After a month of misery at Arsenal, the tone of the last week has instead been one of near total anger. It can now be sensed on the training ground as well as on the pitch and stands after the weekend’s revelations – but not, notably, in the press conference room.
There, Arsene Wenger asked his players to really use that anger productively, to put in a display of “lucid rage” against Bayern Munich in their Champions League second-leg fixture at the Emirates. It was a lovely line delivered with a conspicuous smile, and an illustration of why he can still be so persuasive, as well as a reminder of why he always has such faith in his ideas.
There are few in the game with the presence of mind to constantly take the longer-term view in the way Wenger does. It is so admirable – to a point. One major flaw with that is it often means he doesn’t make the short-term team calls that could aid the longer term, but it also ensures he won’t let any emotion dictate decisions on his future either.
“You have to take a bigger picture and see can you take this club to the next level, take yourself to the next level, are you ready to pay the price for that but as well this decision is not necessarily linked with two weeks out of 20 years,” Wenger said in relation to his unsigned contract on Monday.
One response to that could be that the issue is not really a single bad two-week spell, but the fact Arsenal seem to have suffered the same bad two-week spell for the past 10 years. Either way, Wenger has asked for the right response from his team, and to similarly apply a clearer “vision” to any emotion.
“Total commitment, but not a silly one because you have as well, in our game always to make intelligent decisions, to make the optimal decision and for that you need a good combination of commitment but as well I think to keep your vision.”
Wenger was talking generally about his team, but you could be forgiven for thinking those words might refer to Alexis Sanchez. The Arsenal manager strongly refuted reports of the training ground row that led to the Chilean getting dropped for the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, describing them as “completely false”, and insisted their relationship is “honest and normal”. He did later admit the Chilean “sometimes has excessive behaviours” due to his commitment, but that any negative interpretations are dictated by results.
“Excessive commitment is maybe sometimes when he shows (throws his arms up in the air) on the pitch. It’s always interpreted that he’s not happy but it could be interpreted as well that he wants everyone to be with him. I think when it doesn’t go well these things are interpreted negatively.”
Sanchez himself tried to put a positive spin on it all, post on Instagram with the caption: “The true warrior fights not because he hates the ones in front of him, but because he loves those behind him.”
The true significance in all of this, however, might be the debate about how much anger is a positive thing; whether there is a line and where Wenger’s side are in relation to it. It was reported on these very pages the day after the 5-1 humbling to Bayern Munich – and when Sanchez had been so ostentatiously irate on the pitch – that Arsenal have become too indulged and soft a side. One member of Arsenal’s backroom staff privately commented that there are many times where he would like to angrily castigate the players but then he’d look at some of them and “think they’d cry”.
In that kind of context, the Chilean’s ostentatious strops would stand out, and perhaps even be a bit jolting. They might also precisely be what Arsenal need more of to jolt them into action. In all this, of course, it’s difficult not to think of the aggression – and regular red cards and disciplinary problems, but also league medals – of Wenger’s first Arsenal sides, as well as one of their great rivals: Roy Keane.
The Sanchez story genuinely has lighter shades of the former Manchester United captain’s own most controversial career moment, when he was ordered out of the Irish squad just before the 2002 World Cup for angrily questioning ambition. While this is not to suggest anything remotely similar will happen with the Chilean given the extreme levels of criticism Keane directed at his manager Mick McCarthy, it was a similar case of one single influential player performing to a supreme level that made his team disproportionately dependent on him, setting the same high standards for everyone else that he did for himself and then feeding friction and disgruntlement with how he responded when those standards weren’t met.
Wenger denied that Sanchez has higher standards but some close to the Arsenal dressing room feel the Chilean’s responses have gone a bit too far to the other side, and are no longer as productive for the time as they might be.
That is hard to say. What is not hard to say is that Arsenal are way behind where they should be, or that they have been too soft.
It also feels like any anger has been superficial, explaining why they have had so many ultimately meaningless responses to bad situations in the past few years, like the way they came back from 3-1 down against Bayern at this stage in 2013 to still go out on away goals. It would be all too Arsenal to really display that “lucid range” on Tuesday, but for it to mean nothing.
That, however, is why that line is not really about the Bayern game. It’s about that bigger picture. Whether it contains Sanchez after the summer remains to be seen. It could probably still do with some of his attitude, if not necessarily all of his on-pitch antics.194 comments