Arsenal suffered a disappointing defeat to Watford this past weekend and the reasons for their struggles were once again discussed by the national media. After the match, Watford captain Troy Deeney provided a player’s point of view on the Gunners and it would have made for difficult listening for supporters. He told BT Sport that Arsene Wenger’s side lack ‘cojones’:
“Whenever I play Arsenal, I’ll go up and think, ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it’. I came on today (Saturday) and jumped with (Per) Mertesacker. I didn’t even have to jump, actually – I nodded it down. The crowd gets up – ‘Yeah, we’ve got somebody who can win it’ – and they all just backed off.
“For me as a player I just think, ‘Happy days’. That’s my strength. I know I’m not technically gifted like they are, not as quick, but if you want to fight with me, I’m gonna beat you all day.”
These are concerning quotes, but they don’t fully explain the reason for Arsenal’s defeat on Saturday. They are liable for showing a lack of commitment on the pitch, but it is difficult to believe that they aren’t up for the fight. It seems to me that the problems are more centred on belief and for years, the squad haven’t believed that they can challenge at the top of the Premier League. There has been a noticeable decline in the team’s position in the top flight and the decision to renew the contract of Arsene Wenger is one they will regret.
This past summer was important for Arsenal. They needed to change something to make the squad and supporters believe again, whether that be the manager, the coaching staff or the playing staff. They didn’t. The board decided to renew Wenger’s contract and made only two signings. Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette have both made good starts to their careers in England in a difficult environment, but they needed more investment if Wenger was to make a success of this season.
Their central midfield is a huge area of concern, as they have yet to settle on a partnership that works. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are both good players, but they are unsure of how they should be operating as a pair. They aren’t well suited to playing in a two. The other options in the squad, Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin, have failed to establish themselves for one reason or another. Arsenal should have brought somebody in for the position, but they didn’t and they are now suffering for that.
For regular watchers of Arsenal, the weekend’s defeat against Watford was utterly predictable. There is a famous saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It was clear that there needed to be change during the summer at the Emirates Stadium and there wasn’t. The decision to retain Arsene Wenger is looking more and more foolish with every passing week. It would be devastating for the Gunners to miss out on the Champions League for another season, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they did. In fact, it would be a bigger suprise if they finished in the top four than if they didn’t.
Back to Deeney’s quotes, it is a common critique of Arsenal’s that they aren’t mentally strong enough and aren’t prepared to fight for the team. There is some truth to that, but it stems from the top. These aren’t mentally weak players, but they are representing a mentally weak club and the DNA has seeped into the players wearing the shirt. Per Mertesacker once captained Germany. Granit Xhaka was talked about as a born leader when he was signed.
The decision to keep Wenger last summer was clearly a mistake. The only discussion point now is how costly it will be.