Arsenal: Arsene Wenger’s calling cards have all been lost

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Nottingham Forest and Arsenal at City Ground on January 7, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Nottingham Forest and Arsenal at City Ground on January 7, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

Arsene Wenger always placed his stamp on his Arsenal sides. However, the Frenchman’s calling cards have become unrecognizable. 

Since moving from the hallowed grounds of Highbury, Arsenal has struggled to replicate the success that the club enjoyed in the early years of Arsene Wenger’s reign. There is no doubt that the Frenchman revolutionized football in England. His free-flowing style of attacking football, coupled with his drastic fitness revolution, made Wenger a maverick. Over the years, Wenger also gained a reputation as a manager who could cultivate some of the best young talents in the football world. These two characteristics helped create a foundation of Wenger’s positive contributions to the club.

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Even when Arsenal could not compete with richer clubs in terms of spending and wages, the North Londoners maintained a level of excitement due to Wenger’s imperishable dedication to the philosophies he believes in.  Arsenal may have gone years without a trophy but the Gunners played exciting, attractive and entertaining football, while giving the youth a chance, something their rivals could not always boast.

Perhaps the aspect of this season that has been the direst is that this current Arsenal team harbor none of the manager’s positive qualities.

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They lack imagination, cutting edge and fluidity. In seasons past, Wenger could hang his hat on attacking prowess, but in this most recent campaign, his side has completely lost the attacking spark that made the club such an attractive destination for players and fans.

Gone are the days of Wenger-ball. Yes, the North Londoners still have the ability to create fireworks every now and again, but for the most part, Arsenal is no longer an offensive juggernaut. Slow and turgid passing has replaced the quick and incisive interplay associated with Wenger’s sides. Fans only need to look to the most recent thrashing that they sustained at the hands of mid-table Championship side Nottingham Forest.

While many supporters may bemoan the lack of heavy hitters in the lineup and on the bench, Sunday’s team selection is the type of gamble that Wenger often took without much consequence in the past.

Last season, Arsenal travelled to Nottingham Forest with a very similar squad. In that EFL Cup clash, the Gunners strolled out of the City Ground with an emphatic 4-0 win. Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both stepped up in that game. One would expect players like Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi to have a similar impact. The bench consisted of no first-teamers last season as well.

So what is the difference?

The fact is that Arsenal simply doesn’t have the same confidence going forward. The players seem out of sorts on the pitch. Sideways and backwards passing is at times the best that Arsenal supporters can hope for. Against Nottingham Forest Arsenal essentially had no control of the midfield. Mohammed Elneny, who played in the EFL Cup match last season, is a player who has surely regressed since his last performance against Forest. The same can be said for Rob Holding, which brings us to another equally alarming question.

What has happened to Arsenal’s youth?

Wenger has been a manager and a coach who has brought through some great youngsters. Granted, not many of them have been defenders. But still, players like Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Ashley Cole all got their breakthrough at relatively tender years. At the moment, Arsenal’s youngsters are suffering mightily.

Alex Iwobi was once being touted as one of the brightest stars in the Premier League. The Nigerian international put forth a Man Of The Match performance against Chelsea in Arsenal’s thumping 3-0 win last season and he became a national hero after sending his home nation to the World Cup. At the moment, though, Iwobi is perhaps one of the most vilified figures at the club.

The young midfielder’s decision-making in the final third has been off, to say the least, and he looks completely devoid of confidence. It feels as though Big 17 has fallen from the future of the attack to a possible loan prospect.

Rob Holding, similarly, was easily one of the brightest spots of Arsenal’s 2016/17 season. The young Englishman became a fan favorite after his transfer from Bolton Wanderers due to his coolness on the ball and courage in defense. His debut season was underlined by a heroic performance against Diego Costa in the FA cup final. This season is a much different story. Holding has looked unsure and uneasy at the heart of the Gunners’ backline. So far, the most emblematic performance of Holding’s season was the torrid time he had this past Sunday against Nottingham Forest, where an 18-year-old Ben Brereton would regularly, and painfully, show him a clean pair of heels.

Finally, there is Hector Bellerin. He might well be the most infuriating player in the squad. The young Spaniard has all of the tools necessary to be a game changer. A few seasons ago, Bellerin was being touted as one of the best full-backs in the world. Not even a huge contract extension could fend off speculation from Barcelona. Fast forward two years, and Bellerin seems to have lost the pace and marauding mindset that made him such a handful. He still shows glimpses of the player we all fell in love with, but they are far too fleeting to ever be deemed progress.

This is a player who broke the sound barrier on two separate occasions against Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Besides his crucial goal against Chelsea, Bellerin has had a pretty subpar season.

Of course, these players need to take responsibility for their performances. But is it not Wenger’s duty and “speciality” to get the best out of them? These three players have not only stagnated but may have actually regressed. It is impossible not to draw a correlation between the team’s lack of attacking ability with the relapsing of the team’s youth prospects.

Arsenal no longer takes after Arsene Wenger. At least not in a positive way.

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The manager no longer plays the brand of football that he became famous for. He can no longer hang his hat on developing great young players. His philosophies have been undermined. His identity has been lost. His team is failing, and he has nothing to fall back on.