Wenger’s Downward Spiral

“Would you like your humble pie with chips?” asked Jon Champion during the halftime break. What a great question for Arsene Wenger, especially this season. Arsenal’s future has been looking somewhat grim; from losing van Persie to United to injured keepers Szczesny and Fabianski, the team has had their share of troubles. On top of that, they’re now 10 points behind Roberto Di Matteo‘s European Champions.

Saturday’s match saw an incredibly sloppy performance from the Gunners, a lot of possession and not a lot of chances.

Gervinho didn’t see the field as well as he usually does, getting in quite a lot of passes to offside players. There were a couple of early attempts by Podolski, but none were on target. Grant Holt opened up the score for Norwich after Alexander Tettey’s shot was pushed away by Arsenal keeper Mannone. Holt picked up the ball on the rebound – all he needed was a simple tap to score. Holt has been the star for Norwich this season, scoring in three consecutive games against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, and now Wenger’s side. Paradoxically, possession was almost always in Arsenal’s favor, yet the score could have easily been 2:0 for Norwich. Michael Turner’s header from a corner delivery just missed the far post. Podolski wasn’t aggressive enough on the ball and completely missed out on a chance to go head-to-head with the Norwich keeper. It’s one thing when a player misses a shot, and quite another when he doesn’t take it.

Just as many had speculated about Sir Alex Ferguson‘s halftime substitutions, so too did some Arsenal supporters sit with sweaty palms, anxiously anticipating the arrival new faces on the pitch. Neither manager had made any half-time changes. In United’s case, the choice made sense. The Red Devils came out of the halftime break to score. That said, after watching Manchester United come back from 1-goal deficit to Stoke, I half-expected Arsenal to do the same. Instead, the match had a rather different shock value – it was Norwich that continued to carry the initiative. Arsenal didn’t get to the opposition’s net in over 20 minutes. By then, Wenger had made up his mind – it was up to Oxlade-Chamberlain to take over from the lackluster Podolski. An interesting decision, considering the Ox was recently axed from the England squad. Not only that, but he had to be subbed out after less than 10 minutes due to an injury. With 15 minutes left in the game, Wenger brought on Andrei Arshavin. The Russian international took on set piece deliveries and partook in one combination. I should point out that Norwich’s substituted players received a standing ovation for their efforts, which is much more than can be said about the Gunners. The crowd of just under 27,000 saw their team get their first win of the season and the first win against Arsenal at Carrow Road since Boxing Day in 1984, an unforgettable moment for manager Chris Hughton’s career.

How can a Premier League giant that is 72:28% ahead in possession lose the match? It would be wrong to say that Arsenal don’t have much talent in their team right now without van Persie. The problem isn’t what the players can do – it’s what the players aren’t doing, and therefore, what the manager isn’t doing. If seen from the most objective viewpoint, Wenger isn’t taking cues from his players. If you’ve been watching the documentary series Being Liverpool, you’ll know that Brendan Rodgers is very serious about every single player being fully committed to the team. Anyone who shows signs of neglect is kindly reminded that they can just as easily be playing for the reserves. Then there’s Sir Alex Ferguson’s remarkable Red Devils, the team that carries more stability with them than both Arsenal and Liverpool. That stability comes from the manager’s mindset and his ability to communicate with and motivate the players to get the results he desires. At Arsenal, there’s clearly a problem with motivating players – with the likes of Podolski and Arshavin on the team, there’s so much untapped potential. These players have proven themselves before, largely on the National Team level and under different managers. So why not now? Wenger is losing hold over his players, and the Gunners might soon find themselves trading places with last season’s Liverpool, if he doesn’t get some of that humble pie.

Barclays Premier League – 8th Matchweek

Saturday, October 20, 2012, 12:30 PM EST

Norwich City vs. Arsenal FC – 1:0 (1:0)

Arena: Carrow Road (Norwich, Norfolk)

Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)

Goals:

1:0 Grant Holt (20′)

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