Players might be misfiring, but Arsenal’s UCL failings are on Wenger

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

It seems a fairly annual event: We say Arsene Wenger is out of touch, that the Premier League’s longest-tenured manager has lost his grip on managing an elite team.

Then, he rallies his troops, they bravely advance into the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 before bowing out, and the Gunners land inside the PL’s Top Four. Rinse, repeat.

As if it’s all become a bit too stale, Wenger’s crew is in danger of failing to reach the last 16 this year after losing to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos — Tuesday in London, by a 3-2 score — to begin group play.

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Now, sure, maybe the Gunners rescue six points from the return matches, somehow split with a determined-looking Bayern Munich, and see results again go their way. But this group was set up for Arsenal to dance to the top of the group after two Match Days… not the bottom.

Of course, the players are at fault. Tactics can only do so much, and Wenger’s not able to stop David Ospina from literally dropping corner kicks into his goal, or Olivier Giroud from taking a pair of yellows in one half of play.

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Arsenal has scored three goals in the two losses, but it’s about personnel. It’s about Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos being able to stare down Arsenal without having to consider completely parking the bus.

It’s not that the Gunners don’t have attacking threats; Rather it’s that they don’t have enough (especially with Danny Welbeck injured). Wenger again wagged his finger at the transfer market over absurd fees, prices that — quite simply — are the norm now.

As we watch Anthony Martial off to a dream start with Manchester United, a potential 19-year-old gem plucked from Wenger’s old Monaco haunt, we’re reminded of Wenger’s stiff lecture on overpaying. While it seemed prudent at the time, that moral victory probably feels pretty hollow right now.

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Think of the strikers who moved this summer. Not saying they are all going to be unqualified successes, but Christian Benteke, Danny Ings, Anthony Martial, Charlie Austin, Andre Ayew, Son Heung-min. The list goes on.

This is the same Arsenal team that rung up five goals, three by Alexis, this weekend. And they spent a load of dough in the Summer of 2014. But they needed to spend again this August. Seemingly everyone knew it.

Everyone but Arsene.