One of the things we’ve always known about Arsene Wenger, largely because he has said as much over the years, is that he likes to get players who are smart, and he then lets those players use their smarts on the pitch, with very little direction from him. When you’re running out Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas, and other players at that level, sure, that works pretty well. But when you’re dealing with “ordinary” Premier League players, or players that have been mostly trained in a system-based coaching environment, things get a little trickier.
Coaches have to coach. They don’t have to micromanage, but in this day and age, coaches need to be able to instill a system and philosophy into players, to give them some sort of foundation on which to rely when things don’t go well. Arsene has never had a Plan B, and has largely, until the last five years or so, gotten by without needing one - Plan A was good enough most of the time.
Plan A has obviously stopped being good enough, and now his players are starting to feel the strain of the Wenger coaching philosophy, it seems. In a players-only meeting after the first of two embarrassing losses to Manchester City this week, this exchange happened, involving an unnamed player:
“We are a big club,” he said, tapping into the rallying cry theme. “But we need more help from the coaches.” That was when the damning judgment was articulated. It had actually been the motivation for the players to gather in the first place – without Arsène Wenger. “It’s not going to happen,” one of them said. “We need to find the answers ourselves.”
That, friends, is a very damning indictment. It basically confirms the suspicion we all had that I outlined above - Wenger doesn’t coach so much as unleash. And while those of us on the outside have thought this might be a suboptimal strategy for a while now, this is the first time a player has actually said that out loud (that we know of, anyway).
Arsenal are lost right now. And when a group is lost, it looks to a leader to guide it back to the shore. Arsenal clearly lack that leader, and while firing Wenger tomorrow will probably not save the season, it might just have enough of an effect on the players currently wearing Arsenal shirts that things might start to turn around, ever so slowly, if Wenger were to go sooner than later.
It gives me absolutely zero joy to write something that basically says “Please, Arsenal, fire Wenger right now”. I’ve been, as Ted puts it, ride or die for Wenger longer than most. But I’ve wanted him to be gone for a season and a half now, and I’m also past the point of caring whether it happens in late May or if it happens now. If it’s true that Wenger’s legacy has earned him the right to see out the season, it’s also true that he’s actively ruining that legacy this season, and I just want the bleeding to stop. The players have, if not given up, at the very least come to a point where they’re desperate for someone to step in and take more command.
Will firing Arsene tomorrow solve Arsenal’s problems overnight? No. Will it rescue the season? No. But will allowing this depressing, sad, and counterproductive rot to continue, and to fester and get worse, between now and May accomplish anything either?
I’m not asking for change for the sake of it; I’m asking for change for the sake of taking that first baby step towards making things better, even if we don’t see more tangible steps between now and the July window.
Fear of things getting worse is never a reason to not do anything. If that were the way Arsenal operated, they may as well never let Arsene go, because change may mean things will get worse in the short term. But...things are not all that great now, are they? I mean, sure, Arsenal could reel off a couple wins against relegation candidates Stoke and Southampton and look good doing so, but that doesn’t mean they are in any way prepared to compete with the top half of the table, which is what we all want.
And, let’s face it: it’s also possible that Arsenal could lose to both those relegation candidates, the way they’re playing right now.
The way I see it, the choice is: either maintain a crap status quo for fear of regression, or take a step into the unknown that carries with it some risk, but ultimately will be the better move. That’s not a hard choice for me. If change needs to happen, and it clearly does, what is gained by waiting?
I’m now firmly team #RipOffTheBandaid. It’s time.