For Arsenal, change is all anyone talks about at the moment. The question is, what do we want to achieve? And moreover, what should that change look like?
Claudio Ranieri must be sick to his teeth.
He wins the most competitive league in the world with a team of minnows tipped for relegation, qualifies from the Champions League group stage and follows that up with a respectable first leg result which leaves them in a strong position to progress to the quarter finals.
Yet he finds himself without a job.
It is perhaps illustrative of the plight of a manager these days though.
Some managers are better than others
Like anything in top level sport, where marginal gains are as sought after as the last cookie in the jar, having a great coach can make a difference. It can make a huge difference. But how we measure that greatness is inconsistent, and inundated with bias.
“The players aren’t playing for him” or “he’s lost the dressing room” – these are common refrains when results aren’t going well, and the perception is that the players aren’t trying. But there are so many factors in top level sport to attaining a good performance.
In the same way that everything – and I mean everything – went right for Leicester City last season, just as surely everything is going wrong this time around, in the league at least.
Players who were making goal saving tackles are instead giving away penalties. Strikers who couldn’t stop scoring are now finding the proverbial Row Z with unerring accuracy.
It could be that they were no longer playing for Ranieri, that he had lost the dressing room. But Leicester’s performances in the Champions League suggest that for the right games, the old formula still worked. Kante or no Kante.
So why am I writing about this in an Arsenal column?
It turns out Claudio Ranieri isn’t the only manager accused of losing his dressing room.
Perhaps it’s Ozil’s (consistent) body language? Or perhaps it’s the simplest explanation for losing to a team right up there with the best in the world? Apparently the Arsenal players are no longer playing for the Arsenal manager.
Lee Dixon was in the Daily Express this week opining on the problems at the club. “He just seems so low. I think he’s realising that with this team he’s getting no response from them. They’re not doing themselves justice or him.”
It’s interesting, because another Arsenal man – one actually inside that dressing room – has a somewhat different view. That’s de facto Arsenal captain, Laurent Koscielny.
Speaking to the Daily Star, he said, “I think the group is always receptive to Arsene Wenger’s message. The coach is there to prepare the players physically, tactically and put an organisation on the ground, after it is up to the players to do what is needed on the pitch to win the matches.”
More likely, the truth is somewhere between the two
I wrote last week about how, whatever you think of Wenger over the last few weeks, it’s wrong to to lay the full fault for the Bayern game on his shoulders. The first 50 minutes demonstrated a feasible and plausible gameplan. That we failed to execute it correctly has to be at least partly down to the players.
Sound familiar? It’s exactly the same situation currently afflicting Leicester City.
The same manager, working with broadly the same players and approach has seen his dream die by his own admission. Is that really all down to the manager? Or is he just the most high-profile figure? The easiest direction to point the finger?
Sometimes it is the manager’s fault. Sometimes it’s not, but a change might help. Maybe it’s a group of players who are under-performing. Maybe it’s the manager. But no matter the cause, the ultimate finger always points in one direction.
They’re on a hiding to nothing.
When the team plays well, the players get all the credit. When the team plays badly, it’s because the manager didn’t pick the right team, didn’t choose the right tactics, gave his players too much rest, or too little. There’s always something.
That doesn’t mean a change isn’t the right thing.
For Leicester, a run in the Champions League is enjoyable, but perhaps not at the expense of Premier League status. Sitting a solitary point above the relegation zone, the owners clearly felt it too great a risk.
For some, the decision is a shock, not least because the club so recently came out in support of the Italian.
After all, there was little to misinterpret when they released a statement saying “In light of recent speculation, Leicester City Football Club would like to make absolutely clear its unwavering support for its First Team Manager, Claudio Ranieri.”
However, their reason for change is clear – the league position is precarious. Whether or not that is down to the manager is irrelevant. Change is required. Since the players cannot be changed, the only other moving part is the manager.
For Arsenal, change is all anyone talks about at the moment.
The question is, what do we want to achieve?
And moreover, what should that change look like?
Answers on a postcard…(or in the comments section above)