Saturday, March 12, 2011

WANTED: Team Leaders

Every great team is built around solid leadership within the team.

Mark Lawrenson believes that Arsene Wenger needs to find more leaders for his Arsenal side, or to change his overall philosophy.

Arsene Wenger must win a trophy this season - or look at changing his philosophy at Arsenal.

The past fortnight has served to highlight some serious flaws and raise major questions about Arsenal, and Wenger’s management style.

Arsenal do not have ANY leaders in their team. The closest thing they’ve got is Jack Wilshere, a 19-year-old full of spirit and determination who will undoubtedly develop into a winner.

Compare that to the recent past and the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Ray Parlour, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and even Dennis Bergkamp.

The reason for singling out Wilshere is that he has a mean streak, a fierce determination and a will to win. Maybe the young keeper Wojciech Szczesny has that too. But who else?

In among the beautiful players - Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin - you need tough, rugged leaders who have proven experience of being winners. Great spirit in adversity.

Arsenal don’t have that now.

Adams, Keown, Bould, Dixon and the rest were all winners, all proven leaders who would have stopped Arsenal - and, in particular Robin van Persie - losing their discipline in Barcelona.

And the fact of the matter is that Arsenal have not won anything since David Dein left the club.

Coincidence? Hardly. While Dein was vice-chairman, he had Wenger’s ear and convinced him to spend big on proven players.

That’s what Arsenal need now. They don’t need good financial results being announced the day after losing the Carling Cup final to a club battling relegation. They need someone telling Wenger that Arsenal need to buy a centre-half, a striker or a proven midfield leader.

When Wenger reflects upon this season, especially if Arsenal finish empty-handed, the Frenchman needs to consider whether he needs a change in philosophy.

A move away from buying relative unknowns and developing them into big talents and towards buying proven players who can lead by example.

Cesc Fabregas is a world-class talent. It was noticeable in the build-up to the game at the Nou Camp that Wenger described him as a leader. But Fabregas is anything but a leader. He should just be allowed to concentrate on his game.

However, Arsenal needed a leader to calm down Van Persie.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We can all sympathise with his sending off, but his first booking - for a petulant slap at Dani Alves - could have seen him sent off.

It was from that point, near the end of the first half, that Arsenal began to implode. If they’d gone in 0-0 at half time then things may have been different.

Do we really think that one of the players or, more importantly, Wenger had a word with Van Persie at half-time to get him to calm down and regain his head and composure?

But the difference is that a domineering manager like Sir Alex Ferguson would have calmed the player, got him back in check and made sure he kept his head in the second half.

Instead, Van Persie was sent off 10 minutes after the restart.

Would Van Persie have gobbled up the Nicklas Bendtner chance at the end? Probably. Also, an 11-man Arsenal would not have been on the back-foot quite so much.

Furthermore, Wenger has not stopped going on about Barcelona ever since - UEFA being a dictatorship, the referee and how Arsenal would have gone through if it had been 11 versus 11. Trouble is, it wasn’t 11 against 11 and Barcelona are the best team in Europe.

Now they must regain their composure for the FA Cup tie at Manchester United and, for me, they absolutely have to field their strongest team.

The winners from this quarter-final tie will probably depend on which manager blinks first in terms of who rests players. We’ll know a lot more when the team-sheets go in an hour before kick-off.

Arsenal, almost inevitably, have big players out injured. Fabregas, Walcott, Alex Song, Thomas Vermaelen.

But you can bet that Wenger will field a strong team. The Arsenal manager knows he needs a trophy this season. They had a chance of four and now it’s down to two.

United will have their Champions League game against Marseille on Tuesday in their minds, but Ferguson will surely select a strong team; a team which boasts leaders.

It’s hard to find leaders of the variety of Nemanja Vidic or John Terry. But they are about. United have those players, and Darren Fletcher is crucial in that regard.

Fletcher was missed from the defeat at Liverpool and that shows the difference that a leader, a winner and player with spirit can make.

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