Another week, another increase in the Arsenal injury list that has become such a talking point in the Barclay’s Premier League this season. Following a 1-1 draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road this Sunday, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny joined an already lengthly roll call of players on the treatment table at the Emirates. As well as the latest trio, the current crop of players battling injury includes none other than Francis Coquelin, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky.
I’ve seen much debate over recent weeks about the reasons behind why this seems to keep happening to the Gunners. Some say it’s simply bad luck but this does seem unlikely, given that this is and has been an ongoing issue for the North London club for a number of seasons now. Others suggest it could be down to problems with the medical and physio staff at Arsenal, or some sort of fundamental issue with the training. The truth is that we’ll never know with respect to either of these issues but for my money, it’s neither luck, nor training issues that are to blame for these recurring injuries. For me, there is only one man who can be looked at – and that man is Arsene Wenger.
Before I go on to explain my reasoning for this, I should start by saying that I am always extremely reluctant to bash managers but, for me, the injuries at Arsenal are a symptom of a much bigger issue at the club concerning their manager.
It cannot be debated that Arsene Wenger is the greatest manager Arsenal have ever had and is, indeed, one of the greatest managers to ever have graced British football. When he arrived at the club in 1996, he brought with him a managerial style that can only be described as revolutionary style of management that saw him build two great sides early on in his Arsenal career. The first was the title winning side of 1998 who, captained by Tony Adams, broke the dominance of a record-breaking Manchester United side led by Sir Alex Ferguson with the second side being the famous ‘Invincibles’ side of 2004. Both sides played with physicality, athleticism and pace that had never before been seen in the British game and set the template around which many British sides built their teams in the following decades.
But what we’re seeing now is a man who seems to have gone from a revolutionary to a man whom the game has left behind. For me, this injury list represents the stubbornness of a man who was the only manager of a top flight side in Europe’s top five leagues not to sign an outfield player this summer. For anyone watching, these injuries are almost inevitable – they can be seen coming a mile off and, in part, seem to be being caused by a lack of squad rotation and players being overworked. This is certainly the case with Alexis Sanchez – the former FC Barcelona front-man has not had any break for essentially two years, following a successful World Cup in Brazil in 2014, followed by a first-ever triumph in the Copa America with his native Chile in 2015.
But of course, even if squad rotation is to blame, with a man unwilling to spend money to expand his squad, how can this really be effectively put in place? Arsenal fans are growing increasingly frustrated with Wenger. Aside from Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, there have been few marquee signings in the last 5 or 6 years, with the club’s target for the season no longer being title contention and Wenger seemingly seeing it as an achievement for the club to continue just to manage Champions League qualification each year. As well as falling out of serious consideration for title contention, they are no longer considered major players in the Champions League, failing to come close following their final defeat to FC Barcelona nearly a decade ago.
What the answer is for Arsenal and their fans, it’s hard to say. Given the tone of the piece, you might expect me to say that ‘WENGER OUT’ is what’s required but, given the free-fall experienced by Manchester United following the loss of a seminal manager, it may be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ in that regard for Gooners fans. Whatever the answer, what’s sure is that things can’t stay as they are at the Emirates. If the club are serious about returning to the truly top tier in both England and Europe then, at the very least, Wenger will need to change some of his principles. Loosening the purse strings and delving into the deep coffers that the club have built up through shrewd financial management in recent years would be a start.