PATRICK VIEIRA’S DEPARTURE
You could argue that it was time for Patrick Vieira to move on after stroking home the penalty that clinched Arsenal’s last trophy, the 2005 FA Cup. The big midfielder had begun to slow up. Not only have that, Arsène Wenger’s decisioned to let Vieira join Juventus was influenced by the emergence of Cesc Fabregas.
Yet in the following years, Fabregas was joined by a succession of similar-sized players, picked for their technical qualities over their stature. Alexander Hleb, Tomas Rosicky, Denilson and Andrei Arshavin had replaced Emmanuel Petit, Ray Parlour, Robert Pires and Gilberto, all of whom measured well over six feet.
It was a curious move. Having achieved unprecedented success with a certain type of player, the kind that could mix it physically before playing you off the park, Wenger changed tack. He obviously thought that the modern game, less physical than before, could be tackled by a team of ball players alone. Spain and Barcelona had shown the way forward and maybe Wenger believed the Premier League could be similarly conquered. That was wrong. You still need power and aggression to prevail in England.
FAILURE TO REPLACE DAVID DEIN
The day Arsenal’s vice-chairman was asked to clear his desk, Wenger lost his right-hand man on the transfer side. No longer could the Frenchman depend on a smooth operator to ease the huge burden of earmarking and recruiting the very best talent. Suddenly, Wenger was faced with an extra workload that any manager would find both distracting and exhausting.
For the past two years, Richard Law has been in charge of transfer matters, but the American, by all accounts, has struggled to grasp the unique way football tends to work. With so many agents to deal with, with so much money involved, it is like the Wild West out there. You have to be quick and decisive to get the job done.
No coincidence, then, that Arsenal has missed out on several transfer targets. Their Premier League rivals have been sharper on the draw.
NO DISSENT TO WENGER
This was never a problem in the first half of Wenger’s tenure when the quality of players was enough to win the day. But as the trophyless seasons started to rack up, Wenger needed someone in his circle to forcefully speak up. If your methods are not working, there may be a case for exploring alternatives, something Wenger stubbornly refuses to even consider.
My way or the highway – the Frenchman has always been that kind, rarely encouraging open debate. As a result, it is a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes at the Emirates. None of Wenger’s immediate staff dare contradict their boss.
LOSING LASSANA DIARRA
It is no secret that the Arsenal manager does not particularly like confrontation. He will steer away from a row if it means he can concentrate on the job in hand. Consequently, he tends to let unhappy but valuable players leave the club a little too easily.
A prime example was his handling of Lassana Diarra during the 2007-08 season. After joining from Chelsea, the talented little Frenchman could not get a regular game so kicked up a fuss and demanded a move. At this point, you would imagine it was worth talking to the player to reassure him of his importance and to urge a little patience. Diarra, after all, was just the kind of defensive midfielder Arsenal needed at the time. Yet Wenger gave way to keep the peace, allowing Diarra to join Portsmouth after only five months. Within the year he was playing for Real Madrid.
LACK OF PROPER COACHING
Tony Adams was right. Wenger is not a coach. Never has been. Le Professeur’s great strength has always lain in the spotting of talent, giving it freedom on the pitch and knowing who to pick from a physiological point of view.
That is fine when you are talking about Thierry Henry. Players like that are intelligent and gifted enough to learn on their feet, rather than depend on one-to-one tuition.
Not everybody is like that, though. Especially young defenders new to the first team who need to be coached as part of the back four. Unfortunately, that does not seem to happen enough. Rookies are thrown in having worked very little on defensive team play, as shown on Sunday when poor Carl Jenkinson was fed to the lions. Yet, frustratingly, a solution is waiting to be used from within. Youth team manager Steve Bould should be promoted right now.