Arsenal’s “weakness of spirit” has gone on for too long and will not change until Arsene Wenger leaves the club, according to Alan Smith.
Having lost ground in the Premier League title race and almost certainly surrendered their place in the Champions League with a home defeat to Barcelona, Arsenal blew their best chance of silverware on Sunday when they lost 2-1 at home to Watford in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Smith agrees with Wenger that he should not be judged until the end of the season, but the former Gunners striker does not see the team’s familiar problems disappearing any time soon.
‘It’s too early, I think, to call for Wenger’s head,’ Smith wrote in his Daily Telegraph column. ‘Eight points behind leaders Leicester City with nine games to go, it is not inconceivable that Arsenal could yet win the league this year.
‘[But] it has been going on for too long, this weakness of spirit that means the side falter whenever push comes to shove.
‘Forget about the cup. Two wins from the past nine league games is no kind of reaction to this crucial period, nor the form to back up Wenger’s claims, repeated in the aftermath of defeat, about “great spirit” and “a strong attitude” within the camp.
‘And excuses about finances no longer wash when Leicester and, even worse, Tottenham show no signs of collapsing on the home straight. In fact, were one of these two eventually to triumph, it would be an embarrassing indictment of Wenger’s failure to build a team capable of going all the way.
‘After all, it isn’t Leicester or Spurs who have twice shelled out fortunes to tempt players away from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Yet even with Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Ozil on the firm, the Gunners look short, still some distance away from the tough, cohesive unit required of champions. For that, the buck can only stop with the manager.
‘It is Wenger who decides what kind of character he wants in the dressing room, Wenger who works with those players on the training ground. But whatever he does in the week, it hasn’t stopped the team continually losing its shape in the heat of battle.
‘Wenger shows no sign of addressing this infuriating fault, much less fixing it. After so long in charge, I doubt he is capable of changing his ways. Quite probably, this is how it will be until he leaves.
‘Despite all this, the old banner still hangs at the Emirates. “In Arsène We Trust”, it defiantly cries. But if Arsenal’s season now dribbles to a sad close, that trust can surely be extended no further.’