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Wenger needs to stop protecting his cubs

May 1, 2011

“The players have been outstanding all season. If there is somebody to blame, it is me.”

Having seen Arsenal’s chances of Premier League glory ended by a 2-1 defeat to Bolton, Arsene Wenger towed a familiar line in the post-match interviews. The experienced Frenchman did everything he could to try to turn the discussion of the newspapers and television shows onto his failings and not those of his ‘outstanding’ players. He tried to avoid more mention of their relegation battling form. He endeavoured to avoid more questions about his players, who have gone from competing on four fronts to competing on none in less than two months.

Like a lioness in the wild that does everything within her power to keep her cubs protected from the rest of the animal kingdom, Arsene spends much of his time deflecting attention away from individual performances within his team. He makes general statements on the attitude and confidence of his whole team and perhaps it is now time for that to stop.

The lioness does everything for her cubs in their formative months. She protects them from predators, hunts for them, cleans them and carries them between safe locations. But once they are ready, she lets them go. They are released from her care to take on the world on their own. They are no longer watched out for at every step and now is the time for the Arsenal players to stand alone without Arsene shielding them.

For the want of a better analogy, Arsene Wenger is like the lioness of the Arsenal players. Except for a small percentage of the first team squad, they are all products of his youth system and have all played the Arsenal style of football right through from the youth ranks. His philosophy and ideas of the game have been instilled in each and every one of his players from a very young age. It’s only fair that he wants and tries to protect them as much as he can; but I fear he is protesting far too much. There is never a bad word said about a single one of his players. No-one is every singled out for a particularly bad performance. When pushed for a sound bit on one of his players, the manager responds in general terms or completely ignores the question. He is infamous of ‘not seeing’ incidents that could potentially cast one of his cubs in a bad lights.

For me, the protection has to stop as it can’t be helping his players. He has to stop blindly guarding his players no matter what they do as it’s not good for them. It is stopping them taking responsibility for their actions. It is stopping them maturing on the pitch. And it is stopping them from living or dying because of their actions on the football pitch.

I’m not saying he needs to cast them out to sea or lambast them for trying a few too many misplaced passes, but he needs to acknowledge that they are human and sometimes there is no way to defend their mistakes. He can’t blame the referee for being over-zealous with a straight red card that is warranted for an over-the-top lunge. He can’t belittle the tactics of the opposition if one of his players loses their cool and lashes out. He can’t ignore an onrushing goalkeeper ending up stranded from his goal ten yards outside of his penalty area. It can’t be helping his players.

Not for one second do I think that Wenger’s mentality in front of the press is the same as his attitude on the training ground. I’m fairly sure that Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny were made fully aware just how costly their mix-up in the Carling Cup final was; but the public comments of their coach won’t have gone unnoticed.

Of course there are plenty of reasons why Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal side have failed to end this season with a trophy. He needs to a sign a top goalkeeper. He needs to get his hands on a dependable centre-half. The team needs a more direct thinking centre forward. But, for me, the Arsenal players also need to grow up. They need to mature and Arsene needs to force that upon them. They need to quickly realise that he’s not going to always protect them if they mess up. Their mistakes can’t be excused or else it can be breed a mentality of acceptance for mistakes when they happen. At the very top, mistakes can’t be allowed and need to stop happening.

Sometimes, just every so often, Arsene Wenger needs to let the predators loose on his cubs.

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