Speaking to fellow former Gunner Alan Smith in today’s Daily Telegraph Dennis Bergkamp has made some salient points about the current state of affairs at the Emirates.
Reflecting for the second time in recent months the legendary Dutchman touched on similar themes brought up in a recent interview with Martin Keown paying lip service to the mentality of the current squad, Robin van Persie’s best position and the determination of Arsene Wenger.
The key, as always, is to read what has actually been said, rather than get drawn in by the emphatic headlines which have since been spun from the original article.
On the current squad:
“I feel there are a lot of similar players there at the moment. It needs to be more diverse.
“You need a few strong characters who can get the team going, in training as well as matches.
“You also need a few players who can make a difference in terms of scoring goals. I don’t feel there are enough of them.
“You look at the midfield and compare it with ours. We had Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Ray Parlour – when it wasn’t working for one of the big names, one of these could step up.
“You can’t only depend on one or two players. When they’re having an off day, you need someone else.”
Arseblog News says: It’s hard to argue with Dennis on any of the above. The over reliance on Van Persie has been a worry since the departure of Adebayor, while for years Arsenal fans have questioned the decision to buy similar tricky midfield players (of various ages, quality and nationality) rather than strengthen other areas of more immediate concern. Of course the reason Wenger gets the cheque book out for these guys is because of the style of play which he favours…a point the Dutchman also picks up on.
On the passing game:
“Sometimes you need more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality.
“I’m not sure Arsenal have enough of that in their players, when the attitude becomes more important than the ability just to pass the ball.
“I don’t know if the English mentality is missing a little bit.
“We had it with the back four, of course, who had the mentality of thinking, ‘OK, this game is ours now.’
“Sometimes I see their games and it’s always the same way of playing, a bit too predictable.
“They are all fantastic players, that must be said, but sometimes you need a bit more of the other side.”
Arseblog News says: Dennis seems to be suggesting Arsenal are missing two distinctly different things here. Despite admitting that Arsenal have ‘fantastic’ players who are technically very capable, his suggestion that the passing game is predictable seems to be more to do with personnel. Dennis obviously admires a passing philosophy, but as hinted at in his thoughts on the squad it is the personnel who appear to be lacking. You get the feeling he’s looking for individuals who can light up a game, can take a match by the scruff of the neck, inspire others to raise their game. You’d argue we have a few of them at the moment – Van Persie, Vermaelen and Wilshere, but we’ve had more across the squad in the past. Part of this has been down to young players learning from others who themselves have yet to experience success. On another level the lack of squad continuity has also been a problem. Confidence is garnered from the collective, when the collective changes too often confidence is obviously tougher to maintain.
The second point on mentality is harder to quantify. How do you define English mentality? Dennis was privileged to play alongside one of the greatest defences that football has ever seen. The players were English, but their confidence and determination was drawn from a belief in each other…not necessarily their nationality. I think it would be hard to suggest that Vermaelen, Sagna, Koscielny and Szczesny don’t have the desire and heart to win big games…they just haven’t had the break they need yet. To pass on a ‘winning’ mentality (which I think is what Dennis is getting at) you need to have players who have won.
On Arsene Wenger staying for the foreseeable future…
“Yeah, I think so, because the way I know him, he’s a winner. He can’t just let go.
“He would think he hasn’t finished there yet. He would want to finish on a high or at least do something that makes the team successful again.
“So I think he will wait and push as hard as possible to achieve that before he leaves.
“I’ve worked with Arsène for 11 years and it goes up and down.
“You do well, then you need some time to rebuild, then you do well again. But the thing now is that he isn’t winning any trophies.
“That’s what I was talking about earlier. Sometimes you just need to win something by showing a certain attitude to get the team going again.
“That isn’t happening at the moment so it is a bit of a struggle.
“But I wouldn’t say that’s down to Wenger because he has been fantastic and he still is fantastic for the club.
“He brings in young players and sells them on for more money. Financially, he’s doing great.”
Arseblog News says: I don’t think there is an Arsenal fan in the world who doesn’t believe that Arsene Wenger wants to win trophies for the club. We know the boss is stubborn, but his stubbornness has served him well in the past and it seems unlikely he’s going to change this late in the day. It’s interesting that Dennis absolves Arsene of the blame for the club’s lack of trophies in recent years and begins to touch on the financial situation. That he doesn’t go into detail smacks of a loyalty to the guard that Wenger himself puts up when talking about the difficulty of operating in the transfer market in the club’s current circumstances. That he enthusiastically suggests that Arsene is doing a great job at turning a profit on young players (without criticising him for selling others) hints that he understands that Wenger’s hands are somewhat tied. Indeed later in the article Bergkamp brings up the problems with working with young kids these days…
On coaching kids at Ajax…
“We are working very hard to try to keep the players interested. It sounds a silly thing but that’s how it is nowadays.
“I think money plays a big part, so do agents.
“Whereas we always had the drive to win trophies, to be the best, I think the drive of a lot of young players now is to make as much money as possible.
“It’s a different mentality but you have to work with it, try and deal with it.
“We are working hard to come up with things that make the young players enjoy the game so that they come to training every day wanting to get better.”
Arseblog News says: As Alan Smith remarks himself, it’s almost a relief to hear that it’s not just at Arsenal or in England that young players have their heads turned by money. Unfortunately, it is a state of affairs which is unlikely to change unless drastic action (like a salary cap) were introduced from above by the game’s governing body. That Wenger himself doesn’t believe in such action again demonstrates the boss’ Catch-22 situation. Arsenal are committed to buying young players. To secure their services you need to spend big money to persuade them to come to the club. The club also need to offer youngsters long-term contracts and to promise them game time. More young players playing, makes the club attractive to other young starlets – just look at Chamberlain and Ramsey opting for Arsenal over United. Obviously for every exciting talent, you have those who don’t live up to expectations – Bendtner, Vela, Denilson come to mind despite initially impressing.
Is it money? Is it confidence? Is it just an inability to cut it at the top level? It’s hard to point the blame. It’s always a gamble buying a player at 17 and hoping that they develop both physically and mentally to become a top player over the course of five years. Robin van Persie is a prime example. Showing flashes of brilliance at the outset of his Arsenal career the striker’s injury problems were so bad that if Arsene had opted to sell him instead of Adebayor four years ago it wouldn’t have been a big surprise…but look at him now. Talking of which…
On Van Persie…
“To be honest, I would still prefer to see Robin play a bit deeper behind the main striker so that he could pick his moments the way I used to.
“I think he could be even better in that role, but the way he’s playing now you can hardly blame the coach for putting him there.”
Arseblog News says: We’d happily have Robin van Persie playing deeper…but only if the club had a striker capable of playing ahead of him at a similar level. Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that Dennis seems to hint at a return to the old 4-4-2 that he used to function in behind Ian Wright, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry. Perhaps we should save talk of that though for another day…
Discuss and feel free to disagree.