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The Rewind column: Arsene Wenger’s long-ball decision at Anfield turns Arsenal despair into farce – and risks his legacy

PUBLISHED: 10:10 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:10 06 March 2017

Arsene Wenger has come under increasing pressure after damaging defeats.

Arsene Wenger has come under increasing pressure after damaging defeats.

PA Wire/PA Images

Layth Yousif – who has been watching the Gunners for more than three decades – give his uncompromising opinion on Arsenal’s awful first half display from Anfield in his latest Rewind column.

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Not one Arsenal player emerged with any credit from what was arguably the worst 45 minutes display from an Arsenal team since, well, since the second half in Munich all of two weeks ago. The second half showing was better, but the fact is the performance overall was simply not good enough. And the improved last 45 minutes should not disguise the fact. If any player deserves the plaudits it’s certainly not an Arsenal one. Let’s just praise the increasingly impressive Sadio Mane. Pace, power, touch, temperament and technique allied with a rare footballing intelligence. Oh, and goalscoring prowess, as witnessed by slotting home Liverpool’s second before half time. Liverpool signed him from Southampton in the summer. Why didn’t we?

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Arsene Wenger. Let’s get one thing straight. The long-serving Frenchman deserves complete and utter respect for what he has done for Arsenal Football Club over the course of the last two decades. And if you’re going to cloud your argument that he has to go with crude personal abuse then for me the conversation stops – because it’s simply unacceptable to troll someone who will go down in history as a true all-time Arsenal legend.

But all things must come to an end. And we are surely seeing the beginning of the end of his reign if the first half performance at Anfield is anything to go by – for the opening period was utterly dreadful. Arsenal looked disjointed, like a collection of individuals with no coherent plan, strategy or tactics – and just as damagingly no team spirit or fight.

You can just blame Alexis Sanchez’s will-to-win for sharing his frustration with no doubt a robust opinion or two behind closed doors in training. An act which was apparently the main reason behind him being benched. A decision Wenger said afterwards was more down to wanting to play more direct. But it was wrong. Not just because the team didn’t actually play a competent direct style of football. They just looked confused.

And for Wenger to sully his legacy by attempting to play it long, thereby sullying his strongly-held views on how this glorious – and maddening – game of ours should be played is saddening. It’s also demeaning to a man of his stature when he decides to play the long ball at Anfield because he feels that’s the only option available to him. It also risks his legacy of playing wonderful, expansive football with a pragmatism he has arguably only ever showed once previously when playing a defensive-minded 4-5-1 system in the 2005 FA Cup Final against Manchester United in Cardiff.

It’s truly farcical when the situation moves beyond anger and disappointment into parody. You know it’s time for Wenger to go when he turns into Tony Pulis. And that’s the footballing tragedy of the dying days of Wenger’s reign. It didn’t have to come to this. But this is the reality when a situation reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy turns into farce.

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Liverpool FC under Jurgen Klopp. Yes they’ve had a poor run recently but they emphatically pulled out of that nose dive with a convincing performance on Saturday – albeit against a poor performance from a disappointing Arsenal team. A young, passionate, energetic manager, with a set of fully-motivated hungry, young, talented players holding vast promise. Where have we heard that before? Not at Arsenal for arguably the last few years that’s for sure. Unfortunately.


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