Southampton and Stoke; grounds where we haven’t won in the last six and seven Premier League fixtures respectively. Not two places where you’d want us to go needing wins but that’s the mess Arsène and the squad has got us into.
Now they have to get us out of it. The 5 – 0 FA Cup win at St Mary’s is insignificant in this context; it has no relevance.
Two grounds where we’ve collapsed in similar fashion which haunt our current season. And we’re expected to release the handbrakes, to free ourselves from mental chains? Which sounds like the lyrics to a 1980s song – Nik Kershaw or Howard Jones? – rather than a football tactic.
Of course, if we had a Director of Football, Arsène would have someone to bounce the ideas off but no, he doesn’t want one. That stance is nothing new, he was adamant in the past and I’m not surprised that he is the stumbling block to change in that sense.
Arsène’s emphatic assertion of his authority closed the door on the discussion at that point:
“I’m not prepared to talk about that.
“I’m the manager of Arsenal Football Club and, as long as I’m manager of Arsenal Football Club, I will decide what happens on the technical front.”
Now, it may be that Ivan and others are pushing this agenda behind the scenes, leaving Wenger tired of the battles. His exasperation with the ‘catalyst for change’ is evident, despite this theory surfacing to ease the pressure on the beleaguered manager.
Much Too Fast To Take That Test
Those were the headline words and I think they offer an insight to why no announcement over his future has yet been made; he has yet to sign. The push, it seems, is stronger than we assumed and perhaps Ivan’s notion has gained traction with Junior and Dad.
The interesting stuff came later. Pushed on whether the creation of a director of football role would be the change the club needs, his strident rebuttal underlined that Wenger is not necessarily winning the power struggle at Arsenal:
“Progression or regression? Changes can go both ways.
“It is a question of teamwork inside the club. Some coaches are only interested in managing the team and they are happy with it. I am not like that, and I cannot change myself now.
Arsène is only interested in organic growth:
! I have 40 years of experience at the top, top level. I think I have a good knowledge of the game.
“You want to create a problem that I can’t see. I am who I am. That is it.”
The times they are a-changin’ but Arsène is Thatcher-esque in his stance. She wasn’t for turning, nor is this football manager.
So Arsène has lined himself up, front and centre, taking responsibility for the failures of this season. Rather than the board throwing him under the bus, he did it himself to prove he is invincible.
That he was so easily rattled on the issue underlines the debate behind the scenes. He doesn’t like being questioned and is feeling the pressure like never before. It also undermines his claim to put the club first, that he will always put Arsenal’s best interests before his own.
Just Gonna Have To Be A Different Man
The autocrat in charge of football clubs has long disappeared; Arsène is the throwback, the anachronism in that sense and it isn’t a good thing.
Wenger’s stance may work if there was accountability for his own performance; is this what he is most afraid of? This season highlighted the desperate need for fresh impetus behind the scenes and the man in charge is the least-equipped to do that. His loyalty, commendable as it is, hinders him to the point of inertia.
Disturbingly, Wenger’s resistance to change is becoming less about him but a battle for the soul of Arsenal Football Club. It is not his personal kingdom, he does not own Arsenal nor is he Arsenal.
But there are worrying signs that he thinks he is.
You’ve Left Us Up To Our Necks In It
After the victory against Manchester United, Wenger faces some selection issues. Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny are both doubts, unlikely to be fit for tonight. Francis Coquelin will bring his unique star jump defence to the south coast, with Gabriel presumably slotting in to replace Koscielny.
Other than that, not many changes are expected. I’d be tempted to suggest Ox alongside Ramsey in the middle but the defensive side of the game would go missing so maybe not.
Which leaves the line-up:
Cech; Gabriel, Mustafi, Holding; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Ramsey, Monreal; Özil, Sanchez; Welbeck
Reaching the top four is beyond the players, I believe. However, Liverpool seem intent of blowing it so I’m sure the squad won’t give up. In their minds at least; we’ve chucked in the towel so many times at St Mary’s that I’m not confident of victory tonight. Not that I don’t expect it; there’s no guarantee it will happen. Not that there ever is, of course.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.