surrender of a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3, the questions being asked of the Arsenal manager are myriad. But here we highlight some of the most pressing:
Q: Why were you so reluctant to buy a defender in the summer? And what are you going to do about it?
A: This is a question that has been asked so many times by Arsenal supporters that it deserves a more fulsome explanation than Wenger has given thus far.
When Thomas Vermaelen left for Barcelona it was obvious to everyone in football that Arsenal, already lacking pace and organisation at the back, needed several replacements. Especially as Bacary Sagna also departed for Manchester City, Carl Jenkinson was allowed to move to West Ham and Kieran Gibbs continued to be injury prone.
Yes, the arrival of Luke Chambers has been encouraging, but should a team with~ serious Champions League ambitions really have to field Nacho Monreal at centre-half in a crucial European tie?
It is obvious that Arsenal need reinforcements in January, so for Wenger to say ‘honestly, it’s not the worry tonight’ is galling.
Alarmingly, the jury is still out as to whether he will buy in the transfer window — Arsenal have been linked with a string of players but most of those rumours appear speculative. If Wenger plans to buy then maybe he would be better off telling us.
Q: How are you promoting leadership in the Arsenal team?
A: Arsenal have been crying out for a vociferous and influential captain for years, and yet Wenger seems to have a permanent blind spot when it comes to handing out armbands at the Emirates.
What he needs is a player with commitment to Arsenal, someone who understands what the club means to fans and transmits that passion on the pitch. And yet Wenger, who is often said to be the kind of manager who is wary of big characters, has shied away from that model, despite his early success with Patrick Vieira.
In more recent times, the armband has been either a thinly-veiled incentive for a star player to stay, or a reward handed out more for a steady personality and common sense rather than an ability to inspire others. Cesc Fabregas fitted into the first category, Thomas Vermaelen into the latter; and let’s not even discuss William Gallas.
Arteta was actually one of the better performers for Arsenal on Wednesday, the team collapsed only after he went off with a hamstring injury. But he isn’t the answer and he isn’t a captain; so perhaps it is time for Wenger to trust a big character who is capable of driving the team forward. Jack Wilshere and Per Mertesacker both have some of those qualities, but also offer up obvious weaknesses. Wenger night actually need to buy a captain.
Q: What is your long-term vision for Arsenal?
A: This question is key, and not just in terms of Wenger’s future role and the appointment of his eventual successor. Arsenal fans want to know where this team is going, how much is available to spend on new players, what is being done on and off the pitch to solve long-term defensive and injury issues — and how long they will have to wait for a team capable of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League titles.
Q: What are his plans for Mesut Ozil? And how can he keep Alexis Sanchez long-term?
A: Given Arsenal’s floundering defence and lack of stability in central midfield, where Aaron Ramsey is suffering a poor run of form, how on earth does Wenger plan to fit Ozil — a player who is even less interested in defending than the rest of his team-mates — into the side when he is fit again?
Given that Arsenal turned down an opportunity to bring back Cesc Fabregas because they had Ozil instead, the German’s performances this season could have a big influence on how fans assess Wenger’s leadership. Keeping Sanchez happy is key, too. He is only 25 and will soon be in demand — how can Arsenal keep him if they continue to be also-rans in Europe?
Q: Are you brave enough to make big changes to put things right?
A: It is hard to imagine Wenger has time between now and Sunday’s match at Swansea to put right all the problems in his porous defence. But in the short term, he needs to decide if the players who looked so inept on Tuesday — particularly the likes of Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Flamini and Monreal — deserve another chance or whether he needs to make a point by bringing in new blood. Theo Walcott may be close to a recall after injury, Lukas Podolski is itching for action, Chambers would be a big improvement at centre-half, Tomas Rosicky would add energy and spirit. Arsenal fans want to see change; but can Wenger deliver it?
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