The referee mistakes and Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick aside, the Bayern Munich and Real Madrid presented a lesson to those at Arsenal willing to dig a little to find it - how to build a winning team. Over two legs, both clubs bragged a blend of similarly minded individuals – intertwined by the desire to win, forming a team capable of dealing with the fluidity of the game.
This brings me to the Arsenal issue at hand: What makes us think bringing a single player with leadership qualities at the club would change the whole attitude of the team? Look at Alexis Sanchez. He has the right attitude but if others choose not to follow him, there’s little he could do.
The thing is Arsenal’s problems have long entered the land where one-player solutions don’t work. Even the dreamiest one-man scenario, say if Vieira in his prime as a player was brought back to the squad, won’t work. What is he to do? Shout at them in the dressing room after every game? This would create fruit-less friction at most.
If Arsenal want to win trophies, they have to make a major revamp. It would be wrong to look for leader-type players. The right approach would be to get people with winning mentality and saturate the squad with them. Their desire for winning matches, and ultimately trophies, would naturally synchronise them to each other to form a team that would need less motivational guidance and perhaps less tactical one too.
If we are to put our finger on the exact moment when Arsenal turned the corner, it must be when Wenger made Cesc Fabregas team captain. It was from that moment on when Arsenal started its transformation from a robust and gritty side to a technique-focused one with the occasional dirty worker in the mix. When Wenger inherited George Graham’s Famous Four defence and added Vieira into the mix, he enjoyed a bunch of players willing to kill for each other on the pitch.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the creativity and exploratory perspective of football artists. I love it. But single-mindedly throwing them in heaps into a team is just too ‘pillows on the floor and shishas’ for the sport.
Pillows and shishas it is. Now Wenger has at his disposal Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, etc. Some of these players are technical maestros and others are average at best. They fit right into the ‘new’ idea of Arsenal: the passing kings of fluid football. The football team that would be lovely to watch in a GIF video on the wallscreen of an electronic nightclub. The hipsters of the 2010s.
Wenger and the club sold us a beautifully packaged chocolate bar, pleasant on the outside and eliciting saliva in the mouth, but soft on the inside and tasty for the opposition on the pitch.
If his idea was to build a team of technically masterful players and throw one or two motivated leaders in the mix in the hope they will ‘infect’ others with enthusiasm, then I’m sorry to say, it hasn’t worked.
Robin van Persie was motivated to win trophies. So were Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Bacary Sagna, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. These were the players who got stuck in a poo-storm of marketing ideals and promises which sadly outgrew the football club. Why do we even wonder why Arsenal are worse off now when they had Nasri, Fabregas, Van Persie and Sagna several years ago?
They all left the club and won trophies with other clubs. With a hand on the heart, we even dare not blame Sanchez if he decided to leave the Gunners. Ironically, it is this type of players that Arsene tries to keep and fails every single time.
So, the solution is: keep Sanchez, Cech, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny. Sell everyone else over the next two to three years and spend a couple of hundred million to bring in players with winning mentality, players who will work for each other because they have a similar attitude. Arsenal do not lack leaders. They lack the right team.