Arsenal F.C: An endless tryst with glorious failure
Glorious failure - the words that come to mind in the aftermath of Arsenal's 3-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United. However, the words glorious failure have been associated with Arsenal far too often in recent years.
A few years ago, Jose Mourinho had rather inappropriately and crudely referred to Arsene Wenger as a specialist in failure. However, Wenger does seem to have built up quite a resume as a specialist in glorious failure.
Arsenal made yet another very valiant effort to overcome a very difficult situation, came very close, but ultimately fell just a tiny bit short of the target. Its a story Arsenal fans know all too well by now.
Glorious failures in the past
Arsenal fans know this whole glorious failure business well by now. Some years ago, Arsenal travelled to AC Milan for the 1st leg of the UEFA Champions League knockout stage, and got humbled 4-0.
Most teams would have given up at that point, but Arsenal regrouped and in the return leg, took a 3-0 lead at halftime. A glorious comeback seemed on the cards, but Arsenal eventually lost the tie 4-3.
"If you are to go out, that is the way to go out", the media said. There seemed something so poetic about a valiant attempt to overturn a seemingly impossible situation, and to come close to doing it, but eventually falling a tiny bit short.
Then came the Bayern Munich tie in the 2013 Champions League knockout stage. Arsenal lost the 1st leg 3-1 at home. However, then, Arsenal got into their 'nothing to lose' mode and gave a very good account in Munich, and won 2-0, but alas, still crashed out on away goals. So cruel it seemed, but it was yet another glorious failure.
A similar story transpired against AS Monaco in the Champions League a few years later. A familiar story of Arsenal giving a mighty go at overcoming an impossible situation, coming close to doing it, but eventually falling just a little short of the target.
Against Manchester United, it was a similar story. So why do Arsenal always have to settle for the glorious failure?
Is that the right question to ask, or should one ask, how is it, that in key games, Arsenal so often find themselves needing to overcome seemingly impossible situations?
Did the game against Manchester United start with Arsenal trailing by 2 goals to nil, or was that a problem of Arsenal's own making?
Therein lies the real problem. It is too easy to fall back on the glorious failure excuse, like Arsene Wenger did in the post-game interview following the game against Manchester United.
'Proud of the attitude', 'commitment', these are words that Arsenal fans have grown used to hearing Wenger utter after such games. These are all responses that play to the excuse of glorious failure, and make no mistake, it is just an excuse.
Arsenal, so often, have to embark on seeming impossible quests because they are not good enough in situations where the contest is level.
If Arsenal didn't let in two early goals they wouldn't need to be in a situation to overcome a two-goal deficit in the first place.
Arsenal's plight hints at deeper underlying issues, that of both mentality and quality.
David de Gea rightly got a lot of praise for his role in the win, however, don't let de Gea's stellar showing shift the focus away from the real issues at Arsenal. Manchester United weren't two goals to the good in the 1st 10 minutes because de Gea is great at what he does.
Arsenal were in a mess after 10 minutes, because once again, in a high-pressure game, Arsenal's defence couldn't cope with the task they were required to do. This latest glorious failure, is nothing but the all too familiar story of Arsenal's defence gloriously going to sleep on the job.
Arsene Wenger's side have always been proficient in attack, during Wenger's reign. The problem for Arsenal has always been the defence, and these defensive issues were on full display during the 3-1 defeat against United.
Arsenal no longer have an identity
Why have Arsenal's defensive issues never been addressed in all these years? At one point in Arsene Wenger's reign, Arsenal were said to be the best passing team in the world. The attacking movement was quick, there was a directness to the play, there was speed in the movement. Could something similar be said about the team today?
Arsenal have gradually lost all identity. What do Arsenal represent? What do Arsenal attempt to do in games?
Is Arsenal a solid defensive team, that are tough to break down? No.
Is Arsenal a team that sucks you in absorbs the pressure and then hits you on the counter in a flash? No.
Is Arsenal a team that attempts to cut open the defence with quick incisive one-touch passing? Not really.
This Arsenal team lacks a philosophy and a clear game plan, besides just keeping possession by passing the ball side to side. Arsenal are essentially a one trick pony when it comes to having a gameplan.
Just keep possession, that is all. It helps with possession stats, but that is about all it does. That brand of static football is easy for quality defences to deal with. Once this 'pass the ball from side to side' plan doesn't work, Arsenal often don't know what else to do.
This is why Arsenal often find themselves struggling against good teams that have the defensive organisation to deal with Arsenal's attack, and the attack to make the most of Arsenal's very generous defenders.
Need for focus on defence
Arsenal won't become a team that challenges for the league title season after season with such a generous defence. Historically, a solid defence has covered for an ordinary attack force, but a stellar attack force has hardly ever been known to compensate for a porous defence in the long run.
As the saying goes, attack wins games, but defence wins championships.
These are the basic fundamentals of football that any side taking itself seriously must get right. No one, not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans, could say that Arsenal have a world class defence, or have even been close to having one for years now.
Right approach, wrong team?
Arsenal have got the very basics of the team setup wrong, and Arsene Wenger must take the responsibility for that. To use a car analogy, Wenger once used to drive an F1 car, but now has to drive a Dirt Rally car. However, the problem is that Wenger is trying to drive this Rally car, as if it were still that old F1 car he used to drive.
This Arsenal side are no Barcelona or the Invincibles squad. They need a very different approach to make them successful. Wenger has not been able to shun the - don't worry about the defending, just go out and do your thing and play the opposition off the park - mentality.
Those tactics would have worked with the Invincibles, those tactics could still work even today, with a Barcelona or a PSG, but those tactics won't work for this Arsenal side. This Arsenal team needs to be drilled into a solid defensive unit and Wenger is just not the manager to do that.
The Arsenal team of today, is far different from the Invincibles, and the same tactics and approach to games that Wenger had in the past, just doesn't work with today's Arsenal team.
Wenger must either realise the difference and plug the gaps in the team, or step aside and let someone else take over. Glorious failure - those were the words that I had chosen to start this article with.
Arsenal Wenger runs the risk of letting his reign at Arsenal being remembered, ultimately, as a glorious failure. Much has been delivered and much has been achieved, but ultimately, the team has never gone on to become the European force that many believed Wenger would transform the Arsenal team into.
Is this really the legacy that Wenger wants to leave behind at Arsenal?