Wem­b­ley suc­cess masks Wenger’s prob­lems

World Soccer - - The World -

Ah, the glo­ri­ous un­cer­tain­ties of foot­ball! Of which Ar­se­nal’s tri­umph over ul­tra­favourites Chelsea in the Cup Fi­nal was a re­splen­dent ex­am­ple.

Ar­guably, it con­firmed the be­sieged Arsene Wenger in of­fice for an­other two sea­sons; a com­pli­ant and pas­sive own­er­ship and board would pre­dictably do noth­ing less. Are they right? Is he worth it? Time will all too shortly tell, but my own view is that they are wrong.

It is also le­git­i­mate to re­flect on what that de­feat tells us about Chelsea and the pre­vi­ously de­i­fied An­to­nio Conte.

Though the first po­ten­tially trau­ma­tis­ing Ar­se­nal goal may have been for­tu­itous and con­tro­ver­sial, as the game went on Ar­se­nal, against all ex­pec­ta­tions, were the dom­i­nant team.

And if the supremely gifted Alexis Sanchez was ar­guably the most im­pres­sive and in­flu­en­tial player on the pitch, what of the mi­nor mir­a­cle af­forded by the dis­play of Per Merte­sacker?

Six feet six inches tall and 32 years old, in­jury had kept the Ger­man out for the whole sea­son un­til the game be­fore the Cup Fi­nal, when he came on for a lim­ited sec­ond-half spell. You would have thought in all ra­tio­nal­ity that Diego Costa would dom­i­nate him. But in fact Costa was cu­ri­ously in­ef­fec­tive, never tak­ing ad­van­tage of Merte­sacker’s well-known vul­ner­a­bil­ity on the turn.

And Eden Haz­ard? Fol­low­ing a strangely medi­ocre and in­ef­fec­tive sea­son un­der Jose Mour­inho, when he seemed largely un­in­ter­ested, Haz­ard had been dy­namic through the sea­son in which Chelsea romped away with the league. At Wem­b­ley, he was no bet­ter than a mar­ginal fig­ure.

In Ar­se­nal’s ranks, the Ger­man in­ter­na­tional Me­sut Ozil came be­lat­edly to life af­ter a long fal­low pe­riod in pre­vi­ous weeks – or even months. And we know that Aaron Ram­sey de­lights in play­ing in the Wem­b­ley Fi­nal, since as a teenage sub­sti­tute he sparkled for Cardiff City against Portsmouth.

Yet Wenger can scarcely take credit for the per­for­mance of Merte­sacker, who he was obliged to pick af­ter the linch­pin of the de­fence Lau­rent Ko­scielny lu­di­crously got him­self sent off and thus sus­pended on the verge of the Fi­nal.

Whether or not vic­tory in the Fi­nal was suf­fi­cient to make Wenger’s case for stay­ing on re­mains de­bat­able. It could hardly com­pen­sate for a mere fourth place in the Pre­mier League, which ex­cluded the Gun­ners from the next Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons Cup, nor atone for the shock­ing pair of 5-1 de­feats by Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Euro­pean Cup.

In plead­ing his own cause, Wenger has spo­ken of the many young play­ers the club has brought through of late. But where and which are they? Alex OxladeCham­ber­lain and Theo Wal­cott came from Southamp­ton, Danny Wel­beck from Manch­ester United. Jack Wil­shere was that rar­ity, a home­grown prod­uct, but he was on loan all sea­son to Bournemouth.

Over the years, the club’s youth

scheme has been no bet­ter than an ex­pen­sive lux­ury, though one does have to give credit to Wenger for bring­ing through a young Cesc Fabre­gas, boldly deput­ing him to fill the role of the big­ger and more ro­bust Pa­trick Vieira in cen­tral mid­field. Cup Fi­nal day, how­ever, found Fabre­gas on the bench with Chelsea.

Wenger, af­ter such daz­zling early years with Ar­se­nal, has surely shot his bolt at least two sea­sons and some spec­tac­u­lar de­feats ago. Yet the board is docile and pli­ant, the chief share­holder Stan Kroenke a largely ab­sent fig­ure with no ev­i­dent grasp of foot­ball at large.

Keep­ing Wenger is one thing; hang­ing on to the surely ir­re­place­able Sanchez quite an­other. Like Ozil, he has only a sea­son left on his con­tract, which means that if Ar­se­nal keep ei­ther or both of them, with each now re­port­edly de­mand­ing some­thing like £300,000 a week in wages, they could at the worst lose them at the end of the sea­son for noth­ing. Sanchez clearly wants to play in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons Cup. To lose him, which seems all too likely now, would be a crip­pling blow to the team.

As for Chelsea, the Fi­nal de­feat and the way it hap­pened dra­mat­i­cally changed per­spec­tive on team and man­ager. Chelsea, in the ver­nac­u­lar, choked at Wem­b­ley, with so many star play­ers fail­ing dis­mally and in­ex­pli­ca­bly to as­sert them­selves.

And next sea­son, what­ever riches they pour out in the sum­mer, things will not be as com­fort­able as the sea­son just con­cluded, in which they ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit­ted from their lack of suc­cess the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Their low­ish league place meant that they did not have to com­pete in Europe, mean­ing less pres­sure on their play­ers.

Keep­ing Wenger is one thing; hang­ing on to the essen­tial and surely ir­re­place­able Sanchez quite an­other

Be­sieged...Arsene Wenger is to stay at Ar­se­nal for an­other two years

Con­tro­ver­sial...Ar­se­nal’s Alexis Sanchez opens the scor­ing in the FA Cup Fi­nal

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