It would be an understatement if one said August did not go as Arsenal planned. A squeaker victory against Leicester, followed by two lackluster defeats and a failed close to the transfer window, hit all the sour notes we’ve come to expect from a Wenger campaign. It suggests that nothing has changed and chaos still reigns at Arsenal. It has led to a common refrain: outright criticism and condemnation of the players, Wenger and club ownership. It would be a stretch to say it isn’t deserved.
And yet, that has been the mantra from the three big names at Arsenal. First, Mesut Ozil released a long, long and long statement on Instagram on his fifth anniversary of joining Arsenal. It highlighted the good, threw scorn at critics and claimed we didn’t know the whole story. That was followed by Alexis Sanchez’ offering, an equally passionate, if not as well crafted, call for support over criticism.
Today, it was Arsene Wenger’s turn, leveling equal criticism at the ex-Arsenal players who are less than impressed with the team’s current form:
“I always have problems understanding what a legend is and what a legend isn’t. I’ve had all the players here and we speak about today but they all had their weaknesses, as well. Don’t worry about that. They had their weak games and their weak behaviours. Nobody was perfect.
“We have to take a distance with that, as well; focus on our performance and not be dragged into any animosity. We are all grateful for what they have done for the club but what matters is always the players on the pitch, who can defend the pride of the club.”
On some level, all three of them are correct. We don’t know the full story, and overreacting to three games out of thirty-eight isn’t useful or helpful. It is the media cycle, that requires definitive and strong emotion to every kick and play. It could be that Arsenal turn the form around and win the next 10 matches and wouldn’t everyone feel silly then? The media has been clambering for Arsenal’s fall from grace since 2007 and now that it appears to be here, can only pathetically revel in what they knew was coming someday.
On the other hand, it looks and feels all too familiar and for that alone, everyone associated with Arsenal deserves a share of the blame. It comes with the territory; familiarity breeds contempt. Arsene Wenger has been the one mainstay in the club. Ozil and Alexis are the faces of the team, for good or ill. That they should be leveled with the most blame is how the game goes, and isn’t helped by mismanagement at the club (Wenger), nor by lackluster displays and failures to commit to Arsenal’s future (Ozil and Alexis).
The Legends of Arsenal, such as Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Emmanuel Petit, Tony Adams, Robert Pires and others have every right to criticize. They are a part of the media now and their words bring attention and money. It’s what they are there to do. And, however right he is when Wenger says they have flaws, they also have championships they can cram in their ears to ignore those criticisms. Current Arsenal does not and it’s something they’ll, rightly or wrongly, have to take on the chin.
That’s not to say Championships mean you should be absolved of your flaws but few remember the downs when the end results were the victories. Only the Invincibles can claim a season without flaw (unless you count draws as flaws which... c’mon) and, for the most part, fans don’t look back on championship seasons with “geez, if only we had won this one, too.” It’s not how it works.
Arsenal are in a dysfunctional place both on the pitch and in the boardroom, meaning every defeat is magnified. It’s not a new trend and really should lead Wenger and company to only one action: shut it and play.
No one wants to hear the “boo hoos” or excuses on how the media and previous legends “are hard on us”. No one really needs a media crafted statement about how your committed to the club and want support in the stands. No one needs you to push back against ex-players who feel they know what’s going on.
Show us. Get out on the pitch and fix this. Win games and make a push. Only that will change the dynamic between you and the media. What they say doesn’t matter; remember all the nonsense they made about Emirates selfies? Sports is a results-based business - all that matters is what you accomplish, not how you accomplish it.
Wenger needs to fix this team. Alexis and Ozil need to commit to whatever it takes to fix this team. Players need to line up and never play like they did versus Liverpool again. Support from fans and critics alike will come to a team that puts aside the noise and plays the game.
Otherwise, all their empty statements will prove to be that and more. They will be empty condemnations.