In the seemingly endless new cycle dedicated to asking what's wrong with Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has been the main focus. Lost in much of the talk has been the failings of the players on the pitch and the main reason behind that failing.
Simply put, there is too much timidity in the ranks of the current Arsenal squad. Naturally these are Wenger's players and as the manager who acquired them, he ultimately bears the brunt of the blame.
However, a manager can only do so much and a large part of his job has to rest on the trust he puts in his players. That trust has been routinely betrayed by timid and fragile performances.
It would be easy to lose count of the number of times Arsenal have underachieved this season. Examining the most recent and perhaps most obvious examples, reveals a lot about the 2012/13 version of Arsenal.
On February 9th, Arsenal completed a brave and stylish 1-0 away win at Sunderland. The victory moved them up to fifth and just two points shy of the coveted and lucrative fourth spot.
Against the Black Cats, Wenger's charges had been bold and exuberant. They passed the ball quickly and intelligently in midfield, with no shortage of ideas in advanced positions. Once they were reduced to ten men, the Gunners still retained the quality of their game. Yet perhaps more encouragingly, they showcased a determination not to be beat, that is so often missing.
It is therefore simply baffling that just ten days later Arsenal were facing up to being eliminated from two competitions. Their elimination had been assured thanks to a pair of limp and clueless performances.
Much has been said about the team Wenger fielded against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup. In truth there is sound reasoning on both sides of the argument. However, the fact remains that even with resting a few regulars, Wenger still assembled a team packed with internationals.
Among them were Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That's a quartet who should have been giving everything to prove they merited more regular action.
Yet apart from Rosicky, who toiled hard for most of the game, the others symbolised everything bad about the Wenger era. They played like spoiled, coddled pseudo-stars, whose belief in their talents, far exceeds the reality.
While the manner of Arsenal's 1-0 defeat was unfortunate, with Rovers pulling the ultimate smash and grab, it didn't alter the fact that Arsenal had frozen in another key game. They had failed to raise themselves for so-called inferior opponents.
More importantly, they had failed to build on the momentum established by wins over Stoke City and Sunderland. It was eerily reminiscent of how they followed up a 3-1 win at West Ham in October, with a tame 1-0 surrender at Norwich City.
Three days after Rovers, the Gunners had the ideal opportunity to put things right. However, they again found the occasion too big and played nervous. Arsenal began their UEFA Champions League tie against Bayern Munich brightly, but as is often the case, wilted at the first hint of trouble.
The 3-1 home to defeat to the Bundesliga leaders, also revealed another worrying pattern that has blighted Arsenal's season. It is the pattern of poor first half performances, followed by marked improvement in the second period.
Quite why Arsenal take so long to get going remains a mystery. The most obvious verdict is the nerves induced by playing in front of an impatient and hostile home crowd. At the Emirates Stadium every mistake is punished by a venomous, audible barrage of dissatisfaction.
Yet even that doesn't answer how Arsenal can look so bad during the first 45 minutes and suddenly accelerate into top gear in the second half. A cold assessment says this is a listless group of players, unable, or unwilling to spur themselves into action unless prompted by their manager, or the jeopardy of a deficit scoreline.
The root of the problem stems from one of the few legitimate criticisms of Wenger. The Frenchman has consistently valued technique over temperament when recruiting players. He did it with Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Aleksandr Hleb and inevitable problems followed. It's why no matter how much the faces change, Arsenal's habit of slipping up just won't go away.
The English Premier League is no place for wallflowers. In fact neither is the business of competing for major trophies on any front. Arsenal need players brazen enough to shine in any game. They need the right kind of arrogance. Not the cavalier contempt that dismisses lower-league teams.
Rather, they need the audacity to take every game as an opportunity to confound the critics and prove their worth.18156