REUTERS - Languishing mid-table, outplayed by teams he would fully expect to beat and with fans loudly questioning his judgement, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger concedes his side have problems but is adamant he is the man to fix them.
Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat in the Premier League by Swansea City was bad enough for some fans, but the more alarming issue was the Welsh side’s ability to dominate possession and create numerous chances in a manner akin to Wenger’s sides of old.
Arsenal’s tepid display demonstrated how far the team has fallen since the heady days of 2004 when the ‘Invincibles’ went through the season unbeaten to win their 13th and last English title.
That side, which featured Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Sylvain Wiltord and Freddie Ljungberg, boasted pace and power, creativity and composure, all traits that have been lacking in recent weeks.
Prior to the Swansea loss, Wenger had pointed to the fact that four of their six league games in December would be at home and that was reason to believe his side could build some momentum and close the gap on the leaders.
However, Saturday’s defeat will have hit the confidence of his side, who were also outplayed by Fulham for long periods of their entertaining 3-3 home draw last month.
Currently 10th in the Premier League after 15 games, five points behind arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur and 15 behind leaders Manchester United, Wenger knows he has his work cut out with high-flying West Bromwich Albion visiting on Saturday.
”There’s a problem of course,“ Wenger said. ”What is important when you have a problem is to do something about it.
”The second thing is the strength to do something about it, and I‘m confident we have both. We have the strength and we will do something about it. Let’s not go overboard.
“We lost on Saturday and of course we are not happy with that. But I am confident that we have a strong team, that we have a strong spirit in the side, and that will come out,” he told the club’s website.
Critics have been quick to blame the sale of striker Robin van Persie to Manchester United in the close season and the poor return of his replacement Olivier Giroud, but issues lie all across the team.
The defence remains prone to errors with captain Thomas Vermaelen looking a shadow of the player signed from Ajax Amsterdam, and the midfield unbalanced without the perennially-injured Abou Diaby, who played so well at the start of the campaign.
Giroud has improved in recent weeks but has often been isolated in matches with playmaker Santi Cazorla dropping deep to link play and wingers Lukas Podolski and Gervinho forced back to help out defensively.
The Ivorian is the only one of the attacking quartet who is in Greece for the Champions League group finale against Olympiakos later on Tuesday, with Wenger sending a novice side in order to combat the fatigue he says is affecting the team.
Defeat in Greece against a side that caused Arsenal problems at the Emirates before they prevailed 3-1 in October will not stop Wenger’s men from qualifying for the knockout stages for a 13th consecutive season, but a loss will add to the growing discontent.
Widely regarded as one of the finest managers to work in England, the Frenchman revolutionised Arsenal from a team of boring efficiency when he joined in 1996 to one of the most exciting, attacking teams in club soccer.
Three league titles and four FA Cups followed before the investment dried up. Star players departed and their replacements failed to fill the gaps as rival clubs began matching Wenger’s renowned scouting network.
Chants of: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ were aimed at Wenger when Arsenal finished without a striker on the field in the 0-0 draw at Aston Villa last month but the Frenchman, who has a contract until 2014, is not walking away.
“I always respected my contracts and that I never renegotiated any contract in my life,” the former Monaco and Grampus Eight boss said.
“When I sign for something, I stand for it and that will continue as long as I will work. These are two principles that I always respected.”
Wenger was hailed for turning last season around when Arsenal overcame a miserable start, which included an 8-2 hammering by Manchester United at Old Trafford, to qualify for the Champions League.
However, it remains to be seen how much longer the board will be satisfied with Houdini acts instead of trophies.
Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford