Arsene Wenger claims that this current Arsenal squad are the most focused group of players he’s worked with in his life and, to be honest, I’m a little confused by this.
Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League clash with Red Star Belgrade a while back, which ended in a 0-0 draw, the Frenchman hailed the unity of the current Gunners and insisted that no one can deny how focused they are every game.
“I personally believe that my biggest pleasant experience this season is how focused the whole squad is in every single game,” Wenger said.
“That’s the first time in my life I see that, how united and focused the whole squad is. I’m really honest when I say that, you *cannot say any player has gone easy.
“The focus of the squad has always been exceptional. The fact that there’s a good understanding in the squad, we haven’t bought seven or eight players.
“They’ve played together for a long time, they’ve had positive and negative experiences and always responded well and they have a lot of respect for each other.”
*I can. I can say it.
To me, the current Arsenal squad is anything but focused.
Let’s look at their first match of the season against Leicester City, for example. Wenger’s side let in three goals at the Emirates and only won because Olivier Giroud is a God among men as well as super-sub of the decade.
The trip to Anfield where Arsenal lost 4-0. I fail to see how anything about that match gave the impression the current team are in any way focused.
During one week, Arsenal had to go 1-0 down to three different teams – Everton, Norwich City and Swansea – in order to fight back.
Although the Gunners improved after that horrific defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s side, we’re still far from a cohesive unit as the return fixture against Liverpool showed.
I wouldn’t say we’re united at all.
At the moment, it looks as if both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez could walk out the door in January or on a free at the end of the season.
The Arsenal players don’t live in a vacuum, no matter what their media-trained mouths tell us. They know full-well that, at the very least, Alexis will jump ship to a rival as soon as Wenger unties his restraints.
The 28-year-old has barely got going this season and, I might be cynical, but I can’t bring myself to believe that his mediocre form hasn’t got anything to do with his not wanting to be at the club anymore. Nor his uptick in form not connected to the impending opening of the window to his freedom.
On top of that, you have players doubting their position at Arsenal, whether that’s as a result of their personal form and not getting game time, or the team no longer being of the quality they want to be involved with.
Big players wanting to leave has a knock-on effect.
You have other Gunners who genuinely want to be there, likely feeling a little bitter that a select few big players don’t deem them worthy teammates.
Then there are those squad members who don’t want to get involved and keep to themselves. They don’t want the drama and, frankly, don’t care.
Therefore, I’d hazard a guess and say that despite what we’re shown via happy clappy training ground pictures, videos of players shaking Wenger’s hand on social media, and the like, this current Arsenal team aren’t unified at all.
How can they be when there’s so much uncertainty, not just around the squad but over the manager’s future as wll?
What will happen if the Gunners fail to secure Champions League again?
Will he see out the final year of his contact, stand down or get replaced? Will we be faced with another shambles like 16/17 which resulted in the Champions League failure?
Fans don’t know where our club is going from one month to the next and I imagine that probably extends to the players as well.
For Wenger to state that this is the most focused, united team he’s seen in his life is an odd statement because he’s worked with far more solid squads than this one.
Since the Frenchman came to north London in 1996, he’s been in charge of some phenomenal teams.
For example, in 1997/98, Arsenal won the Double – the Premier League and FA Cup. In that team, Wenger had the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon Nigel Winterburn and Patrick Vieira. Proven winners and leaders. Adams was the captainiest captain to ever captain and the others were experienced professionals gave everything for the shirt.
Wenger was also in charge when Arsenal won the double in 2001/02. Although Adams announced his retirement that season, they still had Vieira, who would go on to become one of the most focused leaders to ever wear red and white.
Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure were also brought in from Spurs and ASEC Mimosas respectively. Robert Pires had joined in 2000.
Wenger had started to build the Invincibles. The ingredients were all there and the boss had the recipe, something just had to click into place. And boy did it click.
Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry then hit their stride and Arsenal went an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League in 2003/04.
It was a team of players that will go down in history. An achievement no one in the country, despite obscene amounts spent, has matched since. Not even Manchester City.
Even Gilberto Silva spoke about playing at Highbury, standing in the tunnel opposite the enemy and knowing, just KNOWING, that Arsenal were going to win. It was that unity, that belief and that trust in their teammates that allowed them to make history.
“I think we have many special moments from that experience,” Gilberto told Arsenal’s Website. “And it was so nice for me, when we got into Highbury tunnel, cold tunnel, very narrow and close to the opponents, it’s like almost shoulder to shoulder and we knew that we were going to win the game in that tunnel.”
For Wenger to claim he has not seen a group of players this united and focused in his life is a little bit odd, as well as pretty insulting to his former teams.
As much as I love some of the players we see wearing the Arsenal shirt nowadays, I can’t kid myself into thinking that they’re anywhere close to some of the teams we’ve been spoiled watching over the past 20 years.