I’m declaring it to be (Inter)National Coaches Week on several grounds – The Emirates/Twickenham/The Stadium Of Light (Sunderland) for starters, arf arf.
For Coaches R It this week and these disparate, more or less absurdly named arenas seem urgently/particularly loaded venues for fascinating, topical and revealing (Inter)National Coach Intro/Circum Spection, surely. (I am so sure about this I’ve already posted upon the Roker and Twickers connection to the subject – indeed The Week at hand).
But these two par-blooming sporting meadows, instructive though their gathering lushnesses may be, threaten to serve only to heighten the drama darna Emirates, where desertification has manifestly struck. Wenger – he of the oft-reported urbane manner and quasi-Catalonian seedlings – is, this week, in the words of the renowned Spanish Sportsmeister Jorge BlackAdder, more weakened than a very weak thing. And this strikes me as a matter of considerable regret.
Arsene – who has borne with some dignity the inevitable xenophobic dross about picking poncy foreigners for years – may soon have tilled North London’s soil his last. For like this apparently bipolar metaphor, the downs seem now to have swallowed the ups.
Following the Gooners distracted-to-the-point-of-uncaring loss at the San Siro last night, the abuse coalesces malevolently. Indeed, plenty of it has already been let loose, understandably in the case of the 5,000 (can it really have been that many?!?) who travelled to Northern Italy to be rewarded with an unacceptably poor performance. Those fans will surely have felt betrayed (a strong word but in this footballing context a relevant one) by the uber-laxity of their side’s defending all around the pitch and the comparative lack of urgency from their players to put things right.
Both the result and the performance were a blow, for sure, but for many including my good self neither came as a real, full-on shock. Because Arsenal have been so obviously vulnerable for some considerable time; indeed their recent absence of trophies is a clear reflection of lack of durability rather than lack of talent. And Wenger the purist, the inspiring torch-bearer for twinkle over clonk, is heavily culpable in this deficiency. Ironic but true, he really could have done with a British centre-half; or full-back; or something. Something to balance and stiffen the current malleable, tippy-tappy model.
So is there an argument that those who have bayed for Wenger’s head out of Brit-nationalist leanings may have fluked their way to centrestage; because Arsene is in trouble now. But let’s not capitulate space to the fat beer-belly of prejudice, eh?
I am aware that the near incomparable Alonso of Real has expressed dismay and even disbelief that the Brits still see tackling as an essential component of the game at the top level and I have some sympathy with his view. However, simple lack of tackling ‘ability’ is not the issue at Arsenal; it is more a lazy disinclination to pressure the ball once it is lost and to genuinely track the movements of the opposition attack.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona provide a sensational example of a side prepared – and I use the word advisedly – to relentlessly but with some intelligence hunt down the ball (and thereby regain possession) at the earliest opportunity. Arsenal seem to have neither the inclination or the athletes to do this. If Song and Ramsey for example are not allowed their preferred mode for coolly dictating play, they appear one-paced and sometimes adrift from the action. They can both tackle – unlike Rosicky? – but in Milan they and the bulk of their teammates shared an alarming tendency to let the opposition play.
Even in deep positions this lack of engagement characterised the performance. Simply and as a whole the defence was unspeakably bad; bad in a cultural, absence-of-application rather than very occasionally switching off kindofaway. Even allowing for the individual paucity of Walcott – again playing like a fifteen year-old – and later the hapless Djourou, it was distressing to see the ease with which Ibrahimovic and co were able to turn and play or pick a choice pass. For Wenger, seeing this must surely have been torture; torture beyond national boundary and almost beyond belief.
But Arsene IS responsible. He has failed to address an issue that needed addressing several years ago. Generally the coach pays the price for these kinds of flaws.
On the one hand the Gooner ownership are to be heartily congratulated for gifting the British game a Wenger Concept that has entertained us and unquestionably enriched the Premier League. On the other, in the brutal terms of this No-Place-For-A-Sensitive-Boy environment and given that there appears no reasonable prospect for the learned Frenchman to so utterly reform his comparatively spineless side, he may have to go. Go or clear out the nearly brilliantly total footballers he’s stood by for so long. Sad, methinks that his flawed generosity should expose him so. But what can you do? What can you do?