Cooney and Black

Wenger’s physical approach is exerting too much pressure on his players. Is he now an old-fashioned boss whose methods no longer work in Europe’s most competitive league?


WHEN will the penny drop at Arsenal? When will this most forward looking of Premier League clubs address, once and for all, the problems that have so badly handicapped their quest to consistently win the biggest honours in the game?

That problem is Arsene Wenger, a man committed to playing an attractive style of football that is so good to watch, but exerts massive physical pressure on his players.

As he celebrates 18 years in charge at the Gunners, Wenger doggedly refuses to turn away from the mantra on which he has based his reputation.

It is referred to as pace and power, and means that his teams practise and train the way they play their matches. With inevitable results. It is the reason why the club suffer so many injuries.

Players are extended six days a week, and obliged to be as committed in training as Wenger expects them to be in top-flight matches.

And every week the medical bulletins coming out of the club always seem to claim the most vital members of the team.

Because of it, Jack Wilshire’s entire career for club and country is at the crossroads. Because he is so competent at receiving the ball, and has such quick feet, he is comfortable in tight situations.

It also means he is constantly under pressure when in possession, and therefore invites tackles. His problems, mostly impact injuries, see him frequently sidelined when he should be dominating the team play.

Kieran Gibbs, also injury prone, has missed almost as many matches as he has played.

This week in Europe, Arsenal had Mikel Arteta missing again after twisting an ankle in August that saw him out for a month. Now he has a calf strain. Aaron Ramsey, another vital cog in the red machine, was also out with a hamstring. All should be vital first-team regulars.

Theo Walcott is still out after nine months, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has only just returned. It is why Arsenal are susceptible, why they cannot dominate other teams and why their first honour for nine years was last season’s devalued FA Cup.

Until Wenger realises that he cannot keep extending players, then the persistent absences of star men will always be a problem.

That FA Cup win over Hull, who led 2-0 at Wembley, saved Wenger at a time when the club became embarrassingly conscious that perhaps he had lost his way,with the Gunners repeatedly falling short of greatness.

Wenger wants to be remembered for greatness.

Every year, Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League since he has been in charge. But every year top players find they have to move on. Cesc Fabregas left for Chelsea and Robin van Persie joined Manchester United. It is questionable whether they could stand the pace once they reached a certain age.

They found, as they became older, the driving training sessions that Wenger put on were becoming too demanding, and that their bodies were no longer able to cope.

Wenger seems reluctant to embrace the possibility that he is expecting too much of his players, demanding a workload with which they are no longer comfortable.

His teams play great football and they are a delight to watch. Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Galatasaray emphasised this. But now they have also become more beatable, and unless they win another honour this season, Wenger will have much to explain.

Perhaps he has been there too long, perhaps he should move upstairs to a more directional position where he can overseer the side and work with a younger coach, who can embrace his love of the game and the quest to score the perfect goal.

But it’s essential to keep a consistent line-up on the pitch, week after week..

Time moves on, Gunners need to move on, too. So does Wenger. This could be his most important season of them all. It could all come down to the strength of the side he selects.

But this thought persists: is he now an old fashioned manager, whose ideas no longer work in a league that is by far the most competitive in Europe?




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