It’s about time Arsenal’s natural leaders stepped forward
Arsène Wenger has been remarkably sanguine about the systematic disrespect to which he has been subjected. It is no longer heresy to suggest Arsenal would be better off without him, and the debate about his future will linger during the dog days of winter.
It is all a bit demeaning. Why, then, did Wenger choose to go on the attack only when confronted by what appeared to be well-sourced stories about his assistant Steve Bould laying into the Arsenal squad in the Emirates dressing room after last Saturday’s surrender to Swansea?
If Bould didn’t – and we must remember that modern managers are conditioned to blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction when it suits the narrative of the day – he should have done. Arsenal need to know who their natural leaders are, quickly.
A dressing room is the ultimate inner sanctum. Outsiders are rarely tolerated, because it is a place of harsh truths and raw emotions. This is where a manager does his most intimate and important work. A pecking order is quickly established, and mutual respect is the key. What happens in private tends to manifest itself in public a little later.
Wenger insists his squad contains players who exude authority, but the human chemistry of Arsenal’s dressing room is probably little different to any other. There will be some players in there who are distracted by the possibility of leaving in the either of the next two transfer windows. Others will be quite happy to be marginalised while still taking home big money.
The captain is important in setting the tone and demanding the highest personal and professional standards. It was just one of the roles fulfilled last season by Robin van Persie. Thomas Vermaelen succeeded him, without giving any real indication of an ability to galvanise the group.
Mikel Arteta, the vice captain, has been more voluble, publicly, but is essentially more of a mediator. Jack Wilshere is a future Arsenal captain, but he cannot be expected to do everything.
However much he chooses to conceal in public, Wenger needs big players to assume big responsibilities. Forget last night’s Champions League loss in Athens, in which Wenger fielded a weakened team – another poor Premier League performance in defeat, at home to West Brom on Saturday, will be calamitous.
Frustration is easier to rationalise, simpler to take, when fans see that players care. If that means delivering home truths, out of the public eye, then so be it.
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