I am by nature a patient person; one who prefers to give people the benefit of the doubt but there are limits.
Like many, I’ve felt that Arsene Wenger’s prior achievements, skilful navigation of the skint days of the mid-late 2000s, and ability to find great young players has kept him with credit in the bank.
Even with previous disappointments, loyalty to the wrong players and the success of loathed rivals, I could always see a rationale. I may not have agreed with decisions when they were made, but I could see where the manager was coming from.
Even what ended up largely costing us the title last year, relying on Rambo, Arteta and Flamini as midfield options, had some (albeit obsolete) evidence to support it, despite most fans seeing the car crash before it happened.
But for the first time in the two decades our appropriately named manager has me utterly mystified across the board.
Like many, I could see the sense and appeal in the Xhaka signing, even if the price was a little inflated, as he potentially combines well with our other options and adds some much needed bite.
Activating Vardy’s release clause, though perhaps tactically slightly questionable, was easy to get behind in some ways.
Since then, nothing has made any sense.
With just over a week left, the transfer window has been a spectacular failure, exacerbated by the fact that prices for the players we are pursuing appear to have almost doubled since June. Injuries have made our need greater in a very public way in what is a seller’s market, and there seems to be an element of clubs getting cheesed off with Wenger’s prevaricating.
What makes it worse is that most of the players signed by our rivals could have been within our compass had we decisively pursued them.
It’s not just the lack of arrivals. The players being loaned out make little sense as well. Ok Szczesny to Roma again has a fairly clear logic behind it, though (unconfirmed) rumours of a fixed future fee undermine that.
But apart from Dan Crowley to Oxford United, the others seem questionable.
Jon Toral’s excellent season for Birmingham City (where he won their player of the year award) was rewarded with being sent to Granada on loan without even a look in pre-season.
Julio Pleguezuelo’s loan to Mallorca doesn’t really affect the first team but losing last years u21s captain has already led to two defeats for our u23s (new format) with players out of position at the back. Even Tafari Moore’s loan to Utrecht seems odd as our only young player who can competently cover both full-back positions.
The big one of course is the recently announced loan (with a ridiculously cheap option to buy) of Joel Campbell to Sporting Lisbon. For a player who broke through reasonably impressively last year, and again showed good form in pre-season to be shunted out is curious enough in any circumstances. When it is clear that the squad is woefully short of options up-front, and to a lesser extent out wide, his two primary positions, it becomes almost totally inexplicable.
Perhaps if new signings were already in the bag, it could be justified as doing right by a player who will have limited opportunities, but in this context it is almost anti-logic.
Meanwhile, in the greatest of ironies, a player who has consistently shown that he is no longer up to the task, and who wants to leave, is still at the club in Mathieu Debuchy.
Sadly, the curious decision making doesn’t stop with transfers.
Tactics have seldom been Wenger’s calling card, but he does have a repeatedly bizarre penchant for popping skilful creative midgets into target-men roles they are spectacularly ill suited for. If Chuba Akpom is genuinely being cited as a reason for not buying a striker, shouldn’t he see some minutes up-front (as the only match fit natural striker) rather than wasting the efforts of our best wide man, particularly given his size, pace and movement in the box?
Which also ties in neatly to another confusing element.
For someone so well versed in the art of spin, Wenger has long had the capacity to act like a petulant child when asked questions he doesn’t like. But of late his press conferences seem to be a combination of deliberately winding up his own supporters and/or wildly contradicting his own previous announcement.
Post-Leicester there were some gems of PR fail.
Implying that Rob Holding was worth £10m more than John Stones in order to prove a point about value was irritating but predictable.
His line about being willing to spend £300m on the right player if he had it to spend was hilarious both for its utter hypocrisy and the fact it was delivered without irony.
My personal favourite, however, was him saying that fans calling for transfers are ‘highly influenced’ by the media.
While not quite as tone deaf as Donald Trump’s appeal to black voters, it was a comment that was both petty and, more importantly, reflective of someone who hasn’t quite grasped how LITTLE influence the mainstream media now has on fans. Indeed it is the same broader access to detailed knowledge that gives us fans freedom from having opinions shaped by the press as they once were that also allows us to be more critical of the manager and the club.
Perhaps this is the last of the scales falling from my eyes. Perhaps the likes of Myles Palmer have been right with their heavily personal criticism of Wenger the man for the last seven or eight years. But in the self-satisfaction of their vindication, those long staring Wenger-out-ers are no more able to answer the pertinent questions then I am.
What is Wenger even trying to do? How does he think weakening an underachieving squad will help us improve when every other team has significantly strengthened? Is he genuinely willing to sacrifice the team’s chances tactically just to prove a point about the transfer market? Can he no longer be arsed to even pretend that he cares two figs for what any else thinks? Has the last three months been an exercise in preparing the ground for his own martyrdom?
If anyone has got the first idea what’s going on in Wenger’s head, do get in touch!
Either way, last week I gave him a fortnight to save the season and ultimately his position. It’s now nine days. Tick. Tick. Tick….