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What now for Wenger & Arsenal?

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Phil McNulty | 22:58 UK time, Saturday, 12 March 2011

Old Trafford

And then there was one. It was only a fortnight ago that Arsene Wenger confidently contemplated a challenge for four trophies as his most emphatic answer to charges that Arsenal had forgotten how to win silverware.

In a brief spell of desperate disappointment, Wenger has watched Arsenal's aspirations picked apart as Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham City was followed by a Champions League exit against Barcelona before this FA Cup quarter-final loss at Manchester United.

Wenger's trademark words of defiance emerged almost like a reflex action and his well-practised brave face did not survive long before he was forced to hint at how the psychological damage of seeing Arsenal's targets removed one by one may have an impact on their final salvation, the Premier League title.

Laurent Koscielny reflects as a chance goes begging fro Arsenal (photo: Reuters)

"Something has gone", Wenger admitted. And it was not simply the chance to win three major prizes. "Not in our effort or attitude but something confidence wise."

If Wenger does not rediscover that missing ingredient and Arsenal's six-year wait for a trophy extends into next season, then he must review the philosophy he holds so dear.

For all the purist beliefs that deserve so much admiration and have brought such pleasure, Wenger cannot sustain his Arsenal reign on promises of jam tomorrow while The Emirates' trophy cabinet remains bare.

Arsenal still have ample possibilities in the title race, and success would be celebrated by those who champion this great manager's cause, but the evidence has once again piled up in the last two weeks that Wenger and his players can no longer be trusted to deliver when it matters.

And this was surely the underlying concern eating away at Wenger as he cut a despondent figure in Old Trafford's media suite after United's 2-0 win, courtesy of goals in each half from Fabio da Silva and Wayne Rooney.

Arsenal may have drawn encouragement before kick-off from an unfamiliar United line-up that contained seven defenders, but once again this was familiar tale of Wenger's team enjoying huge swathes of possession and territory at Old Trafford but leaving empty-handed.

Wenger's frustration was apparent as he had to watch his team lose again (photo: AP)

As time ran out at Old Trafford, an agitated, animated Wenger stretched out his hands before him on the touchline, evoking an image of a man who has seen prizes slip through his fingers, the fear gnawing away that hard work may go unrewarded as Arsenal miss out once more.

Wenger still has his sights on the title, saying: "I believe that we can do it. It is a good test for us to regroup, stay together and respond quickly." They were words carried on the sound of hope rather than expectation.

He also claimed Arsenal's three pivotal defeats had all come in strange circumstances. Not really. The common thread running through the losses was that they either did not deserve, or did nowhere near enough, to win.

This was not a bad Arsenal performance, indeed United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was busier than opposite number Manuel Almunia - but it was a display that lacked bite, conviction, energy and inspiration.

In short, it was another example of why Arsenal fail so often to get over the line. Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection offered them an opportunity to banish the depression of the last 14 days but they were betrayed by a lack of conviction, an absence of killer instinct.

United have endured a mini-slump of their own recently. There remains, however, an iron self-belief in Ferguson's squad that does not appear to exist in Arsenal's, even though United are clearly in reduced circumstances compared to their pomp. There was a toughness about United, both mentally and physically, that is in short supply among Wenger's squad.

The Premier League title may yet provide spectacular consolation and vindication for Wenger's methods, but Arsenal have taken such a swift succession of heavy, bitter blows from Birmingham, Barcelona and United that there are fears it will prove too much.

If Arsenal are once again without a trophy, then Wenger's long-held argument that potential and promise is about to come to fruition will carry reduced weight. In among the odd madcap call for his dismissal, there remains huge support for Wenger among Arsenal's fans, illustrated vociferously by those who travelled to Old Trafford.

And it is backing he deserves because the notion that Arsenal should seek another manager is a wild one. Who could they get who is better than Wenger?

But for that support to be maintained, the time is coming when Wenger also has to accept the reality that his current approach, admirable though it is, must be altered if he and Arsenal are not to become the perennial nearly men.

Wenger may well be correct in his constant assertions that Arsenal are not far away. The brutal reality is that results in recent times suggest that they are still too far away, with vital pieces missing in the manager's formula for success.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis recently told Radio 5 live's Sportsweek: "For us winning is certainly important but it is not the end objective of everything."

This is a romantic, some might say fanciful, notion that may not be shared by, for example, Cesc Fabregas if he goes through another season without a club honour to add to the Euro 2008 and World Cup medals he claimed with Spain.

And it is unlikely to be a philosophy shared forever by Arsenal supporters who enjoyed such riches under Wenger until it came to a halt after the 2005 FA Cup Final win against Manchester United and crave those successes again.

Wenger remains an outstanding manager, the most important and powerful figure at Arsenal and one of the game's deepest thinkers. He has earned that status through his success but he cannot ignore the obvious flaws in Arsenal's make-up even if they overtake United to win the title.

It is time for Wenger to inject more experienced and battle-hardened figures alongside wonderful young talent such as Jack Wilshere, a shining light again at Old Trafford but again forced to reflect on defeat with Arsenal's disappointed fans via his Twitter account, an all too regular occurrence these days.

Wenger must shed his reluctance to spend big to add the required quality in defence and midfield in the summer - again even if Arsenal do gather themselves and claim the title.

They now have a rare free week to recover from the buffeting they have suffered. How Wenger uses it will shape the rest of this season and perhaps beyond.

Arsenal still have much to play for and can now turn the optimists' eternal default option by saying they are concentrating on the league. This, in itself, is a stark outcome from a fortnight that may yet go down as a watershed in Arsene Wenger's reign.

You can follow me at twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me on Facebook.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Arsene Wenger seems to think character is far less important than the technical skills required to play the game...and hence doesnt seem to pay too much attention to them & leaves it to the players to develop that on their own....

    But he conveniently forgets that his most successful period at the club (98-2004) had "die hard characters" as well good footballers...its easy to think that the Henrys, Pires, Bergkamps may have been the architects of that era - but its easy to forget the grit of the likes of Parlour, Keown etc -

    My point being the less technically gifted players compensated that
    with the other aspects of the game...

    And now you look at the likes of Denlison, Diaby, Rosicky are the Parlours, Edus & the Keowns of this team in terms of quality But they perform as if to merely make the numbers and take the pay check home

  • Comment number 2.

    Phil,
    IMO
    Its very simply this. MU won by rebounds! 2 goals from deflections or rebounds by arsenal gk or defense.
    Did Mu gave any rebounds or deflections to Gunners to score? If not why not?
    To give a better perspective, my suggestion is watch other sports or better still engaged in them.
    Watch NHL. A great ice hockey team will not give up rebounds for
    opponents to score. Its defensive core will PUNISHED any opponents if they are in the CREASE (penalty box in football).
    They clear the crease by hook or by crook.
    In most cases they are given a lot of leeway by referees. Does
    gunners have defense or CBs like Vidic?
    On the other hand great offensive players 'crashed the crease'.
    Does Arsenal have any upfront players like Rooney or Caroll or
    Drogba who will take the punishment ( or to a certain extent
    'protected'by 'strong' officials) meted out by the likes of Vidic or Rio?
    These are the dark arts that are practiced. No?

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought Arsenal were coming of age ?

  • Comment number 4.

    What else do I mean by 'dark arts'.

    Look at Scholes being subbed in. He is brought in for 18(10 plus 8) mins to be the CLOSER to negate any slim chance of the gunners getting back into the game.
    What do I mean by that? Was he brought into to disrupt the flow & rythmn of Arsenal? Was he a 'crap' disturber, an agent ) who IMO should have been send off for his unsavoury tackles.
    Did he accomplish his mission? IMO thats one of Fergie's dark arts.

  • Comment number 5.

    PM you are the most irritating journalist (so called)-Arsenal actually paleyed quite well but MU got the rub of the green at times-not to say they may not have deserved to win. But as has been poited out 2 goals on rebounds or deflections-we just didn't get the luck. Even if Scholes was sent off which he shuld have it wouldn't have made much difference to the game at the time. Youur articles lack perspect9ive to the game or and constantly show a bias against the Arsenal-will you praise them should they actually win the title-I wait and see-or will you simply gloat should it not happen.

  • Comment number 6.

    Below should be the corrected comment for #4.
    What else do I mean by 'dark arts'.
    Look at Scholes being subbed in. He is brought in for 18(10 plus 8) mins to be the CLOSER to negate any slim chance of the gunners getting back into the game.
    What do I mean by that? Was he brought in to disrupt the flow & rythmn of Arsenal? Was he a 'crap' disturber, an agent provacateur, a 'can't tackle' footballer (a convenient excuse by a syncophantic MU media) who IMO should have been send off for his unsavoury tackles.
    Did he accomplish his mission? IMO thats one of Fergie's dark arts.

  • Comment number 7.

    As a United fan, I actually feel sorry for Arsenal. Everyone in football must admire Wenger for trying to build a young dream team, but as Phil puts it, they just lack the steel that United and Chelsea has.
    I looked at United's team sheet yesterday and believe it or not, I knew we were going to win. It was more of a psychological game than a technical one, with the twins bringing in a dimension to the team never seen before and Rooney bossing the midfield in a Scholesque manner.
    The best part of yesterday's win? The fact that United's starting 11 had the same number of players 25 and under as Arsenal's starting 11. Once we sort the central midfield nightmare currently in the club, the future looks bright. United is not a declining team, it is a rising team. The balance that Fergie maintains between the old guard, the middle aged guard and the young guard is still unrivalled in the PL.

  • Comment number 8.

    The warning signs have been there for some time but Wegner has not addressed some fundamental issues surrouding his defence and particularly the goalkeeping question.
    Sure Arsenal have in midfield and attack some sparkling players.
    Nasri and Wilshire have been two of the brightest EPL players this term and Fabregas, on his day, oozes quality.
    Against some humdrum EPL sides Arsenal compensate with their lack of defensive quailites because of what they have in midfield (although there are one or two in that area of the pitch who aren't quite up to it) so they flatter to deceive.
    However when it comes to Le Crunch when they come against sides which can expose their flaky defence, they crumble.
    It must also be hugely frstrating as an Arsenal supporter not to see the front players pull the trigger more quickly.
    Eveyone loves to watch teams like Barca who can walk the ball into the net but sometimes you just need to put your laces through the ball!
    Arsenal can still, of course, win the EPL
    The key fixtures are from mid April where they have Liverpool away, Tottenham at The Lane and Bolton away.
    Then on May 1st it's Man Utd!
    Calls for Wegner's head would be absurd but he needs someone strong enough around him to suggest that he takes a different view and maybe needs to start investing in rebuiding the team from the back.
    A quality goalkeeper would be a good place to start.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes Mr McNulty, is this what u meant in the 'comming of age article'? Feel sorry for Arsene, great manager but now has hard time to justify his philosophies!

  • Comment number 10.

    Soon to be 6 years without silverware. Me and my Arsenal-fan mate were discussing this a year ago saying it's time to go after 5 trophyless seasons, now it's 6!! How many more...

  • Comment number 11.

    Imagine if Arsenal has a defensive corp like Liverpool. Skrtl or Carragher would punish MU forwards or anybody that comes into the box. In the same manner Vidic ( a serial offender with his elbow specials shirt tugging or arm tugging ala ju jitsu) would punish any forwards in the box whether coming into the box for crosses (Chamakh was at the end of 2 or 3 for his headers).
    Sagna had a good game & is a good crosser but unfortunately gunners like Van Pursie shy away from the punishment!

  • Comment number 12.

    Phil, this is spot on.

    this Arsenal won't stand up and win the league. and if thay don't every knife will be out for Wenger...
    ...which he will totally deserve, given the last year only 2 things have changed: his optimism & stubbornness grew.

    I don't know how many supporters and juornos & how many times have written the same all over & over again:

    -1. goalkeepers and CD-s are needed - no quality, too much injury;
    since Tony Adams there was no Arsenal CD who was admired by all teams like Vidic is now. (exchange CD and Vidic to goalie and VdS & it is the same)

    -2. get at least 2 very good DM-s - next to Song - note: Denilson is bad;
    note: all the rivals have at least 3 (Chelsea, MU, MC, Liverpool, now even Tottenham...)

    -3. get rid of the dead wood, like Eboue, Rosicky, Bendtner, Diaby, Denilson or maybe even Clichy - as many times he ruins AFC's own offside trap.
    they are maybe cheaper then Cashley, but their consistency is also below par, year by year.

    -4. if there's no Fabregas give the maestros role to Nasri instead of putting him on the wings. & the players won't be running around without any useful result - like today!

    -5. is there a chance that after I don't know how many times United will not beat Arsenal with the same tactics & WHATEVER LINE UPS got into Fergie's mind? remember? there were times when Arsenal beat MU...


    BUT THE REAL ISSUE THAT IT IS HAPPENING YEAR BY YEAR - IN MARCH OR APRIL ARSENAL GETS TO THE END IN (ALMOST) EVERY COMPETITION. ONCE A PHILOSOPHER TOLD YOU COULD NEVER STEP INTO THE SAME RIVER AGAIN.

    WENGER CAN! (so maybe he is a miracle worker but now just a nearly man...)

  • Comment number 13.

    Arsenal Supporter here. There are certain aspects of this blog that I agree with.

    We simply don't have a plan B, and there are some players for example Denilson who simply punching well above their weight in the team.

    Arsenal were the better team for long periods yesterday but were shocking in the final third. Plus Van Der Sar, who is one of the best goalkeepers in the world imo was again outstanding. Man U didn't have a strong squad out, and I don't think Arsenal had an excuse.

    Should Arsenal have won the Carling Cup, we would not be having this Blog today. The manner of the defeat against Birmingham was a huge pyschological blow. If we had won that, we would very well be able to challenge on all 4 fronts. However the bizarre nature of the defeat I think has once again has blocked the team from making that final step, and to be honest I see another empty season on the way.

    Comments of Arsenal needing a leader or spending big in the market I think are not correct, though at the same time the possibility of having a top Central Defender would not go a miss at this point of the season

    The problem we have though is simple...

    Man Utd and Chelsea do what it takes to win games, attractive or not. Arsenal do not. And while its wonderful to see the players play attractive football together, how long do you think these players will stay if they are not winning anything?

  • Comment number 14.

    You're right with most of what you say Phil, but I disagree on one key point. IF (and it's a big if) Arsenal do win the league then Wenger and his philosophy will have been vindicated. It would breathe confidence into the whole club for next season and any criticism he's now getting would fade away. I'm a Liverpool fan, and if Kenny brings the title back to Anfield in the next few seasons I will not care how many embarassing cup upsets happen in-between!

  • Comment number 15.

    It's all good and well criticizing Arsenal's approach, but do Barca and Spain not have the same approach? Two of the best sides to ever play the game so yea that's definitely the wrong approach! lol

    The simple reason Arsenal have fallen short again is they do not have the required quality in vital areas of the pitch. In goal, centre-back and a holding midfielder.

    I think this article is poor knee-jerk reaction to Arsenal's loss, this type of story has been written 100 times before and is getting really boring now!

  • Comment number 16.

    Is part of Wenger's reluctance to spend money now the fact he's had his fingers burnt buying English players? Jeffers, Pennant, Wright.....he doesn't want to spend big now on them to bolster squad when he can develop them via the Academy (including "naturalised" Europeans) for the new fair-play rules coming in.

    Also are Arsenal (and to some extend Spurs) the ultimate product of the "finishing 4th for Champions League football is success"? I mean if Arsenal couldn't get CL money finishing 4th then Wenger would have been sacked 2 seasons ago.

  • Comment number 17.

    It was an obviously disappointing defeat, especially when we had more shots on goal, more possession and played better football; and that man of the match was Van Der Sar (he will be missed for them next season). But as I and a friend commented, the main statistic is goals scored and we failed miserably, no complaints as Man u were more clinical.

    However the league is still up for grabs, and having no mid week games now, we should be more refreshed. The league is always a priority for our team, and so not really disappointed to be heading out of the cups. We lost the Carling cup to a defensive mix up, lost to Barca with ten men and lost to Man u with their goalkeeper in brilliant form.

    I for one am proud of the challenge we have produced so far in the campaign, when other big clubs have failed at the first hurdle. We do need solid reinforcements in the summer, thats obvious, and I would hope Wenger would realize this the sooner the better, as with a class keeper, center back and strong midfielder we could challenge for everything again next season.

  • Comment number 18.

    "It was only a fortnight ago that Arsene Wenger confidently contemplated a challenge for four trophies"

    And it was less than that you were telling us the Wenger boys had finally come of age. That's right up there with the best of them - off the top of my head, Capello is good for England (cue the worst display in a generation), Capello will keep his cool (cue him outside the team hotel telling your fellow hacks to do one) and (my favourite) Liverpool will win the league (cue Thursday night, Channel 5).

    Do us a favour, Phil, predict the oil barons at the Bridge and COMS to have a successful end to their seasons and a bright future at the top of European football. ;)

  • Comment number 19.

    Overall Phil, Vapid at best. Cliched and devoid of meaningful analysis.

    Arsenal's biggest problem has been fixture congestion, playing an average of 1 game every three days since the turn of the year. The second biggest problem is that injuries cost arsenal Key players for important games. In addition, the much heralded Nasri has become completely ineffective and players like Arshavin and Rosicky seem to be getting worse with each passing month.

    However, the problem last night mostly seemed to be Arsenals need to pass the ball backwards three times before passing it forward once, resulting in all 7 of United defenders getting behind the ball before any attack was made. In contrast, United scored on the break both times and usually beat Arsenal by playing counter attacking football. In that way Ferguson's selection of 7 defenders was the perfect way to nuetralize Arsenal and allow United to hit them on the break. What is really discouraging is that Arsenal know United will play counter attack against them but they fall for it every time, committing too many players forward and/or failing to mark the runners coming in from central midfield.

    I have begun to think that Wenger is a great manager but is tactically niave, there is no plan B. What I see as Arsenals biggest problem is a lack of urgency in their play, with the exception of Wilshere who, together with Van Persie, has been the outstanding player of 2011.

  • Comment number 20.

    As a life long Utd fan, who has watched some of the greatest players to put on a Red shirt, we were damned lucky yesterday, and anybody who tries to dress it up as anything else is deluding themselves. We looked dis-jointed and at times completely clueless in the midfield. We had Brown and Smalling lumping long balls to nobody or straight into touch. When we scored the first goal, it was completely against the run of play. Until that moment, I couldn't see were we were going to muster a goal from, Rooney or Hernandez magic possibly.Our best player , "Man of the Match" was our goal keeper, that tells you all you need to know.

    The positives that came out of the game were that Hernandez looks like a terrific player and Rooney is getting back to his best. The difference in the passing and movement when Gigg's and Scholes came on was there for all to see. We really need to sign at least two world class players to replace them, as the talent we currently have in the squad are still simple not in their league - Nani an occasional exception.

    Arsenal, as has been said above, just don't seem to have a belief or backbone , and they had more than enough talent on the field yesterday to have won the game. The Arsenal teams of old would not have let us off the hook like this, and would have beaten that Utd team soundly.

    I think it says a lot more about the quality of the premier league this season than anything else, that we are still top.

  • Comment number 21.

    #14 Nick:

    you are right - at least in a certain way. but the fact is it happened so many times before that the situation is a cry wolf one: noone believes that the wolf will come this time.

    Arsenal has the least matches out of the big 6 as all the other are in some other cup (FA, CL, EL or more) & they have the easiest fixture list as well.

    but to handle the pressure you need mental strenght. can you just say that this team has mental srenght? look at yesterday's game. out of the Nasri, Wilshere, Sagna trio noone believed in. some of the players (Arsavin, Denilson, Diaby) behaved like they were out of Arsenal at the end of the season.

    can these players make a change? right now you could hardly find anyone to agree with...

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi Phil,

    The article reads a little like a fanzine. It is impossible to understand football without assessing the impact of money. Any fool can build a worldclass team if they choose to go into $442M of debt and miss playroll, Barca. Manchester United, are in even worse shape, and very few think that rebuilding the side to it's former glory is going to come in under a $150. Chelsea lost $112 and then spent $112 on 2 players. Manchester City, well, do I really need to expand on this?

    The impossible circle to square for Wenger is not his footballing philosophy, it is the fact that he see's the need to run the club on a profitable basis. I am truely shocked that you do not address this in your article. He could spend $50m a year on players, and build a team, probably better than Barcelona in five years, still be better off than the Catalan's, but the shareholders would not thank him.

    Best regards


    John

  • Comment number 23.

    I support United and hail from the G. Neville School of How to Love and Respect Other Big Clubs.
    However, if United don't win the league I hope that Arsenal do.

  • Comment number 24.

    @16
    I think its a tad harsh to accuse spurs of only looking to finish forth for success.We want to win the league but we are lacking in certain areas of the oitch to do so (strikers most obviously) and the only way to attract players capable of stepping up a level is to stay in the CL.
    Also finances dictate we cannot pay the sort of cash the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea pay on wages hence the need for the new stadium.
    If in two or three years time we still have the core of this team but still look on fourth as a success it would be a valid point.
    As for Arsenal I cant see them ever being truley succesful until Arsene Wenger changes his style when the game needs it, sometimes a percentage ball to the frontman is a perfect tactic and one I feel Barcelona would have found it difficult to deal with.

  • Comment number 25.

    Arsenal win "wengers team demonstrate all the excellent qualities of a wonderful team"
    Arsenal lose "wengers team fall short and are rubbish"

    Every week we go through this. Every week. Even when we have solved the gk issue with szszszszchney and the cb issue with djourou, not to mention no vermaelan all season, we still need to address it?

    If enough people keep writing this sort of lazy claptrap enough times then eventually Wenger is going to go, and won't life be better for arsenal fans with Alan Curbishly or Sam allardyce in charge?

  • Comment number 26.

    15. At 08:37am on 13 Mar 2011, diza200 wrote:

    It's all good and well criticizing Arsenal's approach, but do Barca and Spain not have the same approach? Two of the best sides to ever play the game so yea that's definitely the wrong approach! lol

    The simple reason Arsenal have fallen short again is they do not have the required quality in vital areas of the pitch. In goal, centre-back and a holding midfielder.

    I think this article is poor knee-jerk reaction to Arsenal's loss, this type of story has been written 100 times before and is getting really boring now!
    ..............................
    yes but remember how Barcelona addressed the same problem?

    THEY BOUGHT PLAYERS!!!!!

    even now, when it was absolutely no necessary they bought Mascherano (a world class player!!!) to the bench. to turn up in a few games and take of who??? yes Fabregas!

    can you compare it to Arsenal who cannot buy a world class player into the starting eleven??????????????????????

  • Comment number 27.

    I'm a United supporter but have always admired Wenger's Arsenal.

    Back in the era of Vieira et al they were certainly a skilful team but also extremely hard to beat. These days, apart from the obvious CB and 'keeper issue they need more steel, especially in midfield. They are not 'baby boys' anymore and that excuse has worn thin.

    Saying that, United have a different midfield problem - a clear lack of creativity, which is maybe the key reason why they are not a dozen points clear by now.

    Aside from his dodgy tackles, the quality of the ageing Paul Scholes's passing when he came on late, emphasised what United generally lack. Although, admittedly, the game had clearly opened up by then, with Arsenal leaving huge gaps.

    As an aside, I firmly believe that had Owen Hargreaves been fit, like, ever, we'd posses a midfield that would allow Michael Carrick to play the accurate passes that we know he can. But currently he's thrown in there with any from Fletcher, Gibson, O'Shea (!) and Anderson, who (apart from the latter, potentially) are just not top drawer.

    Back to Arsenal, though. They are clearly getting closer. Since 2005, we've all been expecting a Gunners Premiership collapse by February...

  • Comment number 28.

    Arsenal fan here, not going to harp on about your anti-Arsenal bias as this is a blog and your entitled to your preferences. That said, I must point out that you show remarkably poor character in hedging your statements by saying if Arsenal were to win the premier league they're still useless. Since you clearly feel Arsenal "cannot deliver when required" then you should man-up and say they will not win the league so that come the end of the season you may be held accountable for your punditry as managers are for their results. (But then i guess once bitten twice shy, liverpool to win last season LOL Benitez got the sack for holding a similar position).
    Also it stinks of hypocrisy, since your always on about how winning trophies is everything then were Arsenal to win would it not make them just plain awesome and beyond impeachment?

  • Comment number 29.

    I believe Arsenal had a better game yesterday than the first time around this season - they attacked and they created good scoring opportunities. For long periods of the game, they had the midfield - which was expected with the makeshift of the United midfield - and had it not been for van der Sar, they should have scored at least one goal. Who knows how the game would have developed. Both teams had big players missing. Arsenal were missing Fabregas in organising their game and Walcott in creating danger in the opposition boxt - not to mention Vermaelen. United were missing Ferdinand and Nani. When I saw the United team selection, I got worried.

    Out of the 3 competitions that Arsenal lost, the one that hurt their spirit is the Carling Cup final. It was expected to see them out of the Champions League against Barcelona and, before yesterday's match, to go out at Old Trafford. What hurt yesterday was that they went out in a match with an unrecognisable United midfield. Time will show how their results in the last fortnight will affect their title aspirations. There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge. But their team is coming of age. If they win their match in hand they're level on points with United. Mid March, they were gone last season.

    I have to feel sorry for the way they lost Djourou for the forthcoming matches at least. Missing Vermaelen was bad enough. With regard to their defense, I think Gibbs played better than Clichy, as Clichy is too slow and can easily be overrun be fast attackers.

    Besides scoring in the first half, it was worrying from the United fan's perspective watching United. Thankfully, Rafael and Fabio were proven to be a masterstroke move, in terms of damage limitation on the ansense of the normal United midfielders, who need freshening even when in full display. The introduction of Valencia in the second half brought balance to United and show what the team were missing for six months now. With Valencia and Nani up front, United fans can dream. With both injured, the attack look half goood to say the least.

    I don't know if you can win titles with developing teams, without having to buy quality, paying the asked price. I do know though that with both Arsenal and United squads injury free, visits to the Emirates don't "scare me" as a United fan. Arsenal need to address their requirements in defense and attack, but this is not my business as a United fan. Still, though, to call for Wenger's head is way off the mark.

    Arsenal were hurt yesterday. Being given the opportunity to play against United at Old Trafford withouth their normal midfield, they lost the game and the better central defender too. Still, though, they have the luxury of time to heal their wounds. They have a full week to recover. It's a wait and see where loss of spirit is concerned.

  • Comment number 30.


    At 22:58 on 12 Mar 2011, Phil McNulty wrote:

    "Who could they get who is better than Wenger?"


    Probably these are better (if they COULD get them is another matter)

    Van Marwick
    Del Bosque
    Magath
    Guardiola
    Mourinho
    Hitzfeld
    Van Gaal
    Lucescu
    Advocaat
    Tabarez
    Low
    Hiddink

    who have a proven recent record at a high level usually with more moderate resources. And also have not afforded to 'stagnate' tactically, rooted securely in their jobs by fans & media even when they do not deliver such as the dinosaurs messieurs Wenger and Ferguson.

    There are more for sure.




  • Comment number 31.

    The crazy thing about Wenger is that he could quite easily have won the league title at least twice in the last six years (and probably another couple of trophies) had he been prepared to compromise his principles even a little bit.

    The lack of "spine" in this Arsenal side has been obvious to even the casual observer for years. He has has ample funds available to him to rectify this failing, yet he refuses to do so. The stubborn (some would say arrogant) belief that he knows best and his kids are almost there year after year are beginning to cost the club, and the more he fails the more he seems determined to do it his way. This approach will eventually sully the reputation of a quite magnificent manager, albeit one who is too principled. Compare his approach to Ferguson, who isn't nearly as talented a coach, but is far more pragmatic and aware of what it takes to win and possesses the will to do it.

    Arsenal need two solid, strong central defenders to complement Vermaelen and Koscielny. Two powerful central midfielders in the Vieira/Essien class. A genuinely world class striker to compete with Van Persie, and cover him when the inevitable injuries kick in.

    The era of bargain basement signings and persisting with obviously limited talents like Rosicky, Bendtner, Diaby, Denilson and Squillaci needs to stop if Arsenal are to begin winning the trophies that they should be.

  • Comment number 32.

    People are saying VDS was on fine form (and he was) but didn't Almunia (special) also pull of some fantastic saves?

  • Comment number 33.

    Arsenal require a mixture silk and steel to win trophies, look at Manchester United, they illustrate their devastating football on rapid counter-attacks and incisive and hastily-engineered attacks, Arsenal's intensity is too slow and lacking, they dictate the passages of play but there's never an urgency in their play.

    They were made to look deeply ordinary and average against the wonderful Barcelona, it demonstrates that Arsenal's technical quality does not hold the same weight of class in Europe because there, the players are naturally adhering to the tika-tika football.

    The transfer of Fabregas looks imminent, but Arsenal have a more established and versatile player in Jack Wilshire who will grow in maturity and quality, his range of skills and creativity was on show yesterday and it's the type of player Arsenal need: a player who can dazzle but knows how to tackle as well.

    Arsenal's defence is frail and fragile, they lack a consistently-good goalkeeper, and their forwards are simply devoid of quality and cannot supply consistency. Van Persie is too injury-prone to be considered a world-class forward, Chamakh....good lord what a total waste of money, Arshavin offered glimmers once, and that was against Liverpool in that absorbing 4-4 contest.

    Arsenal simply need to reshape their team, not their philosophy, but adding tenacious and brutal players in the midfield is necessary to win trophies in England, and then in Europe. Look at Barcelona, they have a team of deep-rooted class and imperiousness, but they crucially use Busquets and Mascherano as the balance in their team, Arsenal need that or they can kiss the Premier League a sweet goodbye for twenty years.

  • Comment number 34.

    Why is there so much emphasis on winning silverware? Arsenal reached the Carling Cup Final which is more than Manchester United or Chelsea achieved. Arsenal reached the last 16 of the Champions League which is more than Liverpool achieved. Arsenal reached the last 8 of the FA Cup which is more than Chelsea, Liverpool or Tottenham achieved. And Arsenal is still fighting it out in the Premiership, with a great chance to win, which is more than at least 16 other Premiership teams have achieved. I think you underestimate the number of people who know that Wenger is one of the best managers in football. Who would do better? Your article is pointless, it doesn't achieve anything constructive. Even if they went out and spent millions of dollars on the best players and support staff, it still wouldn't guarantee them silverware. Arsenal have won silverware in the past, they will win silverware in the future. And, in the meantime, we'll enjoy seeing them being major contenders in all four competitions.

  • Comment number 35.

    They just don't shoot. It's almost bizarre to watch. Superb ball handling and movement but ........they won't shoot.

  • Comment number 36.

    Funnily enough, me and a proper (i.e. from Barcelona) Barcelona fan sat up until the early hours last night discussing these very issues. We agreed on the following: Fabregas is neither old nor assertive enough to be a captain; teams without a spine of born-and-bred(ish) club loyalists are teams without...well...a spine.

    Fabregas is a wonderful player. But he is not a captain. In English football the best captains are men for whom the club is everything, who will put themselves on the line, block Hitzlsperger-type-shots with their faces if need-be and, crucially, be a constant source of encouragement to young players whilst having no qualms about going through an under-performing team-mate for a short cut. Fabregas is not a captain.

    The most successful teams during Arsenal's dry spell, Chelsea and Man Utd, have, despite their riches, a unit of die-hard club loyalists: Terry and Lampard and Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher and O'Shea respectively. Though I accept that Lampard was brought in so doesn't quite constitute my "born and bred" statement earlier. Anyway...the point is that in during that dry spell Arsenal's new young, die-hard, through the ranks, never-say-die, club-on-their-hearts-and-sleeves loyalists consists of...Wilshere, Ramsey and Gibbs. There is a fallacy grown up around the "incorrectness" of Hansen's (in)famous "you don't win anything with kids" comment. The "kids" Hansen was referring to were, like Wilshere, Ramsey and Gibbs, determined, skilful, loyal and brimming over with potential. But crucially they were surrounded by people like Schmeichel, Irwin, Keane...inspirational leaders of men. Of the current Arsenal team, Hansen's observation might be modified to "you don't win anything with kids and mercenaries."

    I'd still be much happier if Arsenal won the league than any of the other likelies, mind!

  • Comment number 37.

    28. At 09:00am on 13 Mar 2011, DoDo wrote:

    ..............................
    no mate, the big issue here that year by year it is the same:
    1. fantastic financial results;
    2. same underachievement;
    3. same players missing: leader, goalie, decent CB and strong DM
    4. WEenger's believe, optimism & stubbornness grow.

  • Comment number 38.

    Special should be sp, apologies I blame autocorrect

  • Comment number 39.

    Have to say that I thought Arsenal were deservedly dumped out of 3 cup’s in this short space of time. I’m not an Arsenal fan and many would slate me for raising such a point, but maybe Wenger should go.

    The people that run Arsenal as a business are doing brilliantly. Financially they are set up better than most clubs in the world, certainly when it comes to the ‘live within your own means’ rule. But this means nothing unless it starts to translate to success on the field.

    Wenger is no Sir Alex Ferguson, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly etc… He can’t re-build teams over and over that will constantly compete and WIN competitions. He says he is, but we all know this current Arsenal team does not cut the mustard and hasn’t for the last six years (it should have matured by now if it was going to).

  • Comment number 40.

    #30

    Both Magath AND Van Gaal are free at the end of the season, so maybe food for thought in the Arsenal boardroom. Both have won the Bundesliga title in the last few years; Van Gaal of course led Bayern to the CL final last year and has a real chance to finish Inter off next week.

  • Comment number 41.

    #10. Noblefighter

    Nice to see Heraclitus getting a mention in despatches.
    Awesome central defender for Ancient Greece.
    Won a medal at one of the early OGs
    ;-)

    Don't rule out a situation in which United make it very difficult for Arsenal not to win the PL. My point being that 'nerve' and 'bottle' or whatever you want to call it may not come into it.


  • Comment number 42.

    #20

    The crazy thing is, even without a central midfield (not a dig at Gibson or O'Shea) we put Arsenal out the cup. Fergie is beyond genius, what a way to come back from the humpings of the last fortnight, play the twins as good old-fashioned wing-backs and do them on the counter. Class!

    VDS
    Brown, Vida, Rio, Evra
    Rafael, Fletch, Ando, Scholesy, Fabio
    Rooney/Berba/Chicho

    Come on Barca!

  • Comment number 43.

    There are some curious comments here from the Arsenal fans - cups don't matter, rub of the green - the reality is the team has been eliminated from three competitions in a couple of weeks. The Birmingham game was an abject failure of will; the Barcelona results reflects the casual approach to the group stage games that left the club in the 'runners up' pile and subject to a tough draw; the Man U side was resting players and still were pretty comfortable. Fair play to the Arsenal for getting into such situations, but after six barren years, any club the size of Arsenal should be looking at their manager, particularly as the team has 'carried' fragility in many areas for some while. Obviously he should not be kicked upstairs while there is a chance of Arsenal winning the league, but does anyone think that will happen?

    When arsenal put out a strong team and rightly beat a bewildered Spurs in the Carling Cup, I thought Wenger was getting it right. Win something. Do what was needed to do that, but the tactic has failed. If he wins the league, then yah boo shucks to all the nay-sayers. If not, the club should consider just what their manager is doing.

  • Comment number 44.

    Having watched Ipswich beat Arsenal I knew this collapse would happen, because they were simply too tired.

    If they were only competing in two tournaments they probably would have won something, but they have been stretched too thin by playing too many games.

  • Comment number 45.

    philosophy needs rethinking?

    only 3 weeks ago you were suggesting how the Arsenal had "matured"......???

  • Comment number 46.

    Arsenal are now far too predictable. Teams know precisely how to play them. They now get ten men behind the ball and score on the break. They do it every time. Man City neutralised Arsenal by doing this, Sunderland caught on to the same idea.

    Possession amounts to noting is you can't break down the defence. And they have no plan to solve this. I have watched countless matches where Arsenal lurk around the opposition penalty box, short passes here and there, but with no real danger of penetration.

    They have two choices; break through the defence, or draw them out and break behind. They have no ideas about how to do either.

    Arsenal are now completely one dimensional

  • Comment number 47.

    As someone once said:
    "The consequences of today are determined by the actions of the past.
    To change your future, alter your decisions today."
    Mr Wegner should heed this advice as he has doggedly remained sreadfast in his own manatra which could prove to be his, or more importantly the Club's undoing if they want to achieve their quest for Silverware.
    It's not about bad luck, injuries, fixture congestion et al this merely obfuscates the central issue.

  • Comment number 48.

    Arsenal have conceded less goals in the Premier League than Man Utd so far this season, even without Vermaelen (their version of Vidic, if that helps). If Man Utd win the league, will they need to re-think their defensive personnel?

    Perhaps it would've helped if Koscielny had signed from Benfica for £24 million.

  • Comment number 49.

    #15

    There are a few very big differences between Barcelona and Arsenal, and that is even after you exclude Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

    You have to take into account that Spanish football is far more suited to play the quick and short pass game that Barcelona play very well and Arsenal attempt to play.

    In England the emphasis is on hardworking players rather than skill (rightly or wrongly), so for every Arsenal you will find a dozen Stokes and Blackburns and West Broms, who through sheer hardwork and stubborn determination will park the bus and successfully do it.

    Its how the English kids are coached from a very young age, so the majority of the professional players in the English system will play that way.

    As you yourself have commented Arsenal lack a holding midfielder and a solid defence.

    When Arsene first started, he had incredible players who could destroy you with their footwork. Before Henry came there was Bergkamp and Overmars. But even then you could take the goalkeeper and back four and put them straight into the English national team and no one would complain.

    Even Arsene's Invincibles had a near present back 5, with Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure and Cole all more than 45 games, with minimum of 32 in the League for each of them.

    Can the current Arsenal side even dream of that?

    And that is the reason why the same old points will be wheeled out after every Arsenal loss.

  • Comment number 50.

    It's obvious to any non-Arsenal fan that they need a player who can be a bit nasty in midfield, let's remember all their recent success came with Vieira as Captain and midfield general; when he left, so did the trophies. Next is a decent centre forward, again, Henry hasn't been replaced - he was their "plan b" - when all the fancy passing didn't come off, he could make "route one" look like an inspired pass instead of a hopeful hoof.

    As for Wenger, he just needs an assistant who is a winner. For that there is only one man at present: CHARLIE SHEEN!

  • Comment number 51.

    Personally, I never thought that we will win silverware this year, because the problems of last year were, and are still there.For me, the problems are:

    1. Goalkeeper - All four keepers are good in goal (with occasional blunder/s) but none are masters of the box. A keeper must master the penalty area during set pieces. None of the 4 keepers do that.

    2. Confidence / Arrogance. Yes you have to be arrogant and have a physical presence to win. Unfortunately, with the exception of Wilshere, this is not shown during the games.

    3. Many players are not up to standard. Denilson, Rosicky and Diaby were very good in the past, but this year, IMO, they are not even Premier League material. Others never were - Bendtner, Squillaci are two examples. Arshavin appears unhappy, lazy and careless, while Chamack's star has faded. Walcott fires on all cylinders for the first 25 minutes he's on the pitch, then he runs out of gas. Nasri does the same thing most games.

    4. Even the big names like Fabregas and Nasri sometimes appear unhappy and unmotivated. Not winning anything for six years isn't motivating enough??? Just look at the eagerness and motivation of less technical players of lowly clubs. Maybe our players should learn from them.

    5. I sincerely believe that many Arsenal players are just prima donnas and show offs. Dribbling yourself and circulating the ball for ages doesn't make you good. It's not a charity demonstration. To win you must be determined and efficient. Just count the hundreds of chances missed in front of goal.

    The solution is to get reinforcements with guts and ability.

  • Comment number 52.

    Simple fact, in the last five or six seasons United have played exactly the same way against Arsenal home and away. They play a little more defensively, but whilst Arsenal have plenty of posession and do nothing, United have less possession but look more comfortable, more organised and ultmately are always more effective and more clinical. And how many times in those game shave we won...once maybe?

    What last night showed was (1) the tactical failings of Arsene in never, ever having a plan B. A long standing complaint that whilst justified by a successful plan A in his first five years, has been shown up by the failings of the last few years. The fact that Fergie has a plan B and knows how and when to use it speaks volumes. (2) The lack of desire and motivation with in the squad we have at Arsenal. Its not just about Barcelona and Birmingham. Going back to the Wigan game at Christmas, there are several players that have failed to perform week in week out. We have stumbled through FA Cup rounds against lower league clubs and last night we were beaten by the first team better than us that we came up against. Funny, does that not also sound like what happened in the CL! Again. As it did last year, and the year before...(3) That for all the positives that Wenger has brought, this current squad needs major work. Its not just about key players but the fringle players who are clearly either not good enough or no longer are motivated to play for us.

    Can someone explain why Denilson was picked ahead of Ramsey last night?

    Can someone explain why when we knew how defensive United would play, we didnt try something differant? May be two strikers to put a bit more pressure on!

    Having said that, the league is still in our hands. But suddenly a trip to the Hawthorns becomes an important three pointer that we cant afford to drop one point in. Then the pressure really mounts.

  • Comment number 53.

    It pains me to say it but whilst I believe that Arsene Wenger is the best manager Arsenal have ever had, I do not believe that tactically he is up to the task. Arsenal are so one dimensional and lacking in variety that everyone now knows how to play against them. Mass defence and mid field and catch one of the most error prone defences in the Premier League on the break.
    As a result, increasingly the majority of the football they now play is more boring than exciting. Sure there are some flashes of sublime skill but most of the time attacks are slow building affairs with the ball moved sideways and backwards more often than towards the opposition goal. They normally have the skill to beat most of their competitors but against the best they usually fall short.
    In mitigation they currently have their normal high number of injuries. The absence of the likes of Fabregas,Vermaelen,Chesny (he's the best goalie) Song and Walcott,with Ramsey not yet match fit, would test any squad but sadly many of their replacements are just not up to the task.Almunia(although I thought he had a reasonable game yesterday)
    Denilson, Rosicky, Diaby, Squillaci, Kolcielny, Arsharvin and Chamakh would only be average players in most Premier League sides. Much praise is bestowed upon Nasri but the moment Fabregas is not playing he disappears.
    Up front they still miss many, many shooting opportunities and at the back the basic skills of solid defending are sadly lacking. There rarely seems to be anyone around to mop up the errors that all too often are gleefully converted into goals by the opposition.
    There's a lot of work still to do.

  • Comment number 54.

    The best comment on this subject was actually voiced by an Arsenal fan on 606 last night.

    He said that Wilshere looked like he wanted to learn how to win. The others looked like they had learned how to lose.

    This I think is the current problem.

  • Comment number 55.

    41. At 09:18am on 13 Mar 2011, R-Brooker wrote:

    #10. Noblefighter

    Nice to see Heraclitus getting a mention in despatches.
    Awesome central defender for Ancient Greece.
    Won a medal at one of the early OGs
    ;-)

    Don't rule out a situation in which United make it very difficult for Arsenal not to win the PL. My point being that 'nerve' and 'bottle' or whatever you want to call it may not come into it.
    ..........................
    Yes, as he wasn't coached by Wenger (who still hasn't nurtured ANY great CDs) but the great old Herakleitos. ;-))

    I agree. I support United to get over Marseille and reach at least the SF of CL and also the final of the FA Cup as their fixture congestion might help Arsenal.:-)

  • Comment number 56.

    'Arsenal are now far too predictable. Teams know precisely how to play them. They now get ten men behind the ball and score on the break. They do it every time. Man City neutralised Arsenal by doing this, Sunderland caught on to the same idea. '

    Why are Arsenal second in the league then, if they are one-dimensional and teams know exactly how to play them? As for scoring on the break, Man City and Sunderland didn't, did they?

  • Comment number 57.

    Arsenal simply dont move forward quickly enough in the big games. Time after time they broke down a United attack only to pass sideways and backwards until United were back in their penalty area. Against lesser teams they sometimes break well but they seem to believe that tbe big games require more deliberation and therefore cannot break down the defences. Nasri seems to have lost his cutting edge since his return, trying to hold the ball until nothing is on any more. They should get Chamakh to play as a centre forward and get the ball to him quickly for a change.

  • Comment number 58.

    It annoys me that at the beginning of the season, people talk up Arsenal, even calling them 'Barcelona light', when Barcelona had the bottle to win every competition they were in a few seasons ago(allbeit Chelsea were robbed in the CL semi-final against them)and arsenal seem to bottle it every time it gets serious. Yes they play passing football, but Barcelona's pressing game and ruthless winner's attitude separates them totally from this gunners side.

  • Comment number 59.

    Addendum

    Having read post 53, I completely forgot to add Bendtner to the not good enough list. Says it all really.

  • Comment number 60.

    'great manager' lol! great managers don't go 5 years without winning anything!

  • Comment number 61.

    Yesterday showed what a difference having quality centre backs and a quality keeper can make to a side. The Carling Cup final showed us what not having these can do to us.

    Sure we have been down on our luck with injuries. Our first choice centre back has been out all season and Cesc is in and out of the team recently. We need a solid defensive midfield cover for Song. Denilson and Diaby don't cut it for me.

    Our main problem is all the tippy tappy football played outside of the box. We can do that until the cows come home but when it comes to playing someone in or having a shot we don't have a clue. I've been saying it for a while but it might be down to this formation we use. It's great on it's day in wide open games but against teams who play 10 behind the ball we really struggle.

    Despite all this we have had some decent cup runs and Carling Cup final aside we were knocked out by the best teams we could have drawn in the competitions. The Carling Cup final was the start of this downfall though, everyone who said winning it would be a springboard for success didn't mention that losing it could be the start of a freefall.

    For those who say Wenger out? I wouldn't go that far. Only Mourinho could do a better job. Wenger needs to change his stubborn ways. Stop playing the likes of Denilson and Rosicky who just aren't good enough and get the likes of Ramsey back in the first team. We need as much creativity as we can get.

  • Comment number 62.

    Addendum 2

    Sorry, I also forgot another very important point. Wenger prides himself on prudent spending.

    He had the opportunity to buy Van der Sar, Smalling and Tottenham's Van der Vaart (the lacking leader) and let them all slip away.

  • Comment number 63.

    In all seriousness are Arsenal even a big club at this moment.Would any other "big club" tolerate 6 yeaars of winning zero? I fear Guardiola's Wilshere comments regarding Arsenal not having pressure to win anything was right.

  • Comment number 64.

    #25 TheBoltonsMum

    "won't life be better for arsenal fans with Alan Curbishly or Sam allardyce in charge?"

    Phil has spoken. You have come of age. A couple of years and you'll be watching channel 5 on Thursday nights, if you're lucky. ;)

  • Comment number 65.

    46. At 09:25am on 13 Mar 2011, David wrote:

    Arsenal are now far too predictable. Teams know precisely how to play them. They now get ten men behind the ball and score on the break. They do it every time. Man City neutralised Arsenal by doing this, Sunderland caught on to the same idea.

    Possession amounts to noting is you can't break down the defence. And they have no plan to solve this. I have watched countless matches where Arsenal lurk around the opposition penalty box, short passes here and there, but with no real danger of penetration.

    They have two choices; break through the defence, or draw them out and break behind. They have no ideas about how to do either.

    Arsenal are now completely one dimensional
    ...............
    Yes and both City and Sunderland had their CD or goalie as man of the match which means the only problem was that Arsenal wasn't able to score.

    btw. have you seen how many times Messi saved Barca?
    IMO Barca would be a very average Arsenal-like :-)) side without him. (counting the 1-3 CL game in the Nou Camp) Barca won some 7-8 games which would have been trouble if he wasn't play!

    which says Arsenal would be very far if they would have a Messi.:-)
    and don't forget that Messi did not have serious injury for years like Vermaelen, van Persie, Fabregas, Walcott, Djorou, etc...

  • Comment number 66.

    same old problem for arsenal under wenger in that they always want to play "pretty" football, trying to score the perfect goal all the time and try walk the ball into the net!

  • Comment number 67.

    Wenger's philosophy is misguided. I have been an Arsenal fan for more years than I care to remember and I enjoy the way they play but I have finally come to realize that any of the world's best teams can keep the ball and keeping the ball is not the point of football. When Man U wanted to play out time at the end they could have had their fans chanting ole for just as long as Arsenal, and I doubt the possession statistics were much in Arsenal's favour anyway. Barcelona did not beet Arsenal just because they keep the ball better, they beat Arsenal because they play better football, just as Man U did yesterday. I am not fit to lace Wenger's boots when it comes to football but I do believe the old adage about fish rotting from the head. While he insists that there is nothing wrong with his philosophy and stubbornly defends his choices of the type of player and the way they play, Arsenal will win nothing. I tell you this, if Jose Mourinho was Arsenal manager they would NOT have lost to Birmingham or failed at EVERY chance they have had to take the lead in the title race. Wenger is infectious in a way I cannot define, if he does not cure himself then his team will always be 'sick' when they take to the field.

  • Comment number 68.

    As a Hammer I'd be happy if my team had gone six years without a trophy but played like Arsenal. Sure, everyone likes to win trophies and I'm not saying that I wouldn't be ecstatic if my team won a major trophy - but really, sometimes folks just need to be happy with their lot.

    Once the FA/BPL tighten up the financial regulations of the league, which they surely must to level the field albeit slightly, Arsenal will be sitting pretty, while the debt laden or sugar daddy clubs will be looking at some major changes.

    The only thing I'd change at Arsenal would be to lose some of the rubbish like Bendtner and Almunia that are good players, but no good enough for a club of the stature of Arsenal; every club has them, so this is also not a problem unique to Arsenal.

    If I could say anything to Arsene or Arsenal players it would simply be "Stay calm, carry on" - they will definitely win a trophy sooner or later. Finishing in the top 4 every season, CL, good cup runs and a sound business and football model - it can only end in success in the long run.

  • Comment number 69.

    Why is it nobody is allowed to suggest wenger should go now.
    This is the 2nd time in 4 years we lose all 4 trophies in 4 weeks.
    6 trophyless years yet we enter joke cup sides.
    Our 1st choice CB has been out all season yet we don't address it in Jan.
    The keeper situation is a joke. Almunia is a perfectly able no2, but he should not be coming in for a 20yr old who had potential but isn't there yet.
    The DM situation is long documented but not resolved....Denilson isn't good enough and Song not disciplined enough, yet.
    Our main forward spends more time injured than playing...world class yes...but if Rodney missed half the man U games in recent yrs, or Drogba the Chelsea ones....what would they have won?
    In some respects the lack of progress down the rd made our failure more acceptable but they are closing the gap at a rapid pace....imagine if we win nothing and they win CL....
    The game has left Wenger behind....he was a progressive coach but his stubbornness and refusal to spend money like it was his own has seen him fall back from the pack to an also ran....a lot like us at the moment.
    I love what wenger has done for us, but unless he delivers the title then he has to go, pride before a fall....and it has been a long fall since 2004.

  • Comment number 70.

    One day Phil might post a blog that contains insight and accurate analysis into a football game rather than jumping on the obvious facts. How he's "chief football writer" is beyond me. Simply regurgitating facts whilst linking to random websites does not make interesting reading.

  • Comment number 71.

    I'm getting increasingly bored of the media coverage around my team.

    There's only question that needs to be answered: why do Arsenal, more than any other top team, have injuries to their top players at this time of the season each year?

    Is it as simple as Gary Lewin leaving to help out with the England squad? I don’t think so, personally.

    The idea that Arsenal require a "stopper of character" at the back is absurd. When we signed both Sol Campbell and William Gallas they were considered top, top class at just that.They simply didn’t fit in, with Gallas in particular always looking nervous on the ball. No, we simply need a BETTER defender - Luiz at Chelsea is the type of player we clearly need, but we don't have that sort of money and Wenger is completely right in saying that signing a big name player could ruin morale in the squad.

    Were we favourites at home against us without our first choice keeper, centre back, winger and Captain?

    Did anyone outside of Arsenal think we could beat Barcelona?

    If we finish second in the league, i know I’m not the only Arsenal fan who would consider that a success and ANOTHER improvement. Above Chelsea and Man City? Actually, a few BBC pundits predicted we’d win the league (pre-season predictions, but I can’t link to it). It’s perhaps more of a sign of the times that fans and media can’t see beyond the current season, but with UEFA’s financial fair play regulations coming in soon, Arsenal are in a fantastic position.

    Look, I’d LOVE to win a trophy - but getting the league cup and finishing 4th? Really? is that what people consider success? It's only the media and daft fans who keep going on about a run without trophies. All fans i speak to just want to win one so others shut up about it :0) Winning the domestic league is the only fair competition where decisions do even out and the best team rises to the top over 38 games. Very rarely does the best team win a cup competition. I’ve always seen those as a sign of how good a manager is and I’d be one of the first to say that Fergusson has got Utd set up to beat us – May’s game will be very interesting.

    There is a continued improvement at Arsenal without any major investment - faith in the players IS working.

    The key question is, as i said at the top - why do so many key players get injured at the same point each season. THAT is what's hampering our chances, not this perceived lack of character.

  • Comment number 72.

    Goluboy

    In Scholes' 18 mins he played three of the finest, defence-spltting passes you will see on a football pitch. Granted his challenges were bizarre but all 'dark arts' is plain wrong.

    Fergie is delighted to let Arsenal have a lot of the ball. Even when United were in their pomp, as Phil put it, by this I'm guessing the three-in-a row side with C Ronaldo, he would let Arsenal have the ball and catch them on the break. I believe it is called tactics.

    The post asking where the Adams, Parlours and Keowns are summed it up perfectly. Even Barca have a tough core (by that I mean the purest of footballing teams).

  • Comment number 73.

    Once the FA/BPL tighten up the financial regulations of the league, which they surely must to level the field albeit slightly, Arsenal will be sitting pretty, while the debt laden or sugar daddy clubs will be looking at some major changes.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm not fully sure but didn't Arsenal just post a loss for the year, largely down to not having sold a player?


  • Comment number 74.

    Last night I heard a United fan saying that in the last 3 years, the team has rarely played with flair.

    Yet they take the title off a Liverpool team who only lost 2 games, they then lost the title to Chelsea by just 1 point (a team who scored 100 goals and yet can only beat a disjointed United by 1 point and that only due to having to win at OT) and now this season, Chelsea have imploded, Liverpool are nobodies(swallows and summer before you rant at 1 win last weekend), Man City play as 11 individuals whilst Spurs are overachieving.

    And then there is Arsenal. To be honest, Ferguson should be relaxed because at the end of the day, Arsenal cannot do the one thing United can. Play badly and dig out a result.

    And its called a Premier League. You are having a larf. Man U have barely had any oppostion these last few years.

    During the 70/80's Derby, Forest, Arsenal, Leeds, Liverpool, Villa, Everton all won the title even in a period of so called Liverpool dominance whilst the likes of Southampton, Ipswich and Watford had their moments.

    How many serious challengers have United had ?(a mediocre United for the last 3 seasons at that. Very few

    Remember the season when Liverpool lost at Anfield to Everton late on,Everton were miles ahead with about 12 games to go and yet Liverpool took something like 32 out of 36 points to win it. Can you see Arsenal doing a similiar thing ? No, in fact dont be surprised to see Chelsea overtake them, and quite possibly Tottenham.

  • Comment number 75.

    They seem to choke when it matters most.

    I wouldn't want to see them change their style of football - that they're the most entertaining team of the top 6, whilst still managing maintaining a challenge on several fronts until March, is a testament to them when other teams have taken a more pragmatic approach.

    But Wenger really needs to do something about their choking - had they won the League Cup, who knows what that confidence could have bred?

    I could understand their fans maybe wanting a change of play so they could win something, but for the more neutral amongst us they're a wonderful side to see in action. The EPL would a lot poorer without that.

  • Comment number 76.

    There is nothing wrong with his philosophy Mr McNulty IMO. Given their lack of financial clout they are unable to rest or cover the loss of their star players as much as the other teams at the top of the Premier league, so it's an incredible achievement these days to have got themselves in the position they were in a couple of weeks ago.
    Since the Premier League gravy-train rolled in they are the only club to have won it apart from Chelsea, Blackburn and Man Utd who were all at the top (or 2nd) of our club's rich list at the time of their victories. Chelsea's previous win was in 1955 and Man Utd's in 1967, 25 years before the Premier League came into existence. So it's clearly short-sighted and 'convenient' to suggest it's only his philosophy that is at fault .

  • Comment number 77.

    No real mention on here as to why Paul Scholes wasn't sent off for his serious fouls. The referee was an outright coward. If that had been Robbie Savage or Lee Cattermole they'd have been off. Arsenal still had a chance (albeit slim) at that stage. Best of luck to both teams for the rest of the season, Arsenal for the League and Man Utd for the Cup.

  • Comment number 78.

    I have read some people comparing Arsenal and Barcelona, this is an insult to Barcelona who any neutral (and I am an Arsenal supporter) would agree thrashed Arsenal and deserved to beat them at the Emirates too. 0 shots on goal? 30% possession (flattering stat)? Looking like we were going to concede a goal every time Barcelona got the ball? Couldn't keep it for 3 consecutive passes? Please! Next someone will be telling me that Fabregas could play in that team! When Guardiola says he has loads of players like Wiltshere in his B team he is not lying!

    Can we keep these two teams apart in any comparison unless we are using words like master and pupil, or genius and inept. Arsenal struggle to beat Stoke, Barcelona destroy Real Madrid 5-0, it is an objectionable comparison.

  • Comment number 79.

    Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

    Wenger's approach produces a certain result (nice football, no trophies as we have seen)....to pursue that same approach without correcting the obvious deficiencies is indeed madness.

    / Jim

  • Comment number 80.

    I think that in truth, this game came too quickly for us, having just been knocked out of the champions league and losing the carling cup final we weren't mentally prepared. We were both physically and mentally whilst united had a full week to prepare for this game. But this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Can we now go on and win the league, we don't have anything to focus on now and therefore have no excuses. But we are extremely short at the back and if i was wenger i would call back kyle bartley from rangers. He is doing pretty well in glasgow and we diefinately need some defensive cover with only squillaci and kolsciny being our only players at centre back and squillaci is well not very competent at the back so having bartely in there would at least give us a back up to fill the gap made by another horrific injury to djourou. We basically have 3 fairly easy games against blackpool west brom and blackburn and with all due respect to those teams, we should be picking up maximum points from these games,if we can pick up 9 points then all this criticism goes away very quickly but in my view silly replays like the ones against leeds and leyton orient have had a negative effect and caused our players to burn out. Which is why we have injury worries at this point. But if we really want the league, it is there for the taking 3 points behind united with a game in hand, after those three games which i have talked about, we play liverpool spurs bolton then man utd and those games will more than likely define our season,were we to come out of those games with maximum points then im sure we would win the league.

  • Comment number 81.

    For balance though, perhaps it should be said that Barcelona and Man United away are two pretty tough draws!

  • Comment number 82.

    I agree with Dave Manchester. As a Chelsea fan I used to hate Arsenal (because they were better than us and boring 1-0 to the Arsenal). Now I'm astonished to find myself liking then a lot - they are fun to watch. If they grew a backbone (the spine of the team) like Chelsea did and started winning things I'd probably hate them again! Thanks for the entertaining football, Arsenal (Barca Lite?):)

  • Comment number 83.

    Nice sentiment Spigz (As a Hammer I'd be happy if my team had gone six years without a trophy but played like Arsenal...), but Arsenal are who we see on the pitch, not who anyone says they are. If Bendtner and Almunia (I'd add at least 4 more) are second-rate players then if they take the field for Arsenal, Arsenal are a second-rate team.

  • Comment number 84.

    Wenger has it right. Great chance of winning the league this year and that's a fabulous season if they do.

  • Comment number 85.

    Beautiful football from Arsenal up to the edge of the box but I don't think Arsene Wenger puts as much thought or hard work into the final 3rd, especially when the opposition have all their men behind the ball. Barcelona and United don't dilly dally once there's an inkling of an opening - they're more direct and sharper, no time to mull over the options. Arsenal seem to look for extra marks for artistic impression even in the penalty box. Someone has to shoot eventually.....don't they?! And a Kevin Davies bundle in from 1 yard carries the same value as a Van Persie thunderbolt or 300 pass goal. For all the intricacy in the build ups, you wondered what Arsenal were trying to achieve with some of the final crosses. And often there was only one, seemingly distant, player in the box. Yes, this was only one game, and Arsenal may well turn the tables at the Emirates in May, but yesterday was a reminder that success isn't always symmetrical. I wonder how many ugly goals someone like Davies would get if he were playing for Arsenal. Would he be behind the beautiful goals tally of RVP?

  • Comment number 86.

    @ 49. At 09:28am on 13 Mar 2011, Cheshire Indian

    You're right Arsenal need to buy players, of course, but we don't have the finances of Barca, Real Madrid, Man Uts, Chelsea, Man City bla bla.

    As for rest, i totally disagree...

    Stoke, Blackburn, WBA park the bus etc. why aren't they top of the league? That approach is great for a team at the bottom but you don't win leagues like that.

    And as for English football being suited to hard working players, does any team work harder to close down the ball than Barca?

    Bottom line is this; Barca are 10 years ahead of where Arsenal want to be, a team full of academy players that play a beautiful style and system that they all know from their school days. On top 2 or 3 truly world class expensive players that would get into any team in the world.

    Arsenal are not there yet, but it's the dream and philosophy of the club and that is all down to Mr. Wenger and it's all the better to operate that way considering the new rules that are coming in regarding finances.

    Anyone that suggest Wenger should be sacked or gives a long list of better managers is stupid, plan and simple. No one could be better for Arsenal or achieve for Arsenal what Wenger has on a shoe string and played beautiful football doing it.

    Arsenal as we know them now, one of the best teams in Europe is because of Arsene Wenger and every true Arsenal fan knows that. You heard them showing their love at Old Trafford yesterday.

  • Comment number 87.

    You can't say that Arsenal must review their philosophy beacuse they have not won trophies. Trophies are difficult to win and nobody can guaruntee them. Arsenal have been consistantly execellent during this so called barren run and are a little unlucky. Stick with the plan and keep on playing attractive football, Arsene!

  • Comment number 88.

    @ Pistol

    I come to my conclusion about 4th place by this calculation - if only the 1st place team got into CL then the cash only went to them BUT if you were running 4th in the League then the only way to get back into CL was to win it. But now you can finish 4th, get the CL money, do not too much in the CL and still do well enough in the League to finish 4th (sometimes by as much as 20 pts).
    Surely by reverting to the older EC format and then having a strong Europa League you're forcing teams to actually having TO do WELL to get an acheivement.
    Like I said if Wenger couldn't access the CL money then he'd have been sacked last season, maybe the season before.

  • Comment number 89.

    #31 The Lone Rangel

    "Compare his approach to Ferguson, who isn't nearly as talented a coach"

    Who are you to tell us what Fergie can do? I was on the terrace 30-odd years ago when he built a St. Mirren squad that got into the top league by playing the competition off the park and later went on to win the cup for the first time in fifty years (after he'd gone to Aberdeen and broken the Old Firm hegemony through brilliantly coached talent to complement his pure will).

    What have you done?

  • Comment number 90.

    First of all, great blog entry Phil, a very interesting read.

    Although Arsenal have still got a very good chance to win the Premier League title, you can't help but feel it's going to take too long for Arsenal to recover from these three major defeats, whereas Man Utd will probably get back on form, thanks hugely to the massive confidence boost that this win will have provided for them.

    But I still think Arsenal should carry on the way they are. I still think they are setting a fine example of how to run a Football Club that is looking at the long-term, rather than the short-term.

    Sure in the short-term, it's frustrating for them and the fans, they are seeing massive chances of winning things fade away at the last moment, when spending huge amounts of money on one or two more top quality players would have probably ensured Arsenal took these chances.

    BUT, I am almost certain that within the next decade, Arsenal will be an even better run club than it is now and will be dominating all competitions, whilst other top clubs like Man Utd and Chelsea start to realise that they are losing their best and most experienced players thick and fast and can't keep spending ridiculous amounts of money on Footballers anymore, without the risk of ruining their clubs financially.

    Also, in the next few years, Sir Alex Ferguson is going to have to surely retire and I can't see Man Utd picking up exactly where they left off straight away. Even if they get the very best Manager in the world (After Ferguson) at the time, it'll still take plenty of adjustment time.

  • Comment number 91.

    As a Spurs fan of over 40 years I can empathise , to a degree, with the Woolwich fans that bemoan the surfeit of trophies. For decades Spurs have played football the way it should be played and we have not had to employ additional cleaners for the trophy room either !
    The difference between the Spurs side of, say the early 1960's and the current Woolwich team is that the former had players who could adapt and change tactics when necessary. This Woolwich lot don't seem able to play in a different way according to the opposition or the situation. Wenger seems incapable of changing styles when the occasion warrants it. Perhaps he recognises this lack of quality but then this begs the question, why has he not done anything about it ? He has had ample opportunity but rather than buy a decent keeper or central defender he opts for a player like Arshavin.
    Truly top quality sides possess the ability to alter their style of play and/or introduce different players given the nature of the opposition or occasion and this is where Wengers team fall down time and time again. Playing pretty football is one thing but woolwich overpass and over elaborate when it it is not necessary. They lack a cutting edge , that final telling pass. Woolwich's motto should be 'why make one pass when three will do equally as well' although very often the three passes do not do as well as the single pass and the moment to score has gone. This sums up their season so far and may well be Wengers epithet.
    As the Blog points out if Woolwich were to dispense with Wengers services who would replace him ? Which should concern all woolwich fans and shareholders alike.
    Every team suffers from injuries and suspensions but the squad that Wenger has assembled and which he has claimed is finally about to win major honours is clearly NOT good enough. Of the top Premier League teams Woolwich probably have the weakest squad overall. Take Fabregas, Song, and Van Pussy out of the team and they are a pretty ordinary side. True, they can compete but not defeat, as yesterdays game proved. The blame for this needs to be laid firmly at the Managers door. Wenger has always maintained that he is building a side for the future , well when is that future going to arrive ? This 'next season' policy was okay 5 years ago but must now be wearing a bit thin with fans and board alike. From a purely selfish point of view I hope Wenger stays because as long as he pursues his current policy Woolwich will continue to win nothing.


  • Comment number 92.

    Mr Mcnulty, you need to wake up and stop talking like you are someone who knows nothing about football. Exactly what policy does Wenger need to re-think? Apart from not starting Diaby in a big game ever again, nothing.

    3 points off with a game in hand. Remember that Phil, and don't make any conclusions before the season ends.

  • Comment number 93.

    Too many games and not enough depth to cover the injuries. I know it keeps getting mentioned every year but this is still a young Arsenal side, an avaerage age of 23 to Barcas 27 so there is still a few years development before they reach their prime. There are gaps in the squad, which if filled could make sure there are repeats of this year. They need a commanding central defender ala Terry or Vidic, an alternative to Song in the holding midfield role and a physical striker who can take the knocks up front. Maybe replace the likes of Denilson, Rosicky and Diaby who I have never seen play well yet!

  • Comment number 94.

    This blog is ridiculous. Arsenal's main problem is that their best players are too injury-prone. Simple.

  • Comment number 95.

    And I agree with John Beasley. Plus, Wenger's transfer dealings must have made Arsenal a fortune - he keeps producing these amazing player's I've never heard of and sells them at a profit. Wenger himself irritates me profoundly ("I didn't see it, it's all the ref's fault") I call him Arsenal Whinger but hey he has produced a team that neutrals love to watch. Can't see much wrong with the philosophy of Barcelona, Spain...

  • Comment number 96.

    Going to have to Stick up for Wenger here. Article and a lot of responces are total tosh in my eyes. Theres nothing wrong with the philosophy, they just haven't got it quite right, and think they have been suffering from injuries particularly the loss of Vermalan. Now i know all the Utd fans will say they have injuries as well, but that was your excuse when Liverpool beat you 3 - 1 at Anfield.

    I think this will fall into place for Arsenal, especially as the cracks at Utd get bigger. Well see just how good SAF is now he doesn't have the money to fill them in

  • Comment number 97.

    I missed Saturday's game so cannot gauge Arsenal's performance with their two recent cup defeats. I wouldn't be surprised if they just gave up on Fabregas and let him leave for Barca. It will free up Nasri. Yes they do need defenders and midfielders. And a goalie and maybe another striker! But if you think Wenger will dive into a hugely inflated market where you can buy a Geordie for £35m, then there is no point virtually bankrupting the club. He will continue his programme of developing youth. He bought back Wilshere from his Bolton loan and has been very productive. He'll have Henri Lansbury possibly in the picture next season. If he didn't buy any 'world class' names in the last five years, what makes us think he'll drastically change this summer?

  • Comment number 98.

    Not an Arsenal fan per se, but like their style and philosophy to be rewarded. I think that Wenger is a little too much like Benitez in the fact that he can sometimes be too stubborn, too blinkered and not listen to views from elsewhere. His team for years now has needed a replacement for Vieira. Song and Diaby have not proven themselves adept, maybe Ramsey will in time but doesn't seem groomed for that role.

    Injury to Vermaelen was unlucky as he undoubtedly added more steel at the back, as well as the odd goal. But although he won't want to admit it, Wenger's side need a couple of players like Parlour in the team. Workhorses who put in the hard yards for the others to prosper. 'Ugly' though they made be to watch, it will create a better balance and add more hunger and strength to a fragile side.

    Few English players wouldn't go amiss either Arsene! You are an club side in London! May sound silly but the likes of Parker, Cattermole, Barton and even Jenas could do a job in your midfield.

    http://rah140.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 99.

    Comment 15 is spot on. "It's all good and well criticizing Arsenal's approach, but do Barca and Spain not have the same approach? Two of the best sides to ever play the game so yea that's definitely the wrong approach! lol

    The simple reason Arsenal have fallen short again is they do not have the required quality in vital areas of the pitch. In goal, centre-back and a holding midfielder."

    The reason Real and Barca win everything and Arsenal don't is because they keep all the TV money, so can go out and buy the best players. Arsenal can't afford to do this. In England, only Man U are not 'financially doped' and able to sustain success, but they have the advantage of an enormous worldwide fanbase and revenues that way. This article from McNulty is yet another load of sanctimonious nonsense from someone who loves to put the boot into Wenger at every opportunity.

  • Comment number 100.

    @ At 10:08am on 13 Mar 2011, Richard

    You're so right, Wenger's net expenditure is like £10 - 15m or something like that, which is less than over half the teams in the premier league during that period.

    Teams like Newcastle have spent more than Arsenal and been relegated.

 

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