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Saturday, Sep. 24, 2011
Wenger needs to get a grip before season is a total loss
LONDON — The reporter from the Middle East newspaper could not have expected the Sir Alex Ferguson hair dryer-type response from Arsene Wenger.
The Arsenal manager was asked if the Gunners needed a defensive coach and if looks can kill, the journalist would certainly have been taken to the intensive care unit.
The usually unflappable Wenger responded by saying he had been a coach for 32 years and did not need any help, in fact he didn't even want to answer the question.
The Frenchman pointed out he had kept Arsenal in the Champions League for 14 years, a statistic that is undeniable.
The stat that is brought up in virtually every conversation about Arsenal is that the club has not won a trophy for six years and that was the F.A. Cup.
Since 2005 Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Birmingham have all collected domestic silverware.
Not Arsenal, though.
In many respects Wenger has changed the face of English football with his team's style and preparation, but that was then. He is fast running out of credit because he is living on past glories.
Having conceded 12 goals in two away games, it was perfectly reasonable to inquire about the possibility of bringing in a defensive coach.
The table may be largely irrelevant after five games, but it makes dismal reading for Arsenal, which has made its worst start for 58 years, is one point above the relegation zone, and could be bottom if results go against it this weekend.
Arsenal trails leader United by 11 points and even super-optimistic Gunners supporters doubt whether that gap can be closed, let alone overtaken.
The way Arsenal is playing, even finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League seems mission impossible.
It can be said with confidence Arsenal will not win the Champions League this season, so six weeks into the campaign its only realistic targets are the League Cup and F.A. Cup. These are not happy times at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal's problems seem obvious to everyone except Wenger. Since Jens Lehmann left three years ago, Arsenal has not had a commanding, even a decent goalkeeper.
Wojciech Szczesny has promise, but that's all it is at present. The center of Arsenal's defense is vulnerable, frail and always likely to concede a goal from a set-piece.
Per Mertesacker arrived last month, but the Germany international has been caught up in the general defensive malaise.
The departure of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas has not been compensated for by Manuel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun.
South Korea captain Park Chu Young and Cote d'Ivoire international Gervinho do not look the answer to Arsenal's problems up front.
Arsenal's injury troubles continue with Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshire currently missing, and the 3-1 win over League Two's Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup did little to ease supporters' fears of a seventh trophy-less season.
On the recent trip to Udine, the in-flight magazine on the Arsenal private jet contained an article by former captain Tony Adams in which he criticized the defensive weaknesses that have been so brutally exposed. It would have made for uncomfortable reading, but Wenger is determined to carry on with the current coaching staff and is "not bothered at all" by the speculation.
Arsenal plays Bolton at home on Saturday in what has been billed the first relegation battle of the season — 17th vs. 19th.
Even in a tongue-in-cheek manner I cannot recall "Arsenal" and "relegation" being mentioned in the same sentence.
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WHEN LIVERPOOL sold Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50 million in January it was hailed as a brilliant piece of business (for Liverpool) Andy Carroll was brought in from Newcastle at a cost of £35 million to replace Torres, which was generally believed to be a shrewd move.
Eight months down the line the wisdom of both transfers is the subject of growing criticism. Torres has scored two goals in 24 games for Chelsea, while Carroll has become almost a permanent substitute for Liverpool.
Torres, apparently, was the choice of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich rather than the manager at the time, Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian was obliged to play Torres even though Chelsea didn't really need him, and Ancelotti struggled to find a role for the Spain international within the Blues' system.
The baton has been handed to Andre Villas-Boas, and though Torres' sharpness is returning, the goal he scored at Old Trafford last Sunday was overshadowed by the sort of miss that seemed impossible.
Torres is playing better this season than last — not difficult — but the striker who terrorized defenses needs more goals and fewer blooper misses before the turnaround is completed.
At Anfield, the best strike-partnership seems to be Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy, and both were outstanding in the 2-1 League Cup victory at Brighton. They have the pace and movement that Kenny Dalglish likes and the pair look like they have played together for months instead of weeks.
Bellamy returned to Liverpool on a free transer from Manchester City in August, four years after leaving Merseyside for West Ham. At 32 Bellamy is, according to Dalglish "a better player than he was at 25."
The Wales international looks a better partner for Suarez than Carroll, whose strength in the air does not compensate for a lack of mobility. Carroll will have his part to play this season but for the time being the £35 million man looks like being kept on the bench by a free transfer.
* * *
CARLOS TEVEZ escaped punishment for a serious motoring offense because his English is so poor he did not understand the penalty notice that had been sent to him.
The Manchester City striker was accused of failing to disclose the identity of the speeding driver of his Bentley, but magistrates accepted his lawyer's argument that the player could not read his post.
Tevez has lived in England for five years, and I can think of no other player who has been here for that long without picking up a working command of the language.
It's a miracle how Tevez manages to read his contracts and know how rich he is.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.