Scholes Was Right: Arsenal Are Out Of The Title Race
Paul Scholes was the footballer’s footballer, eulogised by greats like Zidane, Xavi and Ronaldinho. He’d spray around laser-guided passes, make a few late tackles, maybe grab a goal, and then go home to the wife and kids. No nonsense with him.
He’s made a conscious decision to avoid the spotlight during his playing career, which made his appearance as a Sky Sports pundit last night all the more surprising. He’d only said about five sentences on TV before, but he summed up Arsenal’s issues with startling precision.
He said: “It’s almost as if they say: ‘you four, five midfielders, go out there, do what you want. Try and score a goal, a few little nice one-twos, a bit of tippy-tappy football. Don’t bother running back’”.
“I don’t know if that’s what the manager does, it just seems that way. They just seem to be midfield players with no discipline.”
He was just as scathing about our title chances: “It's Arsenal fans you feel sorry for. You get the same every year - maybe a hint of the title for a few weeks and then they go to Chelsea, City, Liverpool, they just do nothing... I know they are third or fourth in the league but they are a million miles away in my eyes. When we played Arsenal it was really tough. You play Arsenal now, you think just get stuck in and you’ve won the game.”
Ouch. It’s hard to disagree with any of that. After promising so much, it looks this league campaign will end with another scrap for fourth.Wenger’s title-winning sides played stunning football, but with players like Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Sol Campbell, they couldn’t be overpowered or outfought either.
In big games, we completely fail to adapt to the opposition’s strengths, arrogantly assuming that our technical quality is enough to get a win. Anyone can see that Liverpool press high and attack with lightning pace, yet Arsenal went to Anfield with no idea how to deal with them. The 5-1 loss there could have been even worse. Arsene Wenger said that last week’s game at Chelsea was the biggest of the season in the build-up, and we still played with astonishing naivety. To no one's surprise, we got another thrashing.
In away matches against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea this year, Arsenal have conceded seventeen (!) goals. It’s just not good enough. Even Man United under Moyes have done better, conceding eight in the corresponding fixtures.
The most frustrating thing is that Arsene has shown that he can make changes. In the 2006-07 season, with a squad ravaged by injury, he switched from 4-4-2 to a counter-attacking 4-5-1. Arsenal came within minutes of winning the Champions League with those pragmatic tactics, beating Real Madrid and Juventus along the way.
The only point I’d disagree with Scholes on is his evaluation of Jack Wilshere. Hyped by Arsenal fans as Jesus with a football when he first emerged, Scholes said: “He needs people like Vieira to take him to the next level… he doesn’t look any better now than he did at 17.”
Wilshere is clearly an immense talent, but he’s had a poor season. He has yet to secure a fixed position in the team, his decision-making is still erratic and he has a tendency to over-elaborate. He does get a lot of knocks, but watch him closely; he constantly delays the pass too long and invites those damaging challenges. Scholes’ assessment of his current level is spot-on.
I’m just not convinced his stunted development is down to the lack of a Vieira-like figure alongside him. Aaron Ramsey has grown into a superb midfielder in exactly the same environment. Cesc Fabregas became one of the world’s best midfielders at Arsenal, despite having to carry the team almost singlehandedly.
After drawing with Swansea, it looks like Arsenal fans will have to wait at least another year to win the league, Arsene Wenger would do well to take on board some of Scholes' criticism.