Arsene Wenger is leaving his Arsenal players and staff ‘increasingly mystified’, according to reports.
After starting 2016 top of the Premier League table, Arsenal now face a battle to qualify for the Champions League after winning just two of their last seven games.
The 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, who have won just once themselves this calendar year, leaves the Gunners in 4th, 13 points behind leaders Leicester, eight behind arch-rivals Tottenham, and only four in front of fifth-placed Manchester United.
Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph reports that, as opposed to criticising his squad for squandering a lead against struggling Palace, Wenger opted to give his players the following Monday off, much to their ‘surprise’ and ‘bewilderment’. Law writes:
‘Arsenal’s players had already been given Friday off before the Palace game, having been allowed to take Sunday and Monday off in the immediate aftermath of the 3-3 draw against West Ham United – in which the Gunners threw away a two-goal lead.
‘The Frenchman has given his players four of the last nine days off, as Arsenal’s season threatens to implode, leaving little time to work on problems at both ends of the pitch. The Gunners have conceded the most goals of the sides currently in the top four and also scored the least.’
Wenger’s team selections and substitutions have also left players and staff ‘scratching their heads,’ according to Law, who cites Wenger’s decision to replace Petr Cech with David Ospina for the 3-3 draw against West Ham, praise the Colombian goalkeeper for his performance, then reinstate Cech in the next game as an example.
Also, with Gabriel struggling in recent games, players were surprised that Per Mertesacker was neither introduced as a substitute in the West Ham draw to combat Andy Carroll’s aerial presence, or featured against Palace with Gabriel out of form.
‘Wenger’s substitutions over the past two games have also been a source of internal debate,’ Law adds. ‘With his team trailing 3-2 in the must-win game against West Ham, the manager’s first change was to send on midfielder Aaron Ramsey.’
The decision not to bring on Joel Campbell against Palace is also questioned, although Law adds that Arsenal ‘are expected to keep faith’ with the manager as he heads into the final year of his contract.