EPL: Quit whining or just quit

EPL: Quit whining or just quit
Football - Swansea City v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Liberty Stadium - November 9, 2014.

Defeated managers will always find an excuse. They are masters of misdirection.

If in doubt, they call upon the cliches. Muddy the waters. Buy some time. Protect the fragile ego. Live on to fight another fixture. All's fair in love and war between rival dugouts.

But the white flag is never waved in a press conference, ever. Defeatist talk is unacceptable. For some, it's unforgivable. Public surrender can be a one-way ticket to the sack.

Yesterday morning (Singapore time), Arsene Wenger bleated like little Bo Peep after the shocking 1-2 loss at Swansea.

But he's responsible for the Arsenal sheep and it's a little late to play the sobbing shepherd now. It's also patronising.

Managers are hardly immune to insulting one's intelligence with distracting sound bites, but Wenger spun an endless web of woe.

Perhaps in an effort to deflect attention away from the second defensive collapse in five days, the Arsenal manager bewailed the power of Chelsea.

Oh, there's no stopping those brilliant Blues, he said with a sorrowful sigh.

Those belligerent boys from the Bridge could reach 100 points. They are without worthy challengers. They are uncatchable.

It's a wonder Wenger didn't reach for a handkerchief and dab the moist corner of his eye. It's truly a wonder Arsenal supporters didn't reach for a sick bucket.

Such a public display of white-flag waving evoked memories of Serena Williams' straight-set defeat to Simona Halep at the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Watching her on court was to witness a face contorted by self-loathing. Her sweet smile was a mask, but it kept slipping to reveal the inner turmoil, the disgust of defeat.

She would not lose to that woman in such humiliating circumstances again. She declared as much on court. A few days later in the final, Williams pummeled Halep in a merciless display.

Comparing team and individual sports is obviously fraught with the risk of over-simplification.

STUMBLING BLOCK

Unlike Williams, Wenger oversees a pinball machine. There are too many moving parts.

But emotional responses unite and divide all athletes. Attitude is contagious. The Gunners are crippled by insecurity. Someone in the dressing room is laying out these psychological stumbling blocks.

Wenger criticised the absence of "the right rigorous attitude" against Swansea and then said there was "no obvious reason" for Chelsea's dominance.

If he's deliberately not joining the dots, then the Arsenal board may eventually join them for him until they spell out his signature on a resignation letter.

Managers have been fired for less.

In some ways, perhaps, Financial Fair Play has exposed one or two managers, leaving them as naked as the emperor in his new clothes.

For the longest time, the Gunners were paupers among Premier League princes. Now they are not.

Wenger can almost compete with the billionaires clubs and signed Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez as proof of the club's increased spending power.

He has no get-out-of-jail card anymore.

Instead, he's got a lopsided squad bursting at the seams with midfield players - none of whom would displace Cesc Fabregas or Nemanja Matic - and a slapstick defence so comical, all that's missing are the funny red noses.

After giving away three goals against Anderlecht, the Gunners handed out a couple more to Swansea. Kieran Gibbs conceded a needless free-kick for the first. And then Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal combined to present the Swans a winner.

Vulnerability permeates the Arsenal ranks, which is hardly surprising when their manager delivers a monologue that glorifies a rival's strength.

Wenger isn't wrong. The Gunners are in sixth place - looking up at Swansea - and trail Chelsea by 12 points after 11 games.

But being right only makes the Frenchman sound more wrong.

Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy's injuries are unfortunate, but the manager has left his side alarmingly short of defensive cover.

Danny Welbeck is the only conventional striker at the club, with almost every other Gunner seemingly qualified to write "midfielder" on his passport application.

Aside from an imbalanced squad, the Gunners' recent performances have been flat, listless and lacking in both cohesion and direction; rather like their manager.

Wenger should be raging against the meek in his dressing room. Instead he's lamenting the gap between Arsenal and Chelsea. But he will find little sympathy among supporters this time around.

The major difference between the two clubs is not in the transfer market. It's in the dugout.

What they say about Gunners' woes

The game was completely in our hands, but then, we have to play serious football and not make mistakes. We have to play simple. We think we can do some difficult things but we need to keep possession. After such a setback as Anderlecht, we normally bounce back straightaway but we didn't. We need to work hard on the issues now.

- Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker

(What Arsenal are lacking) are signings... (Nacho) Monreal's playing centre half, so it just shows you how short we are. I'm sure Arsene Wenger will address that in January. Leadership too, we need five or six on the pitch.

- Former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour

We say it every year about Arsenal, in big games - not normally these sort of games - they go and play their normal game away from home and get battered 3-0 or 4-0. But the problem was obvious and something needed to be changed at half-time - but nothing changed. And they've ended up losing the game because of it.

- Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher

npsports@sph.com.sg 


This article was first published on Nov 11, 2014.
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