They say the sign of a good band is that they could put reading the ‘phone book to music and it would sell. REM didn’t quite do that with “Voice of Harold” which featured Michael Stipe singing the liner notes of a gospel album. David Ornstein gave the Twitter equivalent, by confirming that he too reads newspapers:
What more can you ask? Ornstein reads papers, confirms we’ve signed two players, as well as wanting a goalkeeper and defensive midfielder.
But in a typically Arsenal way, he was lauded by a welter of photoshop experts and ‘tweet nickers’, rather than being called out for basically saying nothing. John Cross must be scratching his chubby little cheeks wondering how it was he fell from such grace.
Away from such japery, Bacary Sagna exposed the fundamental problem at Arsenal during the past decade. Not that it came as any surprise to learn the squad was “too nice”; it’s what we’ve been saying for years. To my mind, it’s the by-product of Arsène not permitting raised voices. The peaceful atmosphere dulled the competitive edge.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Sagna said:
“The team is and was too nice.
“They never liked to argue. We were just too nice to each other, we were like friends.
“To be successful you need to be bad sometimes, to have a go at each other. It’s like any other business: if you run a company and expect more from someone you need to wake that person up.
“It wasn’t happening at Arsenal. We were enjoying giving everything for each other but if someone wasn’t doing the job 100 per cent we didn’t blame them.”
The hallmark of the Wenger era, certainly in its’ second decade, was a lack of leadership and this is the manifestation of that.
It’s Good to Talk
In fairness to Sagna, he accepts he played a part in that environment:
“I’m a winner on the pitch but I don’t speak much [off it]. I’m a bit laid-back.
“If I had to change something I’d change this. I’d speak a bit more and try to have more impact on the team by talking more. I was too, not shy, but not assertive.”
And I think that’s a key point to note. The players could have changed that culture but for several reasons they refused to, consciously or otherwise. Firstly, Arsène signed non-confrontational players. The exceptions to that quickly found themselves moved on: think Adebayor and Sanchez. As soon as problems surfaced, they were sold or exchanged, even if their instinct as footballers was to stay.
Second, it’s easier to subsume into the culture of a club than to change it from the outside. Incoming players fitted into the environment, finding it all rather agreeable. No rollickings from coaches or team-mates; more Hi-De-Hi than Hi-Ho.
There have been a number of players who we’ve seen at the club in the past decade who would have delivered more if they were challenged. Arshavin is the main one; he needed to be challenged to produce consistent performances. Sublime when he was in the mood, average when he wasn’t. Walcott as well; challenged, could he have produced more as a younger player and developed good habits?
Central defenders as well. Think Senderos in the Champions League when he appeared a world-beater and then think of the Premier League player who looked more comfortable in the Championship. That the former came when Arsène brought in Martin Keown for defence-specific coaching says a lot. Challenged on his performances and attitude, he improved.
Had that continued and spread to other players, things might have been different.
As Long as You’ve Got an Ology
It cultivated a culture where winning wasn’t important. Arsène wanted to win ‘the right way’ which created an image of someone who wasn’t motivated by silverware as much as others. It underlines the point Emmanuel Petit made recently regarding the Real Madrid job: Wenger’s reputation is of a purist and not of a winner. He’d be more suited to a club such as Villarreal than one where the title is demanded.
Sagna thinks Emery will be good for Arsenal, if something of a culture shock.
“Emery asks a lot, he’s very demanding but he can get what he wants. Some of that team are young, they want to learn and be successful. He will bring some discipline to Arsenal.”
I think this will be the change in the type of player we sign. Hungrier than before and not so easy-going. Players don’t have to be friends to be a cohesive team. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham couldn’t stand each other off the pitch but proved very effective on it for United. I’d rather that combination than great mates off it and habitually underperforming.
The former French international thinks similarly:
“They definitely need some leadership. Every single team has players with good influence. I’m not talking about quality and skills, I’m talking about behaviour and attitude. When you have winners in your team it’s really important: they’re the ones talking when you’re in trouble, waking players up. You need some players like this.”
We’ll soon see if Emery agrees.