When Loyalty Manifests into Incompetency: The Wenger Story

There is a vigorous sensation when a person has faith in another. It can give you immensely high confidence and self-esteem. It can give you the courage to construct your own destiny. It can be the difference between a champion, and a contender. Believe me, if I had someone who had faith in me the way Arsene Wenger has faith in his players; my life would be different.  However his sense of loyalty is often misplaced and he bears the burden of failure when objectives are not met. In this article we will examine how Wenger’s misplaced loyalty in ineffective players has created a belligerent ethos around the club.

Please don’t think this is an impulsive, unmediated reaction to our current squad. This misplaced loyalty is a systematic and institutional failure within Wenger’s philosophy. Sure his faith has produced dynamic and vibrant players, such as Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb, however throughout the years that loyalty has been placed in less talented players. Denilson, Pascal Cygan, Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou, Theo Walcott, Oliver Giroud etc. These were just a few players off the top of my head. What had started as a noble intention has turned into a stubborn resistance of reality.

The faith that Wenger put in Denilson was absurd. Wenger was looking for a replacement for Patrick Viera, but also for the out-going Gilberto Silva. Denilson, of Brazilian heritage, looked like the prototypical defensive midfielder that may solve Wenger’s problem. His football IQ wasn’t as high as Silva’s, nor was he as technically as gifted as Edu (another Brazilian CDM). However with the right nurture and faith he might improve. For 7 years he grazed the football pitch for Arsenal. And for 7 years Arsenal stagnated. Denilson, taciturnly, was named the crab at the Emirates Stadium. This was because of his inability to make a forward pass, and the redundant use of the horizontal pass. Ironically this signature move by Denilson was the personification of Arsenal as a football club, and Wenger’s ideology.

Another injudicious place of faith and loyalty was in the position of goalkeeper. Since 2008 Wenger has tried to develop a plethora of goalkeepers to supersede Jens Lehmann. Let’s list off his choices, before he finally signed a world class stopper in Petr Cech:

  • Manuel Almunia
  • Matt Poom
  • Vito Mannone
  • Lukasz Fabianski
  • Wojciech Szczeny
  • Old Jens Lehmann
  • David Ospina

The faith he showed in his goalkeepers was commendable, though imprudent. Petr Cech saved, on average, 15 points a season for Chelsea. Advance analytics showed that, and also showed no major club won without having a keeper saving them at least 9 points a season. Szczeny, Arsene’s prodigy, cost Arsenal 5 points on average per season. The hostile atmosphere at the Emirates, during this period, was contributed to Wenger’s loyalty to a carousel of incompetent goalkeepers.

This misplaced faith was again evident in recent years with Oliver Giroud. First off, I do not want to slate Giroud for his ability. He is a fantastic player, and is often undervalued within the Arsenal system by pundits. My problem, which is shared by many Arsenal supporters, is the encumbrance of placing the “first choice striker” label on him. Giroud may be one of the best ‘super-sub’ strikers in recent Premier League history; however he is not a first choice striker at a club with championship aspirations. He can torment the lesser sides in the league but disappears in big game situations against the top 6. He has great technical ability, link up play and is a hazardous aerial threat. However he lacks the mobility and passion to be a front line centre forward for Arsenal. Wenger’s overreliance on him suggests rigid obduracy and inflexibility. The supporters can see this, and Wenger most know by now that the Giroud experiment has disintegrated.

Conversely Wenger’s faith, loyalty and innovation have resulted in success. This article isn’t trying to suggest that Wenger is a failure. He transformed Ashley Cole and Lauren from ambitious, but flawed wingers into reputable fullbacks. He converted Thierry Henry from a young winger into one of the greatest centre forwards of all time. His faith and loyalty has cultivated champions in the past. But in recent history, he has failed at an alarming rate. Maybe this is because of the evolution of the game. Maybe it is because of stubbornness towards an ideal. But with Wenger signing a new 2 year contract, things need to change. If he absorbs the position of Director of Football, Arsenal will spiral into decadence. If he relinquishes an infinitesimal amount of power at the club, than we can progress. Arsenal’s destiny is in Wenger’s hands. Will he continue down Incompetence Road? Or will he turn right towards Hope Avenue? Only time will tell.

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