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Wenger is like a perspiring man at the blackjack table

OPINION: Arsene Wenger has not matched his early success due to a lack of world class defensive signings

06 February, 2017 — By Richard Osley

YOU know what they say about gambling, the worst thing that can happen is that you win big on your first go. Suddenly everything is going to be ok.

Without even trying you’ve cracked the formula behind the bouncing roulette ball, the nags at Leopardstown and the mystic lights of the fruities. A few more nights like this and you can finally up middle finger your boss and head directly to the Saint Tropez boat club where a new sun-deck life awaits, hanging out in luxury whirlpools with fashion drop-outs.

It, of course, never works out like that: what worked yesterday, doesn’t work today.

Somehow the roulette ball lands 20 times in a row on red and the one arm bandits are suddenly fixed against you. As you search for the magic combination to repeat that first go’s success, the yacht dream gets further and further away and… you all know the rest.

It’s a peril which bears an awkward similarity with Arsene Wenger, who won very big at the start of his time at Arsenal and has since spent a generation trying to get back that initial thrill. But as each season disintegrates – last season it was a home defeat to Swansea which delivered the fatal blow, this year it’s Watford who have done the deed – Wenger looks more and more like a perspiring man at the blackjack table humming to himself about a system he has. If he just sticks to the system then everything will be ok.

The croupier has seen it all before though and Wenger’s stack is getting low. The reality is he’s been bullied off the baize by rivals more willing to speculate to accumulate, who’d rather take a risk in the transfer market than, say, plod on with Nacho Monreal and Gabriel posing as attacking full-backs.

And here’s the rub: There is no route back to 1998, as then Wenger largely inherited a famously solid and unique defence, and then added to the piece by signing better midfielders than Arsenal were used to.

The strategy worked for a while but after the defensive inheritance retired to the TV studios, and following two decades of simply signing midfielders or signing forwards and then playing them in midfield, the numbers say his approach doesn’t work in the long term.

Over all his time, you can count on one hand the number of really good defenders that he has acquired: Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Lauren (who was a midfielder when he arrived), Sol Campbell and, maybe, Bacary Sagna. The rest have at some stage or another been exposed by the non surprise, surprise defeats like we saw on Tuesday night.

His midfield maestro system is sadly bust, but Wenger still bets on. What time does this casino close?

 

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