Why Have Arsenal Made Us Feel As If We’ve Gone Backwards?
If you have no critics you'll likely have no success.
- Malcolm X
I’ve had a busy few months after being commissioned to write my book Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures.
Amazingly it is now stocked in Tesco and Waterstones and as of last night was the fourth best-selling Arsenal book on Amazon – which is humbling considering the amount of exceptional Arsenal authors out there at the moment, many of whom I’ve shared a pre-match pint with recently and who are not only superb writers but great company.
So thank you all for a very surreal start to the season.
I’ve had a book launch at Piebury Corner where I managed to eat most of the pies. I’ve had excerpts run on Sky Sports and Four Four Two, The Evening Standard and The Islington Gazette. I’ve had favourable reviews and sold a shedload – and even the dear old lady who thought I was a security guard at my last book signing at Islington, Waterstones looked on me kindly after I somehow convinced her although I have a shaved head I was actually the author of a book rather than an undercover store detective.
But one thing confuses me – the amount of people who accuse me of being an Arsene Wenger apologist.
I was on Boyd Hilton and Josh Landy’s excellent Arsenal Podcast the other day and Boyd asked me a very good question: Whether or not I was an "Arsene Knows Best".
I spluttered a little bit and replied something along the lines of "I want what is best for the club – and if Arsene Wenger needs criticising I have no qualms about doing it".
The thing is - at the moment - I think he does.
Not in the rabid, aggressive way you’ll find in the far reaches of the Twittersphere where opinion morphs into entitlement and a difference of viewpoint is tantamount to all out hostility.
But in a considered, thoughtful way the hundreds of Gooners I’ve met at my Waterstones signings have told me, their well-chosen points imbued with a passion and love of their – our – club.
I’ve heard it on good authority from ex-Arsenal players I’ve interviewed that Wenger doesn’t actually mind constructive criticism.
So here goes.
In terms of our defence. In terms of not strengthening our defensive re-enforcements in the summer. Not just in the back line but in our defensive midfielders, I think Wenger’s stubbornness in not buying the players we needed in the summer has left us dangerously short.
Yes, we now have an exquisite collection of attacking midfielders (albeit with ever-increasing injuries depleting the numbers) and an attack which if bolstered again in January could lead us to claim whatever the different permutations our offensive six on show, leads you to believe any combination could be a match for most teams on the planet let alone in England.
But why are we severely lacking in our defence and defensive midfielders?
Of course we were unlucky with Debuchy sustaining a long-term injury, and Nacho being as brittle as a bag of Doritos, and the fact Ignasi Miguel was never going to cut it at Arsenal, and perhaps Thomas Vermaelen deserved a move to Barcelona, and Calum Chambers wasn’t expected to play so many games so early on in his Arsenal career, and so on, and so on – but the reducto ad absurdum of a failure to react in lining up defensive replacements resulted in playing Hector Bellerin at Dortmund because we had no other option.
I mean really?
I know he’s a very exciting prospect and has won every sprinting trophy going in training - but did such a youngster have to play in the white heat of our opening Champions League game?
To be fair he must be some talent as I’m still not sure how he coped without Ozil providing cover further along the same flank.
I took my three kids to the Southampton League cup game and was mightily impressed with Isaac Hayden too, I just don’t think he’s ready – certainly not in a depleted defence with the hugely promising but raw Callum Chambers (and before you write in I love him as a player).
But to paraphrase the great Danny Baker you can’t kid anything with wins – or in our case defeats at Dortmund and against Southampton.
And what about the defensive midfielders?
A deep lying Arteta at his best anticipates opposition movements to such an extent he compensates for a lack of pace by having impeccable timing in covering and blocking his mans’ runs, and in winning the ball back.
And once the ball is turned over he then uses it to devastating effect allowing his creativity to shine through in moving the ball forward.
But all that appears to be in the past - because unfortunately Arteta at his best appears to be a thing of the past. And what on earth has happened to Flamini over the last six to nine months?
Something is wrong in the state of N5 if we have to rely on such untested youth players in such important games. And in relying on such pedestrian midfielders who no longer have the legs or the desire to press and harry the opposition.
It’s a real shame as water carriers are the least difficult players to source – as all you need are strong tacklers who are strong runners who are strong passers of the ball – at least over five yards to a more creative offensive player. Such attributes used to be part of the basics of playing football didn’t they?
Why don’t we ever seem to bid for a Matic, or a de Jong – why are our hopes of a league title challenge always dashed before the clocks go back due to inherent weaknesses in the squad which should have been addressed in the summer?
Who remembers our evisceration of Napoli last season? Galatasaray midfielder Blerim Dzemaili does as he was on the bench for the Neapolitans during their 2-0 defeat.
He said ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League game with the Turkish side: “We have to respect Arsenal - but not to fear them.”
Well, he and Napoli certainly feared us that night last September – our swift sharp passing, glorious interplay and movement off the ball, allied with a delightful creativity which was backed up with a defensive solidity - quickened the hearts of many a Gooner in the ground that night.
So why does it feel we’ve gone backwards not only in Europe since that night but in the league as well?
Because we don’t have the defensive base to build on – either in the defence itself, or in defensive midfield.
We are so close to becoming a major player again in England – but yet again due to the fact we haven’t strengthened positions which need strengthening we aren’t going to challenge for the league or the Champions .
Arsene: It’s as simple – or as complicated as that.
There, I said it.
Sabotage regular Layth is a journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter, @laythy29.
Layth’s next Waterstones book signing is on Saturday October 4 11am – 3pm at Waterstones Hemel Hempstead, (01442) 270680 - B4, The Riverside, HP1 1BT, Hemel Hempstead