There is a lot of quality in today’s Arsenal side, and that is something anybody can see with the world-class talent not only in midfield but in defence and up front too, but there’s something essential that’s missing. Something The Gunners don’t have compared to previous Arsenal teams, which has led to their fall from being title-challengers. That missing ingredient is the culture of collective and individual responsibility.
During the 90s, the Arsenal side containing the likes of Ian Wright and Tony Adams showed real pride whenever they set foot on the pitch. There was a show of determination, of willingness to succeed at all costs. It wasn’t about making yourself look good, or individually having a good game, it was about ensuring three points were picked up, regardless of individual performance. That win-or-die mentality came with the cost of being told off if you underperformed, being almost terrified of getting into trouble with your teammates if you didn’t get stuck in.
Looking into the past
Even a huge player like Ian Wright would be held responsible in the dressing room for his performance on the pitch from someone like Tony Adams or other strong-minded teammates who only cared about winning. It was very similar to the Invincibles squad, which had a number of leaders out there on the pitch. Looking at Patrick Vieira or Sol Campbell, players who simply looked menacing on the field and didn’t take no for an answer, they were the heart of the Arsenal team.
Coupled with the likes of Robert Pires or Dennis Bergkamp, members of a team who played as a collective and didn’t care about the number of goals or assists but rather helping the team win at all costs, the former Arsenal sides were near to perfection. There were no prima donnas on show here, no contract rebels – the thing those players cared about wasn’t the name on the back of their shirt, but the badge on the front. These were the players who you could argue share the same quality as today’s stars but had something their modern counterparts do not have: team integrity. Not only were these players putting themselves on the line week-in, week-out, but they played as a collective, taking care of each other and relying on a collaborative effort, rather than individuals.
You could consider the former Arsenal sides of playing like a family, busting a gut to get to that second ball, putting their bodies on the line to protect a goal, forcing themselves in added time to run that extra mile. This was a side who cared deeply about each other and about the club they played for.
Today, Arsene Wenger does not have players at his disposal who are capable of leading the team and pushing their colleagues to their limits. In comparison with the previous legendary Arsenal teams, this era looks very much like a well-organised corporate structure – built to be successful with players who have quality but lack commitment to one another.
If this Arsenal side are to be successful again and reach the heights their predecessors reached, there needs to be one or two signings who are no-nonsense players, capable of being top-quality on the pitch and off it. They need to have genuine leadership skills and can bully the opposition to bring back the fear that the past players used to possess. It’s about playing as a team again, as a family, and only then will Arsenal find that missing piece of the puzzle.