8-2 thrashing leaves Arsenal empty

Manchester Utd v Arsenal 8:2

Wenger's Woe

'8-2, eight bloody two' as Michael Palin almost said in Ripping Yarns (8-1).

The morning after Arsenal's worst defeat since 1896 was a sobering one.

The 8-2 capitulation at Old Trafford was slow-motion carnage or schadenfreude at its sweetest, depending on your opinon of the Gunners and Mr Wenger. It was humiliation indeed although even Tottenham supporters had to choke their chuckles as they sit bottom of the division, having been smashed 5-1 at home by Manchester City, fast becoming the first club since Blackburn to so obviously buy their way to the title.

The chasm in power which divides Wenger from Alex Ferguson is vast, despite the Frenchman's historic transformation of London's biggest team. While United have a new breed of youngsters battle-ready for Premier League action, Arsenal are blooding untried rookies with increasingly calamitous results.

Arsenal's acute demise is being blamed on the power struggle between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov and Wenger's ideological adherence to youth policy and non-English players. Whilst Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are two young Anglos who have made it through the ranks, the Frenchman's apparent reluctance to buy hard-working English defenders and midfielders when available appears a flaw in his thinking which has come back to bite him. Indeed it is hard to imagine him recruiting the excellent Dixon, Bould/Keown, Adams and Winterburn back four he inherited from Bruce Rioch.

His adherence to statistics means if a player seems overpriced he shies away and passion, leadership and other English footballing virtues do not register on his Pro-Zone printouts. Fielding eleven multi-functional mobile dribblers is admirable in the age of tiki-taka but how Arsenal could do with another Petit and Vieira in the middle to stop opposition attacks dead.

Wenger's French revolution gave Arsenal an edge for a few years until other clubs aped his off-field science-based training. In addition, the game moves on every few years and no historic system, whether W-M, total football or 4-4-2, can hope to prevail forever. Wenger's excessive self-belief is costing Arsenal points.

Alex Ferguson has cited his 1990 F.A. Cup win as the break he needed to take complete control over Manchester United F.C. and launch his imperial project. A giant of a club had been asleep so long it was almost comatose, so Martin Edwards gladly handed the Scot carte blanche to run the club like a true 'manager' once they felt sure he could bring them a full trophy cabinet.

An impressive Cup Winners' Cup final win over Barcelona the following season, in English clubs' first foray into Europe for five years, convinced the board they had got their man, and a first title in 26 years arrived in 1993.

Ferguson has been effectively unsackable since then, and the Glazers are said to be in awe of him. His rise from under-fire hiring with 90 minutes to save his job (a cup-tie against Nottingham Forest) to great dictator and universal football legend is in sharp contrast to the prevailing trend of managers becoming first-team coaches with directors of football, board members and presidents pulling the real strings high above them. Modern coaches enjoy the lifespan of mayflies in comparison to Ferguson. Moneybags Chelsea have used seven managers in the past five years, while Fergie has ruled the roost at Old Trafford since 1986.

Fergie consoles Arsene.
Fergie consoles Arsene

"I know dictators are out of fashion but I would love to be the perfect dictator," said Brian Clough famously. Indeed he was for years at Forest, until he did what almost all dictators do and stay on too long before being ousted by backers who vowed never to repeat the same mistake.
But Wenger has had a relatively free hand at Arsenal, not least in his persuading the capital's most storied team to leave its ancient, sacred home for a new house nearby and make him overseer of the entire youth set-up.

Football is politics again. So often desperate electorates happily hand power to a charismatic leader when hope and tradition run out of steam. US Soccer had been understandably reluctant to give Jurgen Klinsmann the keys to their kingdom for the past five years but after the exasperating Gold Cup final they relented and Klinsi is now in control.

If Arsenal want to emerge from their nightmare, they could hand Wenger a blank chequebook and an even freer hand, assuming his reliance on self-made solutions stems from the tight kitty at Ashburton Grove and not a dogmatic desire to build an Ajax-on-Thames.

But time is running out for Wenger and Arsenal. With transfer deadline imminent and 360 degree pressure on the Frenchman, purchases are probable, yet the downside to leaving it so late to recruit is that price tags rise concomitantly and desperation can set in, leading to panic buying with no time to research players properly.

In his final days at Highbury, George Graham made three hasty purchases at least two of which seemed wrong at the time as well as afterwards -John Hartson, Glenn Helder and Chris Kiwomya.
Wenger has boxed himself in and needs nerves of steel and intense focus to sail his way out of this storm.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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