In this special column, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo striker and former Premier League player Jay Bothroyd pens his thoughts on the state of Arsenal and embattled manager Arsene Wenger.
I come from a family of Arsenal supporters and joined their academy when I was 11 years old. My mum’s house is a 10-15 minute walk away from the stadium, and as you can imagine we’re a bit upset about the way the club is at the moment. As a footballer it’s sad from a neutral point of view that Arsenal aren’t competitive anymore, and it hurts even more as a fan.
While on the Under-18 side I regularly trained with the first team, and after I left Arsenal I received a call from Arsene Wenger himself. He hasn’t changed since Day 1. He’s quiet, pleasant, soft-spoken, and doesn’t lose his temper. Nobody I’ve known since my time there, has heard him lose his temper, save for a 6-1 loss at Old Trafford.
I don’t think he’s ever been under as much pressure as now, because this is it for him. To be quite honest, it’s sad because from a personal point of view he was the main person who made me into the player I am today: a big guy with technical ability who can dribble and shoot. I’m not a typical post player like most players of my stature, and I owe that to him, so I’m sad to see him in this situation.But every story has an ending, and I think this is it for Wenger because the fans have had enough of him and I don’t see how he can recover.
Sometimes things get repetitive. Everyone respects Arsene Wenger at the club, but as I’ve said for several years there are too many players who are in a comfort zone. They keep getting new contracts without earning them. Arsenal selling their best players to rival teams doesn’t help, but at the end of the day Arsenal and Arsene Wenger haven’t evolved with time.
Manchester City, United, Chelsea, and Tottenham have all gone past Arsenal. How many Arsenal players would get into a Top 4 club right now? Only Aubameyang, who could get into Chelsea because he’s better than Morata. But I wouldn’t put Ozil ahead of Erikson, or Mkhitaryan ahead of Dele Alli, Sanchez, Pogba, Martial, De Bruyne… it’s embarrassing how far Arsenal have fallen behind.
In the Premier League you have to be prepared to spend money. Everton are outspending Arsenal; last summer they spent £130 million on players. Arsenal bought Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan and still haven’t outspent Everton. That shows you where the league is going.
I got hammered on Twitter for saying at the beginning of the season that Arsenal would finish in seventh, and now it’s more possible than them finishing fifth. Fourth place sounds very good now, but it’s not happening. Burnley are five points behind Arsenal and they have momentum at the moment. Arsenal don’t, especially away from home.
Losing two matches to City is one thing. There’s a way to lose games, by giving your all and getting outplayed. Fair enough, the better team won. But I knew they’d lose against Brighton, because Arsenal have no characters or leaders in the dressing room. No one is there who demands a certain determination from the rest of the players.
When I was there you had Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Henry, Dennis Bergkamp. They demanded brilliance from each other every day. If you took your foot off the pedal they’d shout and scream at you. It’s not just the manager.
Some people tell me Ozil’s world class, but he’s not. World class players can change the game and make something happen when the team is doing poorly. Ozil is a passenger; he doesn’t play well unless Arsenal play well.
I also find the whole back line disappointing. As for Petr Cech… Don’t get me wrong, he had an amazing career. He’s been a very good goalkeeper, but at the moment he’s making serious mistakes and they’re costing him. He’s never been great with his feet, but I don’t blame him so much.
The blame goes to the back line, who are meant to protect the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper is the last line of the defense but the defenders have to do more. There’s no communication; they’re not in a line, not moving together. It doesn’t matter who’s up front; if you’re going to concede nine goals in a week, what can you do as a team going forward?
Returning to Wenger, I believe he should have left after the FA Cup final win and gone out on a high note. Now things are so bad that everyone will forget about the good things he did.
He’s potentially ruined his legacy, because nobody will think about the Invincibles and how he changed the club completely, the diet of the players, the total football style. He changed English football. Everyone wanted to play like Arsenal!
Now people will only remember the bad years: finishing outside the top four, losing 12 league games, fewest ever points in the last six years. It’s a shame because he’s done so much for Arsenal and the English game.
Someone will offer Wenger a job in the future, but if I were him I wouldn’t take a club job and join a national team. It would be great if he could work in Japan!
As for his successor, I’d pick Diego Simeone because I think he can bring what they need. Arsenal need a kick up the ass and they need to know that someone’s coming in to liven the team up. You can’t take the piss, you’ve got to earn your contract. You can’t be going through the motions in training, getting new deals despite being injured for four years.
Mkhitaryan and Ozil might be considered luxury players, but Simeone has players at Atletico Madrid who are prepared to do the hard work. Someone like him would be perfect for Arsenal.