Looks familiar. If you’re of a certain age, Arthur Askey, Dennis Norden and Bob Monkhouse spring to mind. Arsenal supporters think of players whose time at the Emirates invariably ended in varying degrees of acrimony. Fabregas, van Persie, Henry, Nasri; add Alexis Sanchez to that list.
Three of those left the club under a cloud, the other with a certain amount of goodwill. Alexis is an interesting case which could go either way. Until now, he has kept close counsel; no stories of any substance have leaked about contract talks, or where he sees his future.
Will that change now the PR wheels are spinning to save Arsène’s reign?
Sunday’s papers, on the back of Saturday’s defeat and the severe criticism Arsène received, were briefed with stories of training ground strops, dressing room bust-ups and a manager who questioned the player’s attitude, as well as his effort. That last gem comes from the Mirror, which also re-asserts claims of Arsène’s contract waiting to be signed.
The problem is that these stories are so obviously pro-Arsenal that I find myself questioning some of the aspects. Principally, it’s the claim about effort. If Arsène doubted Alexis, the rest of the squad are in a boat which is shipping water at an alarming rate.
Don’t get me wrong, Alexis isn’t perfect – far from it – but as far as working hard on the pitch goes, I can’t find a fault big enough to warrant criticism from the manager. That’s effort alone, before you talk about lost possession or selfishness; I’m aware of his faults, and I’m guessing some of it comes down to interpreting the word “effort”.
Physically, I can’t understand criticism, but efficiently? That’s a matter of interpretation. A goal every other game undermines criticisms about efficiency, and 20 in 34 this season certainly puts critics on the back foot. If anything, putting focus on a player delivering underlines the failings of the rest.
Burning Down The House
The thing with the story is not so much down to Alexis as damning the Wenger regime. Arguments among players are commonplace and there is no law which states they have to get along. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham hated each other but formed a remarkable partnership; that’s one example.
We, as a club, seem obsessed by harmony, without accepting that friction can be a positive dimension to any team, irrespective of the field in which they work. It’s how it’s managed which is the key.
Alexis, it’s alleged, pointed fingers at various points in time, others did the same after he ‘stormed out of training’ having been told he wasn’t starting at Anfield. If true, quite right he was pulled up by team-mates. And I have no issue with him calling others out, provided he accepts he too is at fault. That’s part and parcel of football.
But underlying all of this is the reason for the story’s leak. My own view is that it is trying to deflect the negativity to the player, away from the manager. The club is well aware that the star striker leaving will reflect badly on the manager and the state of play around Arsenal at the moment.
Speaking In Tongues
Alexis is the star, the popular player. These events are revisiting old times and none of us wants to go back there. However, it seems that we are. All of the reports tell us that the club has been aware of his intention to leave for some time.
If that is true, we are told much about the malaise at Arsenal. Instead of proactively sourcing a replacement, the star player is being thrown under a bus to save Wenger. As if this is going to put Arsène in any better light.
The reality is that far from putting Alexis in a bad light, stories like this reaffirm that other players lack the drive to succeed. They’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers and are comfortable with that. Few of Arsenal’s squad warrant interest from any of Europe’s elite clubs. There aren’t enough who are hungry for success to drag others along with them.
Alexis threw down the gauntlet in terms of work ethic and they didn’t pick it up.
Road To Nowhere
If you look back at Wenger’s successful sides, they’ve all had a spirit long missing from the squads of recent years. You can’t regain that if key players leave.
In a similar vein, Ian Wright claimed Mesut Özil pulled a sickie rather than suffer the ignominy of being dropped on Saturday. Özil is a precocious talent; he’s the sort of player who is a joy to watch, the kind of player you want in your side but one who will never carry one on his shoulders.
What a state the club is in. The manager whose popularity declines with every passing day, star striker doesn’t want to be there and a board too paralysed by fear to act.
A club on the Road to Nowhere.
Seek comfort and solace in a stonking playlist. 1994, Rock ‘n’ Roll Stars is here.