“You wonder why, with the same players, our game could crumble so much. The staff and I wondered whether we had made mistakes, if the training was being done badly” Arsene confesses in an article published in the French journal L`Equipe. “The barometer is confidence and when that seizes up…now we are unbeaten for 18 Premier League matches and that leaves with me with a lot of regrets.” he almost explained.
But confidence is a commodity that is lost quickly and recovered only slowly so what actions might he regret not taking that would have had a positive impact? With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that the atmosphere in the dressing room wasn`t the best in order to create the individual and collective confidence we needed. Part of that has to be the decision to continue with Gallas as captain. For all his qualities of ability and experience Gallas, who to me had seemed a natural and obvious choice, in hindsight clearly doesn`t have the personal skills needed to get everyone to rally around him as a focal point of the team. Though he doesn`t say so maybe Wenger, who should have had less need of hindsight, regrets not changing the captain earlier. Then again had he made the decision in the summer would that have avoided the internal disruption that the circumstances surrounding his later removal gave rise to or just raised a different set of problems?
Wenger identifies the game against Manchester City in which we were soundly beaten 3-0 as being the low point. “The most worrying match was our 3-0 defeat at Manchester City in November. That was one loss too many. We hit the bottom” he says. That game took place in the eye of the Gallas storm as he was omitted from the team. The decision to leave him out may not have been Wenger`s but the defence we put out that day was tantamount to cutting our nose off to spite our face. However it may well have been impossible to play him in the atmosphere of the time. Taking the captaincy decision in the summer wouldn`t have avoided the disruption altogether it would simply have brought it forward to a time when it may have been a little harder to accept than it ultimately became. The decision, when it came, seemed to lance the boil though.
The issue of confidence isn`t only a matter of who leads the team. Most would have some appreciation of the ‘new manager syndrome` where a new face can be enough on its own to galvanise a team. That has been some of the thinking behind the lack of summer transfer activity at the club with the idea that a new player would have helped invigorate the team. The discontent at our failure to sign a ‘big’enough player in the summer was palpable. The anger expressed by some supporters on many blogs was at times surprisingly intense. The fact that we had signed Nasri and Silvestre wasn`t enough. Many supporters had needed a ‘name` in order to have confidence in their team.
If it is a need to be satisfied amongst supporters does the same need exist among the players to in order to have confidence in their squad development? It isn`t Wenger`s style to sign a player for those reasons but others teams do – for what other reason would Milan have signed Ronaldinho for example? Wenger will have regretted not being able to sign Alonso though, given the circumstances at Liverpool, he probably realises it had become mission impossible too. Just as the ‘new manager` syndrome quickly wears off Wenger would always try to look further than the short term boost of signing a player for appearances sake but there is no doubt that the January signing of Arshavin gave a boost to supporters and team alike. It was too long coming but few would consider the signing a cosmetic one. It does satisfy a genuine tactical need.
There was a need to rebuild midfield though not so much in the defensive sense that many would have thought at the time. The real shortfall was in the creative side which wasn`t remedied until the arrival of Arshavin. Wenger might well regret not addressing that problem earlier but his greater regret would have been in putting too much store in the medical advice on Rosicky`s prospects of recovery.
Having regrets isn`t the same as making mistakes and though he has inevitably made them, as we all do, it isn`t quite clear from the interview just what he believes the mistakes are and what, if anything, he could have done about them. He does tell us that “I did make a mistake in perhaps underestimating the harmful effects of last season, especially the loss of the title. I asked myself a lot of questions during the close season about the influence losing the title in the last two months might cause.”
That suggests a collective loss of confidence and an increase in self-doubt among the players was the problem he failed to address. There isn`t an automatic solution to those sorts of problems and gooners will differ as what the solutions should be but as yet Arsene hasn`t really told us what he thinks he could or should have done.
Message Board To visit the message board, click here. Get involved