A few words from @MuppetGunner
The wheels have come off the bus. Our main focus should be to take a step back from the hysteria and vitriol and try to analyse what is going wrong. I didn’t see the Liverpool game, but saw the Chelsea, West Brom and Crystal Palace games. In between those, the Watford defeat at home on a somewhat unreliable stream.
In the past we were able to point to either injuries and absentees, usually causing an imbalance in an area of the team. If 5 or 6 key players were missing, it was understandable why there was a home or away defeat. Our best players would return, and consistency would be restored. Yes, in the last 13 years it was a top 4 kind of consistency, but I suspect that would be welcome now. What is happening now is difficult to fathom. The naysayers will say this was always on the cards. However, it is surprising to me that after bolstering the squad with the £84 million spend in the summer, we are currently in 7th. We have come 3rd or 4th with savagely derided players, including Bendtner, Denilson, Flamini. We add Mustafi, Xhaka and Lucas, and we appear to have gone backwards.
To consider the new players, it cannot be Lucas that is the problem, as he has hardly played. Xhaka and Mustafi? Could it be that these 2 have weakened the team significantly? It is interesting that when we had an 18 match unbeaten run before Xmas, the fans were purring – Xhaka was the next Petit or Vieira, depending on who you read, and Mustafi was a class acquisition. After the injury to Mustafi, the turning point was in the 1st game he was absent, the 2-1 defeat at Everton, which would seem to point to a need for the player. But in recent matches, there have been fingers pointed.
Could it be more down to the overall squad? It is worth pointing out that around Xmas time fans were generally positive. Usually, prior to the January transfer window, there are demands for new signings. Apart from one or two blogs, these calls were quiet. The 18 match unbeaten run and new players from the summer pointed to general optimism. We were well stocked in all positions, particularly in attack. One significant absentee though, was Santi Cazorla, his last game on October 19th. The absence of Cazorla since late January has been plain to see. A Wengerball continuity player, who excels in tight spaces, is effective in defence, and is able to link well to Ozil and Sanchez. In his absence, our midfield has suffered. Too slow at times, caught out at Watford and at Liverpool and Chelsea largely bypassed.
So given the optimism about the squad, in Cazorla’s absence we should have been able to turn to others – Ox, Ramsey, Xhaka, Coquelin and El Nenny. It is here that we have to pause for thought. How many of these players fit the traditional mould of a Wengerball midfielder, who is able to accelerate at defences and operate in tight spaces? I think maybe Ox, and maybe Ramsey, but Xhaka, Coquelin and El Nenny have different attributes.
Xhaka is a good distributor of the ball, but has suffered particularly in the absence of Cazorla. He has been partnered by Coquelin, Ramsey and El Nenny, but there is still uncertainty about who his regular partner should be.
Ramsey has a great engine, but has had injury problems this season and has been inconsistent.
El Nenny is a good continuity player, but seems to lack cutting edge at the highest level to be an attacking threat. But he offers reasonable defensive solidity.
Ox can take on players, but despite some good performances, has not been able to cement a place in centre midfield, as seen by the recent inclusion of Xhaka and El Nenny. Overall, none of these are yet to compensate for Cazorla, and we miss Wilshere and Rosicky as well, for these players would be more suitable replacements to partner Xhaka. Ox and Ramsey would probably be the best partners out of the previous crop, but it just hasn’t worked out so far. Ramsey has made just 7 starts, with 14 overall appearances. This is frustrating, as we could have done with the reprisal of his partnership with Arteta in 2014, this time with Xhaka.
The midfield imbalance leads us to a team that is largely unrecognisable to any of the great teams Wenger has created in the past. We have seen Ozil drop deeper, for example in the West Ham game, to make a 4-3-3, and some see this as a way of patching up the disparity of the no 6 and no 8.
Going back to Xhaka and Mustafi, if they are in transition, we can almost say the same of Welbeck. He hasn’t really looked sharp since his return, and it looks like he needs matches to achieve a cutting edge. Monreal looks to have waned, and Bellerin seems to be suffering from an ankle injury sustained in January.
Given all of these issues, the imbalance in the midfield, the lack of consistency and underperformance of certain players, the inevitable conclusion amongst a section of fans is to scream “Wenger Out”. They see him as being the man who made the signings, and therefore should take responsibility and go. We haven’t made a serious title challenge in 13 years they say, and this is the last straw, with the Leicester title win pouring fuel on to the fire. I think this is where perspective is needed. We look to finish out of the top 4 for the first time in 20 years. To me, there is a lack of appreciation in some quarters that top 4 was achieved every year, particularly when our transfer budget in the wake of the stadium move was limited. Wenger overachieved many times during those years; in terms of wages, Wenger has only been below par twice in 20 years. History will judge this as a fantastic achievement, and in terms of longevity, it will be peerless. So why is it, that the moment Wenger is below par, all of those fans have deserted him?
The reason is of course that the coveted prize is the Premiership. In 13 years we have not made a really serious challenge. Yes, we finished 2nd last year and in 2004/5, but we were not close to winning it then, or in the intervening years. We know the history, we moved to the Emirates in 2006 and we were severely restricted in budget until the 2011/12 season. The purse strings were then loosened, and we started to spend. Since the recruitment of Mesut Ozil and since the 2013-2014 our net spend has been £216.4m. As an aside, incredibly, Wenger’s net spend from 1996 to 2013 was just £26.6m. How is it that Wenger was able to win two doubles, 4 FA Cups and go unbeaten with such a meagre net spend? Yet, in the period of 2013-2016, we have not mounted a serious challenge, but have won 2 FA Cups. Could it be that other clubs have distorted the market? For example, since Sheikh Mansour took over Man City in 2008, the club have a total net spend of more than £800m. We have surpassed Chelsea when it comes to net spend since 2013, but one has to take into account that they sold players for almost £300m. Manchester United’s net spend since 2013 is £377m, City’s is £408.8m. By any rational analysis, it is hard to see how we are expected to win the title based on these numbers. Statistically, there could be an argument, that we could be among one of 3 or 4 clubs, who would expect a title every 4 to 5 years, but when two clubs outspend us in the transfer by market by 2 to 1, and other clubs are able to attract players who previously would have come to us, I would not even expect to win a title in 10 years. That is not me personally mitigating our ambition, it is just a back of a cigarette packet assessment of our chances. There are 3 other clubs who outspend us by almost 2 to 1 in the transfer market. There is one other who are on par with us in terms of ambition – Liverpool, despite spending £800m on players in 25 years, have no premiership title and have suffered a similar fate to us in 13 years.
The naysayers that scream “Wenger Out” assume that another manager will do significantly better, and we will challenge. In my view that is a laughable assessment, unless there are serious incursions in the transfer market. What those fans are saying in fact, is they want a manager to significantly overachieve. Recent appointments of Klopp, Mourinho and Guardiola are showing that even with huge transfer spending (the latter 2), their clubs are not overachieving. Yes, Conte is a recent appointment and Chelsea are winning the league; but in my view a donkey could stand in the changing room and they would still be winning the league. The argument that a management change precedes a title win is disproved heavily by Liverpool.
The focus among other fans is to criticise the board and accuse them of profit making. They may have a point, but I don’t have the numbers to hand. Is the argument that the board are pocketing money that that we should be using for transfers ? Our cash reserves in 2016 were £226.5m. So if we spend that money that would leave us matching half the net spend of City since 2008.
I personally hope that Wenger will sign a 2 year extension. I have faith that he is the person best placed to fix some of the problems mentioned above, and that there are reasons for optimism. We have a core of some very good young players that I still believe in, and we don’t have to sell them, and we know that the current bad run cannot last forever.