With so many already looking to carry out the season’s post mortem, I wanted to take a quick look at some of the more common criticisms levelled at Wenger over the past couple of months, and try to see if they are fair in any way. Let’s look at a few in turn.
He should have signed squad players in January
One of the most obvious accusations, it doesn’t actually stack up when you examine it a little closer. First, as many managers have said, decent players simply aren’t available in January, Anelka being the only transfer of note, and if Wenger had wanted him, he could have got him last summer for less. At the time, the season was going spectacularly well, and when Keegan signed Asprilla so famously, in a similar position, he was panned for trying to fix what wasn’t broken. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The point is – the team were playing superbly, the reserves were impressing in the Carling Cup, and there seemed no need. Wenger doesn’t sign players ahead of kids he thinks are the future – in the long run it sets them back.
He should not have let Diarra go
This one has a little more merit. Diarra was being the proverbial pain in the backside, whinging to anyone who would listen after only a few months at the club that he deserved more playing time, while the incumbent of his position had waited years for his chance, seizing it when Gilberto had missed the start of the season. He can have been nothing but disruptive. That said, his energetic legs would have helped at the business end of the season, especially with Flamini and Cesc looking so exhausted.
Wenger believes in team spirit though, and Diarra was detracting from it. The youngster seems oblivious as to how he is wrecking his career – still intent on joining a top club, he’s already been through Chelsea and Arsenal, Ferguson won’t take him after the attitude he’s shown, and Liverpool are also stacked with central midfielders. And what top foreign club watch Portsmouth regularly?
Wenger should’ve signed a striker
Adding to the first point, some lazy journalists are using hindsight to say that Arsenal rely too much on Adebayor and that another striker should have been signed in January. Let’s put that into perspective – over Christmas Adebayor was rolling into form, Eduardo was scoring goals for fun, Van Persie was weeks away from his eventually aborted comeback, and Bendtner wasn’t even getting on the pitch very often. With Walcott another option, why would another striker be required? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but some things you just can’t see coming.
Gallas should’ve been stripped of the captaincy
Do you honestly believe that Gallas would be an effective player for Arsenal if this happened? For everyone who suggested it, consider where we would be without him in the team. We’re not exactly flush with centre backs. If Wenger wants to change the captain, he’ll do it in the summer.
So I’ve defended Wenger yet Arsenal have still come up short. Why? To me, it isn’t so much a lack of squad depth, it is a lack of match winning depth. Each of the top four have match winners, and comparing Arsenal to United, who will be crowned champions, Adebayor has won as many matches as Rooney, while Cesc has won at least as many as any United midfielder. The same goes for Chelsea and Liverpool. Only Ronaldo sticks out as incomparable – he is peerless, and the reason United are now clear at the top.
No, the problem is behind that. Our first choice wingers are Rosicky and Hleb, when everyone is fit. How many games have they won from those positions? Hleb has from the centre, sure, but not from wide, while Rosicky, when not on the treatment table, is the master of the ‘icing on the cake’ goal, rather than the crucial one. That is not a criticism of either of them, but when the top three players at any of the big four fail to perform, we have less match winners ready to step up and force that crucial moment. United showed on Sunday that Hargreaves can do it, Giggs can still do it, while even Nani comes on and makes an impact. The other side without depth in match winners is Liverpool, and that is why they are fourth.
For me, all we need is to be a threat from more angles. We have Cesc and Hleb though the middle, Van Persie and Adebayor up front. Clichy has been our best player from wide positions this season, which says something about the lack of wing play ahead of him, excellent though he has been.
If that particular problem can be addressed, another step up is possible. There aren’t that many rungs left to climb.