Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal are not up for the fight, say legends

By Luke Brown

A number of Arsenal's famed 'Invincibles' team have criticised the mentality of the current Gunners squad in the wake of their dismal 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, with the fighting spirit of the present set of big-name players called into question.

Arsenal's defeat to Chelsea leaves them 12 points adrift of the top of the Premier League, and Arsene Wenger is facing fresh calls to leave his post when his contract expires at the end of the season.

And now a series of legends from the 2003/04 title winning team - including Sol Campbell, Emmanuel Petit, Robert Pires and Martin Keown - have questioned the mentality of the players Wenger has recruited in recent seasons.

Campbell, who played a pivotal role in Arsenal's defence during their Invincibles season, was one of the first to vent his frustration. He complained that his former club lack the type of on-pitch leadership that saw them win two league titles during his time at Highbury.

"I don't know what's happening now, but when I was there we used to police it ourselves. We had the characters to police it ourselves," Campbell said.

"We didn't allow the whole 45 minutes to go by, we would address it on the pitch because if you wait for 45 minutes and you are in, you might be 2-0 down.

"And we had the characters you know would say something. Patrick (Vieira) would say something, Tony (Adams), Martin Keown, David Seaman, all these guys, from the front, Thierry (Henry), Dennis Bergkamp, all these guys would chip in on the pitch while the game was going on.

"That's the key, you've got to have those characters on the pitch."

Arsenal's starting XI has been lacking vocal on-pitch personalities since the injury to club captain Per Mertesacker. Star players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are known to prefer leading by example, rather than follow the dominant examples of former players such as Vieira and Adams.

Petit was another member of Arsenal's victorious 2003/04 team to criticise the attitude of the current squad. He cryptically remarked that they are a squad of "nice boys".

Pires, who still regularly trains with the Arsenal first team and has expressed an interest in taking up a coaching role at the Emirates, had already voiced concern that the current squad lacks the necessary 'fight' for a title challenge.

"Maybe Arsenal need - maybe - more fight. Or more English players," Pires said.

"Football has changed but, in your team, you need players like Martin Keown or Lee Dixon. The current squad can play a very high level like the game against Chelsea at home but maybe they need more consistency. This is most important if you want to win the title, especially in the UK."

Former defender and club stalwart Keown also made his feelings clear, and last weekend wrote off Arsenal's chances of winning the Premier League title.

"I can't see Arsenal winning it either, it might go to their near neighbours Tottenham - but that would hurt as well - to keep it alive," a resigned Keown said ahead of the Gunners hosting Hull on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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