Tag Archives: Theo Walcott

Arsene Wenger and when adoration becomes aggravation

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You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

It might be a little cliché to quote The Dark Knight but when a real-life superhero to many slowly fades into infamy, it seems only fitting.

Arsene Wenger has been a monumental figure for Arsenal. The Frenchman took them to great highs in an era where only his stylish sides could match or even better the juggernaut from up north in Manchester United.

However, the key word in that paragraph above is has. Whether it’s a mixture of a failure to evolve, a delusion of power or the modern game simply outpacing him, the 67-year-old’s time at the helm of the Gunners should finally come to a close.

Not with a bang, not even with a whimper for some.

There’s no doubt that Wenger is one of the greatest managers in English football history. He’s won an impressive stash of trophies, maintained a strong league finish every year even with the money thrown around by other clubs and preceded over an unbeaten season that will likely never happen again.

Not only that, he looked to bring through a number of young English players and develop them as the core of his next great footballing side. A little distant from the powerful, cultured sides he had before as they slowly evolved into a slick, possession-based monster.

That is likely where his downfall started.

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The first step was changing the culture, adapting it into what he believed was beautiful football. No one is questioning that he succeeded, sometimes Arsenal are simply a joy to watch, but too often they were found wanting when it came to crunch times of the season.

They could be bullied, with a lot of the new players being a little more lightweight than the ones that came before. Then came the adage that they would try to pass the ball into the net, with teams setting their stalls out on the edge of their box to keep the Gunners at bay and all too often, it worked.

Almost like a backwards evolution, that deformity became a trait. Fans clamoured for some physicality but for years Arsene resisted, lamenting with the signing of Granit Xhaka this summer, only for him to fall into the trap of becoming an Arsenal stereotype himself.

The second issue that has come back to bite him is those young players, who have simply taken advantage of his belief in them. So many of them have had their careers stalled in one way or another, their desire to fight when they struggled torn away and his loyalty to them, almost as a father figure, have plunged both into deep waters they can’t escape from.

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Taking Aaron Ramsey as an example, who was maligned for so long before bursting into life for one fabulous season. He’s been intermittent at best since, Arsene torn between sticking with him or throwing him to the sidelines as he showed in the European Championships with Wales that his powers have not abandoned him.

He has not been ruthless enough. Francis Coquelin still gets a game despite becoming a passenger, Theo Walcott has never learned how to play with his brain and Petr Cech is on a seemingly speedy decline in between the sticks.

This, in turn, has led to a shirk of responsibility on his ‘star’ players. Mesut Ozil can’t get on the ball and when that doesn’t happen, he’s absent while Alexis Sanchez would run through the crust of the Earth for you at the start of this season but when no-one else follows suit, why should he bother?

Even as a fan of a bitter rival, it really is a shame that it has come for this for Arsenal. It almost needs blowing up in the summer and rebuilding completely, unless someone can resurrect a virus that seems to run deep into the core. Scarily deep at that.

With Wenger still coy on his future, the players have decided to make up his mind for him. They haven’t got the fight any more, the powers are seemingly draining from a frustrated manager and the fan base is slowly turning in on themselves.

It’s poisonous and while for many it will seem like cutting off a leg, at least it might save the rest.

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England’s selection headaches

Hodgson needs to start sticking to a line-up or they'll come unstuck against better teams.  Source: The Guardian

Hodgson needs to start sticking to a line-up or they’ll come unstuck against better teams. Source: The Guardian

Another Euro 2016 qualifier, another win. It’s hard to argue that Roy Hodgson isn’t doing a good job but at the same time, there’s still a lingering headache with fans with his incoherent team selection.

It began with the starting eleven, with Phil Jones starting at right-back instead of the natural full-back Nathaniel Clyne. Despite Jones having a few good games in the position, especially at club level, it’s not a natural fit and common sense would suggest that when you have someone of Clyne’s ability at your disposal, it makes the choice even more suspect.

Then after Jones was removed due to injury at half-time, Hodgson decided to move Jordan Henderson into the back four and bring on Adam Lallana. It’s an attacking change and England needed more impetuous after going behind, it still didn’t make much sense to weaken the middle of the park just to add another dimension in the final third.

Can people stop playing Phil Jones at right-back, please?  Source: The FA

Can people stop playing Phil Jones at right-back, please? Source: The FA

That’s not a slight on Lallana, who did make a difference, or Henderson, who did a capable job, but it only got more absurd when Clyne finally came on just after Slovenia’s equaliser. It almost felt like a token appearance, five minutes isn’t enough time to really impact the game and questions have to be asked about how England set up.

It’s not just the right-back position that was at fault, how Andros Townsend was chosen over Theo Walcott will boggle the mind for days. Townsend, who can’t get a game for Tottenham Hotspurs, has had a few decent performances for England which surely justifies his place in Hodgson’s mind over the in-form, FA Cup winning Theo Walcott.

If England are to take anything out of the game, it’s that they need more tactical flexibility and they need to start picking a consistent defensive line-up. Wayne Rooney had a pretty poor game but at the same time, all too often he was the only player in the box at any given time and that needed to change.

Walcott, even in a rich vein of form at the end of the season, can't get a look in.  Source: The Guardian

Walcott, even in a rich vein of form at the end of the season, can’t get a look in. Source: The Guardian

Adding Lallana was better, he tried to fill in the gap behind him along with Jack Wilshire but Townsend provided no width on the right, coming too far inside and staying out of the box. With Michael Carrick injured and no other quality options in his absence, Hodgson needs to be confident enough to play a 4-2-3-1 so that there are more choices for playmakers in the final third.

The defence also needs solidifying as his chop-changing style isn’t helping anyone. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill is probably the ideal match-up, both because of age and style, but they need to play together regularly. He also can’t keep switching who’s at left-back, Kieran Gibbs was poor on the second goal and Ryan Bertrand didn’t do too much to be dropped so he needs to choose a solid line-up at the back.

Having pretty much qualified for Euro 2016 with a win, Hodgson now needs to use the games in the Autumn and next year to solidify the team, add the flexibility and make sure they’ll be ready against quality opposition. The mistakes made here will be severely punished by bigger teams and rather than wasting the time to test out players, Hodgson needs to use the valuable time the team have together to make them a better outfit ready for tournament football.

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