Arsene Wenger has been vindicated
“Since I don’t compete anymore, I get a trophy every week,” he said. “How stupid was I not to understand that earlier?”
This was Arsene Wenger at his wittiest best. He made these comments after being presented with a lifetime achievement award by the League Manager’s Association (LMA) by England’s manager Gareth Southgate.
Of what we heard from him after he left the Emirates in the summer, one thing stood out, something which highlighted his agonies. Wenger had to face a whole lot of criticism during the last phase of his career at Arsenal, specifically in his last season.
He was criticised primarily for tactics considered outdated and the overall poor quality of his squad. At the time, it couldn’t be established whether the criticism was warranted, and thus Wenger, for the nobleman he is, kept quiet.
But now he has spoken about, at least, one aspect of the criticism that he had to face.
Speaking to beIN SPORTS, the ace manager said, “The team is in good hands, and I always said that. A lot of people thought when I left the club that the team would need to completely rebuild - I never thought that. I am very happy that these people have been proved wrong.”
Now let’s analyze whether Wenger has a point.
First, major summer signings under Unai Emery have been Lucas Torreira (defensive midfielder), Bernd Leno (goalkeeper), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (central defender), Mattéo Guendouzi (central midfielder) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (right back). This indicates that significant concentration has been on the defence, which is clear considering Arsenal’s recent performance.
Now, if we consider Arsenal’s defence under Wenger’s regime, players like Petr Cech, Shkodran Mustafi, Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac came under scrutiny. This season, however, they have improved from various changes being made in the defensive setup with a strategy of three central defenders at the back doing wonders for players such as Kolasinac and Bellerín who favour playing as wing backs.
While Bernd Leno is not an immense improvement over an improved Petr Cech, he suits Emery’s style more. The German has, therefore, toppled the Czech Republican for the number one spot between the sticks. It has, however, to be admitted that Cech did an adequate job at the start of the season before he lost his place to Leno after an injury.
Ironically, shouts to bring Cech back have discovered fresh life after some significant errors by Leno dropped points for Arsenal, with the most recent case being in the match against Southampton.
While Mustafi has improved, he still hasn’t proven himself to be the world class defender that sneaks through his usual clumsy self from time to time.
Another of Wenger’s signings has however made him proud: Rob Holding. Sadly, he had a season-ending injury against Manchester United, but before that, he really looked like a defender of the highest pedigree.
The major improvement at the defence appears to have come rather from bringing in an experienced defender like Sokratis, who has not only brought more physicality to Arsenal’s approach at the back but has also turned out to be a compelling presence.
Rating for Wenger’s former defence - 7/10.
Arsenal’s central midfield has only one player taking on a substantial role from Wenger’s era, and that’s Granit Xhaka whom many had believed would be the first to leave the club. Instead, it is Aaron Ramsey who hasn’t been offered a contract extension.
Meanwhile, there has been a rotation between Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mikhyatrian and Alex Iwobi in the attacking midfield where they all have provided adequate support to the forwards at most times.
It’s safe to say Arsenal has always had the flair and creative talent in their midfield, and they still do. What they lacked was the steel that was badly needed, and that has been effectively served by Arsenal's new poster boy, Lucas Torreira, and occasionally by a better performing Xhaka.
Rating for Wenger’s midfield - 7.5/10.
Arsenal’s attacking talent has been unblemished. Led by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and supported well by Danny Welbeck, until he got injured, again, it has proved its worth. There were questions asked about both of Arsenal’s big money signings last season. In Lacazette’s case, it was for his drop in form, while in Aubameyang's case, it was because of the transfer fee involved and his situation at his previous club.
Aubameyang and Lacazette celebrate a goal together.
Wenger, however, got these signings spot on. While Aubameyang is leading the Golden Boot race, his strike partner Lacazette only needs a little more luck to get on the scoring charts again. The only little glitch that one can identify is a competent backup option, which was available in form of Welbeck initially. Some reports suggest Arsenal may go for a backup striker in January, but considering Arsenal’s restricted budget and troublesome defence, it looks implausible.
Rating for Wenger’s forwards - 9/10.
Arsenal may not yet look like a team ready to challenge for the title, but it surely doesn't need a complete overhaul. What it certainly needs, however, is a world class central defender and a leader who can make this team of talented individuals click together - an instance analogous to that of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.