Talk about predictable. Here they come again, Arsenal, going through a pretty good spell in the Premier League, playing the sort of skillful soccer that Arsene Wenger wants to see. So the crucial game against Bayern came at a good moment. A stern test for their new-found consistent form.
So -- of course -- they flunked it. Worse -- this was flunkissimo, a craven threadbare performance in Munich, a comprehensive nightmare. But ... how on earth could we ever have thought that anything else would happen? (Yes, guilty, I did think Arsenal would get at least a tie). Isn’t this what they have been doing regularly for over 10 years?
Is it possible that Wenger has a genetic failing that makes him, unconsciously, sign players who freeze up when the big games come around? A plot, then, but a genetic plot, a force of nature ... but enough. I don’t believe any of this. But where else is one to look?
Well, I have my theory. I’ll start with Wenger’s midfielders. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Rozicky, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Flamini, Francis Coquelin. I have managed to detect something that all of them have in common: none of them is South American. Nine first-team midfielders, and not a Latino to be seen.
I have commented on this mystifying aspect of Wenger’s player signings before. The longer it goes on, the more absurd, almost pathologically absurd it gets. Maybe Wenger has failed to notice. Right. Like none of us noticed that Wenger has a French accent.
But how can he not have noticed that over at Stamford Bridge Chelsea’s miserable season is being kept alive, just, by the brilliance of Willian -- a Brazilian. How can he not have noticed, during the Great Munich Humiliation, that so much of the sheer soccer savvy that was ripping his team to shreds, came from the 25-year-old Douglas Costa -- a Brazilian. Has the almost universal presence of Latinos in European club midfields not caused him to wonder?
It has not. We can turn to a recent episode. In England. Last season the Argentine veteran Esteban Cambiasso turned up, rather surprisingly, at just promoted Leicester City. City finished in 14th place, nothing spectacular, but a solid performance for a promoted club. The 34-year-old Cambiasso was a key player, full of enthusiasm, skill, trickery, inventiveness and goalscoring -- all this from a guy who was billed as a defensive midfielder. He was voted Player of the Year by the Leicester fans.
At the end of the season, Cambiasso left Leicester. He should have been headed to Arsenal. But Wenger evidently hadn’t noticed him. Cambiasso went to Olympiacos on a two-year deal. Some weeks ago, Cambiasso did get to play at the Emirates ... did Wenger then notice Cambiasso and the important role that he played for Olympiacos in its shock 3-2 win? Come to that, did Wenger even notice that Alexi Sanchez, the only truly creative Latino he has signed in all his 19 years at Arsenal, was the star of his own team?
Wenger’s aversion to Latinos -- and after 19 years of virtually Latino-less teams, it is decidedly correct to call it an aversion -- is simply inexplicable in a man who preaches the gospel of skillful soccer. Beyond inexplicable, for it can now be seen as foolishly self-defeating.
There is another major problem with Wenger’s Arsenal. Too many injuries. Well, this could be another genetic mutation of Wenger’s I guess, that he’s repeatedly, but unknowingly, assembling teams of injury-prone players.
No I guess not. In which case, I have another theory. I see no alternative but to point an accusing finger at Wenger’s medical department. This is not really a theory -- more like fact, thanks to some very neat statistical work done back in 2013 by Bill Edgar of the London Times.
Edgar was commenting on an Arsenal injury list that included seven first-teamers. He assembled the stats: in the five years preceding 2013, there had been 34 players who had been first-team regulars at some point. He found that those players had been unavailable, due to injury or illness, for an average of 24.8 per cent of Arsenal’s games (923 of 3,729 games).
Then, Bill Edgar sorted out that 27 of those 34 players had also played with other clubs during the five-year period. What was their injury-absence rate with those clubs? It was well below the Arsenal figure: only 15.7 percent of the games (371 out of 2,361).
Stats showing that Arsenal players are sidelined one game in four, but for those same players, at other clubs, the injury-absence rate falls to one game in six.
That strikes me as a pretty damning stat. It was damning back in 2013, when Bill Edgar came up with it, it is even more damning today, because the injuries persist. The injury list, going into the Bayern game stood at nine players.