Tuesday
Apr082014

Damning verdict four years ago still stands today!

It's not often I look at posts I've previously written, but today I travelled back in time to April 2010 - four years ago, and read the content of my own Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2 match report.

The purpose of this blog piece is not to big myself up, but to try to gauge how I could foresee four years ago what so many Arsenal fans still cannot see today. And wonder what makes them think that if Wenger continued, things would be any different four years from now.

Here are some excerpts from that match report:

31/03/2010: Champions League Quarter Final Leg 1: Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2

"It was only a miracle that the Gunners were not a handful down as Wenger’s tactical ineptness was brutally exposed.

"For all Wenger’s genius in turning youth into world class talent and assembling teams capable of playing excellent pass and move football, I'm absolutely convinced that, tactically, he’s the worst top level manager in the business – and the first half proved that beyond any reasonable doubt.

"Yes, Barcelona are an excellent team, but for Arsenal to get utterly obliterated in this fashion on home turf is quite frankly a disgrace. Let's not forget, FK Rubin Kazan drew with and beat Barca in the group stages - but thanks to Wenger, they made Arsenal look a pub team.

"His choice to play injured players was selfish and detrimental; his team played too deep, and the man-marking was utterly shocking – both in open play and from set pieces. For some reason, players were closing down individually - not as a team, when one tackled, the others were standing 10 yards away so nobody was on hand to pick up the loose ball.

"As it happened, it didn't matter - for all their flair and technique, Barcelona won almost every tackle.

"The wide forwards did practically nothing to protect the full backs, there was no communication or leadership from anyone, anywhere on the pitch - and no organisation. Half the team was going one way, and half the other, meanwhile Barcelona were having a party in the space between.

"There were two or three occasions when three or four Barcelona players were left unmarked IN THE BOX!

"It seemed as if God was on Arsenal’s side at the Emirates last night as Arsenal were ripped to shreds by a rampant Barcelona, but through sheer good fortune – and good goalkeeping (for 15 minutes) – somehow clawed their way back into the match.

"The fact is, after watching last night’s game and despite the undoubted excellence of Barcelona, I have never been more mortified by Wenger’s tactical ineptitude. He sent that team out there utterly naked, reprehensibly clueless as to what to do with regard to team shape, marking, communication, gameplan – anything. It was an abomination.

"If Barcelona creates a similar volume of chances next Tuesday, they will pummel Arsenal into the ground. I simply can’t believe the Gunners will be able to get away with this sort of performance again – presuming you think a two goal home deficit is curable, and it will probably be even more painful to watch than last night.

"Good luck to these boys though. I feel sorry for them – and they stuck at it when they could have died of humiliation out there and completely surrendered to Wenger's worthless tactics."

 Arsenal lost 4-1 at the Nou Camp six days later. 

—oo— 

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Wednesday
Mar122014

Bayern was men against boys

Watched Bayern Munich vs Arsenal in a North London pub. The atmosphere inside was quiet, the fans’ confidence in short supply, replaced by blind optimism no doubt.

In the end, 1-1 was a creditable result although the 3-1 aggregate defeat is a fair reflection of Bayern’s superiority. Faultless effort from most of the Arsenal team, but technically their performance last night was not creditable or credible.

Bayern pretty much controlled the game from start to finish. The ease with which they won possession and moved the ball around the pitch was starkly contrasted by an Arsenal team that barely managed to string three consecutive passes together the entire evening.

Bayern played most of the game in second gear and took the lead on 54 minutes when Bastian Schweinsteiger made a late run from midfield and stroked past Fabianski. Arsenal equalised a few minutes later despite Podolski pushing Philipp Lahm over in the box and three Bayern defenders stopping play to appeal. The German lashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Following the equaliser, Arsenal gained confidence and tried to press and create but everything was off the cuff and Bayern quickly regained control.

Up the other end, Bayern created chances but were careful not to commit too many players forward. Their tactical game plan was spot on; the team balanced and players composed and professional. It was men against boys; disturbing when you consider that this is not an inexperienced Arsenal side, far from it.

Question marks need to be raised as to why the aggressive Flamini did not start. If the intention was to field players that retain possession it was an abject misunderstanding on Wenger's part of the qualities of his team or the opposition.

Vermaelen didn’t get the run around I expected, chiefly because Wenger dumped Ozil on the right and Podolski was ordered to work hard and cover on the left. Guardiola resisted using his full backs to overlap as he had in the first leg; there was little necessity in view of the scoreline.

Arjen Robben won a penalty late in the game following Koscielny’s moronic kick aimed at the feet of a player that everybody knows will fall at the slightest touch – or no touch at all taking into account his laughable dive earlier in the game. Regardless, Thomas Muller’s penalty was straight down the middle and Fabianski saved.

The 3-1 aggregate score flattered Arsenal, especially when you consider Podolski’s goal should never have been allowed and Bayern squandered two penalties over both ties.

And so Arsene Wenger’s 17th consecutive season in Europe ends with yet more underachievement. Wenger must have been grateful for the cheating Robben giving him a predictable alibi for his team’s deficiencies, but nothing can distract from the fact that Arsenal look as far away from competing in the Champions League as they’ve ever done.

Unable to retain the ball and play with any intelligence, conviction or confidence – they react to circumstance like hyperactive adolescents, a mirror of Wenger’s clueless doctrines.

Questions also need to be asked as to why neither Sanogo nor Bendtner were on the bench, and whether Ryo Miyaichi, presumably a late replacement for one of them, was subsequently found to be ineligible to take part. Such absurd bungling is scarcely believable at this level, let alone from one of the best paid coaches in world football.

 —oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Friday
Feb212014

Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2: Trigger in the mouth

The first five minutes were promising; a fantastic shot by Toni Kroos tipped over by Szczesny, and up the other end Sanogo’s shot was well dealt with by Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer. Cazorla struck soon after, but straight at the German goalkeeper.

Arsenal’s pressing style disconcerted Bayern, who were clearly struggling with the pace of the ‘English’ game; this was always going to be a problem for Guardiola.

On 7, Ozil ventured into the box and fell over Jerome Boateng’s carelessly placed leg. At last, the German was about to have an impact on a game – until he bottled the penalty, kicking a feeble effort straight at Neuer.

Prowling the touchline, the gesticulating Guardiola was furious with Bayern’s inability to pass accurately.

On 22, The Ox beat David Alaba to the ball, his shot parried by Neuer. Seven minutes later, the injury prone Gibbs limped off with a tight hamstring. His replacement Monreal giving cause for concern, as Guardiola had targeted Arsenal’s left side as a weak link, which it has been since Ashley Cole left.

On 36, the game changed when Arjen Robben ventured into the box to receive a chipped pass and guided the ball round Szczesny but was recklessly fouled. A clear penalty and red card for the goalkeeper. Cue post-match discussions by biased supporters about whether the rules should be changed just because Arsenal lost.

Is it unfair to punish a team by sending off the goalkeeper AND awarding a penalty? Well, I’d say it’s no more unfair than booking a keeper for preventing a certain goal and then awarding a penalty that might be missed. Why is that fair to the attacking team?

Penalties are often missed after all. Ozil had just missed one, then Alaba stepped up and missed as well, so Szczesny’s sending off seems the correct punishment considering Bayern did not gain the advantage they would have.

If the rules were any different and Szczesny had only been booked, Arsenal would have been laughing and goalkeepers the world over would be free to clip players safe in the knowledge that a certain goal would be prevented and they’d at least have the chance to save a penalty (or watch strikers miss them).

Ultimately, it’s about decisions and Szczesny lacked composure and made a stupid decision, as he’s prone to do from time to time because he’s not mature enough. If Arsenal had a more mature keeper, maybe it wouldn’t have happened – or at least lessened the chance of it happening. When managers are tight with the club’s cash and cut corners, these things happen.

Regardless, Arsenal were now down to 10 men and would have to defend like dogs to the end, which they did, but still couldn’t prevent defeat. In truth, the team defended very well collectively, but as we have seen so often, individual mistakes, which cannot be afforded at this level, became Arsenal’s undoing.

First, the problem of Ozil, who had refused to track back and protect Gibbs (in the first half) or later Monreal - who was getting slaughtered by Robben and Rafinha. Having received two tongue lashings from Wilshere and Flamini, Ozil started to float around Robben, but more as a token gesture rather than with any intent. This partly led to Bayern’s first goal; again the move building up from Arsenal’s left with too much space afforded to Lahm whose ball in-field to Kroos was struck superbly into the top right-hand corner.

At this point is was blatantly obvious that Ozil had to be removed from the pitch and replaced by Rosicky – or even Sagna, with Jenkinson put on at right back. Instead, Wenger replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain with Rosicky???

It appears the tactical imbecile was more concerned with trying to score a goal against a team that had 87% possession in the second half than keep the score down to 1-0 and Arsenal in with a shout.

On 74, Koscielny appeared to foul Thomas Muller in the Arsenal box, but it was only a touch and Muller’s delayed response to contact probably meant the right decision was given.

However, with four minutes remaining, Rosicky - having already been booked minutes earlier, should have definitely been given a second yellow for a ridiculous barge.

Three minutes later, Arsenal shot themselves in the foot again, when Koscielny motored forward at a set piece but failed to get back in time to prevent Bayern’s counter-attack. Flamini struggled to cover by leaving Muller unmarked as he headed in from close range following Claudio Pizzaro’s lofted ball into the box.

Pizzaro almost struck a third in the dying seconds with a low shot that hammered the foot of the post.

Despite Arsenal starting the game well and defending well for long periods after Szczeny’s “accident”, ultimately, Arsenal lost due to the goalkeeper’s immaturity. Those in denial will write the defeat off as bad luck, but it’s no such thing. At this level, small details matter – split-second decisions (the right ones) are vital.

Small chinks in the armour mutate to become colossal mistakes (Szczesny), poor decisions become major errors (Koscielny). Lack of concentration, lack of composure, no leadership in key situations – that’s why Arsenal lost; and always lose at this level.

__

Szczesny (5.5)
Has improved this season, but such reckless moments make you wonder whether he can truly be trusted at this level.

Sagna (7.0)
Played his part in a solid defensive display, although almost all of Bayern’s focus was on the left side of the pitch.

Mertesacker (7.0)
Defended well, but was protected by virtually the whole team for all of the second half.

Koscielny (8.0) STAR MAN
Made numerous vital interceptions throughout the match, but then made the criminal error of sauntering up field in the final minutes to grab a goal. Sometimes Wenger accuses his players of naivety, but the fact is Wenger was naive at half-time for not instructing Koscielny and Mertesacker to stay back at all times. Again, small details can make a big difference.

Gibbs (6.5)
Attacked well but was the weak defensive link in the first half.

Wilshere (7.0)
Even though it’s not his position, perhaps showed why Arteta should be made redundant for the rest of the season.

Flamini (6.5)
Needs to lead by example more by what he does than what he says. No point clapping and cajoling if you’re going to fall asleep and leave a player unmarked to score in the final few minutes.

Ozil (3.0)
Miserable performance. People say tracking back is “not his game”. I say, do you want to win or not? If you have that burning desire to win and help your team mates, you do it. It’s not that the media or fans target Ozil and heap blame, on two occasions his own players were berating him for not marking and tracking players.

Cazorla (5.5)
Couple of shots, but also a bit lazy when it came to defending for the cause.

Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.0)
Had a good game, if not quite as effective as against Liverpool at the weekend.

Sanogo (6.5)
Worked hard, showed a good touch and has more mobility than Giroud, but the fact that Wenger had to play a rookie player against Bayern Munich, when all his so-called strikers are fit, is ludicrous mismanagement.

 —oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Monday
Feb172014

JSK challenges Arsenal Truth

JSK writes:

"While this is arguably one of the most intelligently written Arsenal related blogs I do find it increasingly frustrating as it lends itself, by a greater degree than most, to confirmation bias, due to its highly militant anti-Wenger stance.

Its essential premise, that Arsene Wenger is an incompetent not worthy to grace the role of Arsenal manager is one dimensional and unsustainable in that it has to then explain away any success on Wenger's as being the responsibility of others (e.g. Wenger's initial successes were built on GG's back four and the fortuitous acquisition of the Dutch Master by his forerunner), while every failure is unequivocally marked down as being Wenger's own (as if Wenger, for example, could be held accountable for the injuries sustained by players - although the "under-sized squad" argument would kick-in [sic] there, I presume).

Such an analysis makes for an interesting read, more in terms of how, when there has been success on the field, the writer then has to perform mental gymnastics to fit the militant, self-imposed, anti-Wenger template by attributing the winning ingredients to non-Wenger factors, such as this being a particularly 'good group' of players (but then, who put this group together? Oh, of course, he just got lucky) or that the opposition forward in the case above missed easy chances (no credit of course to a much improved Fabianski - although of course his improvement would be down to the fact that he is desperate to be considered for his national team and nothing to do with AW).

This is where the confirmation bias plays its part. The rigidly blinkered stance of this blog then attracts a field of similarly anti-Wengerian acolytes and the one-dimensional analysis is reinforced at times by fairly obsequious reiteration of the main text or by others having a different take but the same militant view of Wenger's supposedly apparent incompetence that only they are capable of perceiving (to the subsequent detriment of any other commentator on this blog who happens to offer a perspective even vaguely sympathetic to Wenger).

Ironically, this blog states that Wenger's main fault is his narcissism and megalomania. Do we have a case of "it takes one to know one" here? Surely any blog that styles itself as "Arsenal Truth" has got a very high opinion of itself indeed. Anything that claims to be the repository of "Truth" is always suspect. As Oscar Wilde wrote: "the truth is rarely pure, and never simple". Truth, (unless objective truths as established by scientific analysis) is at best nuanced. This blog is not - and it certainly can't lay claim to being a scientific analysis of Arsenal Football Club! So, why, you ask, do I bother to even visit this blog?  I follow this as I do several others (and some very pro Wenger ones at that) to enable me to get a better picture of what I then consider to be the real state of affairs.

I am adding this critique as, while I do find it appealing (especially when I am feeling down on Wenger - as weal occasionally do after the odd bad result - and fancy reading a predictable echo to my feelings of disappointment) I feel that its credibility as a source of serious opinion on AFC is becoming steadily undermined. Your "mea culpa"  of 9 December was refreshing in its self-criticism: "Was I truthful the whole time I wrote about Arsenal since 2009? More truthful than the vast majority, but I became too militant. That does not mean that I believe what I wrote was wrong, but that I only told HALF THE STORY [my emphasis]. I focused too much on the negatives and ignored the positives - there were some positives but I started to develop an agenda. I see that now." My view is that you are retreating back to, or indeed never actually progressed from, the vociferous and militant anti-Wenger stance.

I guess this perspective won't go down well and that this will lead to my being 'blocked' or having some retort asking why I even bother to continue reading this blog. As I say my reason for coming to it is that it is one of the few that is intelligently written, representing a much needed alternative voice, however, I am offering this feedback as I feel it is in danger of becoming too much of a "one trick pony" and, in its predictability, becoming boring."

__
AT

Why do people think I block them when they write sane and rational comments? It’s not something I’ve ever done or ever will do.

On to JSK’s post, which is very well written and intelligent I may add.

When I assert that Wenger is an incompetent, it’s not in every area of his management, but key areas that make the difference. And if I’m one-dimensional in writing about Wenger, that’s because Wenger is so one-dimensional he doesn’t give me anything different to write about. It’s this one-dimensional aspect – and the lack of competitiveness due to it, that leads me to agree with loudmouth Jose Mourinho, that Wenger’s a failure. That’s not been a decision made over one or two seasons, but over five to eight, and, in truth, longer than that when it comes to the Champions League.

I've given Wenger credit for the exceptional job he did building on the defensive platform acquired by George Graham, but over a 17-year career a manager will obviously need to evolve and build half a dozen teams from scratch, something Wenger has never been able to successfully do.

The problem has clearly been (amidst other things) his one-dimensional tactics. It’s a fact that Wenger plays exactly the same formation in every single match, regardless of the opponent. It’s a fact that he makes pre-planned substitutions, i.e. doesn’t react to situations during the game. It’s a fact that he makes like for like substitutions, and only changes the formation if the team is desperate for a goal (bung another striker on etc.).

Apart from his player purchases, the crushing failure of project youth and inability to inject confidence into his players when it really matters, these rigid, inflexible tactics are the main reason that Wenger hasn’t been able to compete for the PL until the last two months for almost a decade.

Meanwhile, in Europe, things aren't any better. Qualifying for the Champions League only requires coming fourth, and as we all know, Arsenal have the wage budget to come fourth, so from a financial perspective Wenger is only achieving the bare minimum.

Wenger is quite good at getting the club through a seeded group stage too, where two teams go through out of four. However, the group stages are all about lining UEFA’s pockets, they’re deliberately designed to take away the risk factor of the big clubs getting knocked out by a random draw – so really, qualifying from the group stage is not really much of an achievement, there would have to be something badly wrong for a club the likes of Arsenal to fail.

Once out of the group stages of course, Arsenal fall flat on their faces again and again and again. As soon as it comes to the crunch, Wenger lets everybody down. One final and one semi-final twice in 17 consecutive attempts, both lost, speaks for itself.

As we know, Arsenal only made it to the CL final because Martin Keown was brought in to coach the defence in the midst of an injury crisis. Currently, Wenger is employing another ex-defender, Steve Bould, and he is also making a positive impact. Without Bould, I seriously doubt Arsenal would be where they are now. Why would we, what would have changed?

However, Wenger’s appointment of Bould was not the decision of a visionary manager that identified a problem and sought to correct it, it’s the work of a dictator that surrounded himself by yes men and only made the change because he was forced by circumstance (Pat Rice's retirement). Indeed, Bould had been sitting under Wenger’s nose as a coach for 13 years, so why didn’t he use him before if that was his master plan?

Unfortunately for Wenger, against quality teams Bould’s expertise helps, but is clearly not enough. The bigger the game, the more threat from every area of the pitch and the more tactical detail is therefore required. Indeed, when Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona, he was surprised at how much tactical detail Pep Guardiola put into every game, whereas according to him, Wenger never bothered to analyse the opposition.

At the top level, players need to be tactically prepared for the different formations and world class individuals they may face, mentally prepared and educated on how to react when things go wrong, in the moment. 
Just as in the Champions League, by and large, you need to be at the top of your tactical game as a manager to win it, you also need a similar tactical advantage in the Premier League when it comes to facing the top clubs.

However, Wenger’s record against the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City… and the big clubs in Europe is absolutely abysmal. When the big clubs are on form, 9 times out of 10 it’s a no-contest. Worse than that, Wenger’s Arsenal are often comprehensively and predictably thrashed to the point of oblivion.

Clearly, Wenger has put together a good group of players this season, but then any manager worth his salt would have done the same with the same resources – especially when allowed to hone and perfect over numerous seasons. However, when you're giving a manager an £8m salary, I think it’s right to expect him to be able to punch well above his weight, which means consistently challenging for the title, winning domestic cups (where you often don’t even have to face the big teams) and challenging for the Champions League.

I don’t buy the concept that money makes ALL the difference in winning the CL or PL. Money gets you into a position to possess a deep squad with world class players – Arsenal have that sort of money; then it’s about management. If it was all about money, Man Utd would not have won the title last season, just as they wouldn't be where they are now, and Bayern Munich and Dortmund would not have been playing the CL final. Neither would Everton have finished above Liverpool last season or Newcastle and Tottenham above Chelsea the season before that.

If it was all about money, neither would David Moyes, at Everton (a club with a fraction of Arsenal’s resources), beaten Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea twice as many times in the past five years as Wenger has.

So, that’s my assertion of why Wenger is a tactical imbecile. But worse than that, it’s his character. Basically, you can’t believe a word that comes of out his mouth and most of what he does say is hopelessly transparent garbage. When it comes to mind games, Wenger must sit bottom of the Premier League. When questioned under pressure, he becomes dismissive, arrogant and patronising, he starts twitching like Inspector Clouseau as if he's psychologically disturbed.

To rub salt into the wounds, it also appears that part of Wenger's remit is to lie and deceive. He’s deliberately not spending money to give himself an excuse for failure. He’s done it year after year after year, always falling short in transfer windows despite the money being there, yet eventually panicked and wasted millions as a reaction to starting perilously. It's incredulous that the board cannot see through this.

With £140m sitting in the bank as we speak, what possible reason could there be for not reinforcing Arsenal’s strike force last summer or this January?

Wenger's incompetence lies not in being unable to create a team capable of finishing in the top four, but having the managerial nouse to push them over the winning line - that's where a top, top manager earns his crust; adding the final piece of the jigsaw; having the tactical intellect and ability to infuse confidence into his players in order to win the big games, under pressure. On that, Wenger's record is shocking.

This is not good management, it’s absurd management – it’s the management of a delusional, arrogant deceptionist banging his head against a brick wall and screwing himself over just because he wants to prove something to himself and the world at the expense of millions of hard working supporters spending a kings ransom to watch their team fail for the most spurious of ideologies. The problem is, Wenger's failed so often that winning a trophy now would not vindicate his failure, it would only highlight how long he’s failed for… and for the Arsenal board to give him a massive new contract before he has achieved anything for a ninth straight season – one of the longest trophy droughts in Arsenal’s history, shows how comprehensively weak, unknowledgeable and cowardly Arsenal’s management structure is.

My vociferous and militant anti-Wenger stance continues because Wenger has done absolutely nothing to change my opinion. However, what will change is my view on the players; now I only criticise if there is a valid reason to criticise, previously I got a bit carried away in my criticism of them, which wasn’t fair.

Who knows, Wenger might get it right one day; maybe even this season, yet there’s no way you could ever be optimistic. I still feel that anything he does get right is despite of, rather than because of, his managerial ability. If Arsenal win it’s because some other team failed to perform to the standard expected of them – not because of “confirmation bias”.

The FA Cup win against Liverpool last night was a perfect example; Arsenal played exactly the same system as last week’s mauling and could have been two down in four minutes because Sturridge missed two sitters (and a third shortly after). Liverpool were the better footballing team, created the most chances, had the better tactics, Arsenal merely took advantage of Liverpool’s failure to capitalise on Wenger’s own tactics.

The Flamini-Arteta-Ozil combination was as big a failure last night as it was against Southampton; how many times, and how easily, did Liverpool get behind Arsenal’s defence? Seven? Eight? Nine? Last week Pool scored five, this week they weren’t as clinical and scored one. The point I’m making is Arsenal didn’t win because Wenger imposed intelligent, restrictive tactics, he didn’t nullify Liverpool 1%. He just did the same thing he always does, crossed his fingers and hoped it would work, and of course, Arsenal still have the players to punish teams that don’t punish Arsenal.

By the way JSK, Arsenal Truth does not relate to empirical truth, it relates to 'my' truth, i.e. offering a truthful perspective - or as you yourself acknowledge, my perspective on "the real state of affairs". Thanks for your comment.

 —oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Thursday
Jan092014

Steve Bould; Wenger’s saviour

The footballing fraternity may well be surprised at Arsenal’s recent transformation from perennial underachievers to plausible title contenders, and while many perhaps seem at a loss as to where to attribute the progression, for me it’s clearly down to Assistant Manager, Steve Bould.

Bould was linked with the role of Assistant Manager at Arsenal in early 2011 when rumours began to circulate that Pat Rice (fingers crossed he is successful in overcoming his recent cancer diagnosis) was ready to step down from the role. Indeed, Arsene Wenger was forced to comment on the subject in January that year, stressing that he “200 per cent” wanted Rice to continue, before revealing that Rice’s contract was due to expire at the end of that season.

The speculation evidently had some basis in reality, as Rice did want to retire at the end of the 2010/2011 season, upon which Steve Bould was offered the position. However, Bould - in charge of the youth team at the time - turned down the role due to concerns over whether he would be allowed full access to first team coaching, and the fact that should Wenger have been relieved of his duties, he too would likely find himself out of a job.

Rice was therefore convinced to stay for one further season while Wenger extended his search for a replacement. At one point, existing first team coach Neil Banfield was touted as the favourite to take the role, yet when this did not materialise, and with Wenger loathe to look towards an outsider that might question his philosophies, he returned to Bould having obviously made concessions that went beyond him simply being the guy that hands out the bibs at training.

After a good start to the 2011/2012 season in defensive terms; with three clean sheets in the first three games, Wenger claimed Bould had ”taken over from Pat Rice for the defensive job where he is doing very well.”, however, before the New Year Arsenal’s collective defending had once again fallen into the usual bad habits. In the first 13 games of the season, Arsenal conceded 11 goals, in the next 13 they conceded double that amount. Something had clearly gone backwards in training.

Tensions rose after a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea on the 1st December 2012, with reports of Bould tearing into the players amidst a growing rift with Wenger due to Bould’s increasing frustration at his lack of input on the training ground. It appears Wenger was renegading on his promise.

Yes, Bould had been allowed to work separately with the defence earlier in the season, but these sessions had stopped and it is understood that Wenger was unable to take training the day before the 2-0 defeat to Swansea, yet the session was not led by Bould.

Perhaps Wenger did not like Bould taking the credit for the defensive improvement in the team, in the same way he had disliked the recognition given to Martin Keown who occupied a temporary role of specialist defence coach in 2006; guiding Arsenal to a Champions League final where the club set a new competition record for minutes played without conceding a goal.

Certain players were also understood to want more defensive-based training sessions, notably Bacary Sagna, whose form had noticeably nosedived since joining the club; he subsequently refused to sign a new contract.

On the pitch, there was worse to come, including an embarrassing defeat away to Bradford in the Carling Cup and later Championship side Blackburn in the FA Cup, with Arsenal conceding a further 29 goals from January 1 up until the 2-1 away defeat at Spurs in early March.

You could clearly see the friction on the touchline during games, with Bould and Wenger hardly communicating with each other; the former often mouthing barely concealed words of contempt as the ball kept hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.

Clearly, something had to change. With antagonism towards Wenger from Arsenal supporters at an all-time high, CEO Ivan Gazidis made a rare criticism of Wenger after the Bradford debacle, stating. “I think I am frankly tired of getting up here and delivering the same message… Last night was not good enough and it made us all upset and angry. I would like to apologise to all of you, especially the fans who travelled up there. You deserved better.”

With Arsenal set for another battle for fourth place against an emerging Spurs side, and Wenger clearly fearing for his job, it appears he now had little choice but to grant Bould the access he craved - the rest, as they say, is history. With Bould back working with the squad on defensive shape, both individually and collectively, Arsenal conceded just 5 goals in the remaining 11 games, securing fourth place on the last day of the season.

Just as Sir Alex Ferguson did not know how to put on a training session and so appointed coaches to do the job he couldn’t, Wenger had no choice but to make a decision: risk losing his job and the humiliation that goes with it, or make some concessions and allow the role of his number two to extend beyond being  a ‘yes’ man, even if it meant somebody other than him taking the credit for the team’s performance.

Moving into this season, new signings have helped further the enormous progress Bould has overseen as Assistant Manager since the tail end of last season. The acquisition of Flamini on a free transfer and the board’s early Christmas present to Wenger of Mesut Ozil has helped transform the psyche of the players from doubt and timidity to conceivable Premier League challengers – albeit the biggest psychological tests still to come.

Although Bould should not take all the credit, history has proved that, on his own terms, Wenger would not have been capable of instilling the defensive discipline that has been the backbone of Arsenal’s form over the past 10 months. Without Bould, Arsenal would still be defending like showroom dummies, and Wenger might well have been given the shove last summer.  Wenger clearly has a lot a lot to thank Bould for, as do the Arsenal supporters.

—oo— 

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