Arsenal players lose desire as Wenger loses plot

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The Independent Football

As Arsene Wenger stepped from the shell-shocked dressing room after Arsenal's numbing Champions' League defeat on Tuesday he made a comment that will have chilled his club's fans more than the bitter Bavarian cold. Bayern Munich, Wenger said, as he searched for explanations, "wanted it a fraction more" than his players.

As Arsene Wenger stepped from the shell-shocked dressing room after Arsenal's numbing Champions' League defeat on Tuesday he made a comment that will have chilled his club's fans more than the bitter Bavarian cold. Bayern Munich, Wenger said, as he searched for explanations, "wanted it a fraction more" than his players.

Desire, heart, commitment, energy. All were lacking in what Wenger described as his side's worst performance in the 67 matches he has led them in the competition. They had more possession than Bayern, they won more tackles, passed more accurately and had as many shots. But statistics lie. Even the 3-1 scoreline was unbalanced in Arsenal's favour.

Here's another statistic. Arsenal became the first English club with an all-foreign line-up (starting XI and substitutes' bench) in Europe. And that will reopen the debate over the lack of Englishness, in the absence of Ashley Cole and the sorely missed Sol Campbell, who is unlikely to recover for the return leg. There is another observation. Arsenal probably became the first all-gloved XI as well. No one could begrudge the players' right to do so but it appeared a sign that some are operating in a comfort zone and probably have done for some time in a Premiership where they are regarded with awe. Domestically, Arsenal's weaknesses are only preyed upon occasionally, by Manchester United and, latterly, Chelsea. In Europe, it is a different matter. Arsenal are respected for the purity of their football but their resolve is questioned.

Attention should also focus on Wenger for another of his post-match comments. "Is it down to psychological or physical reasons? I don't know, frankly," he said of Arsenal's astonishing European phobia which has seen them never progress beyond the last eight. His honest words resounded through the years - back to 2001 when Deportivo La Coruña beat them. Then Wenger also talked about the defeat being "more down to psychological reasons and belief than down to tactics".

So has anything been learnt? And what is Wenger's role in instilling that belief? He says he will not regard himself as unfulfilled if he does not win the European Cup but that, also, is an arresting claim by such a great - and greatly driven - manager. His captain, Patrick Vieira, also sounded like a man in denial - claiming Bayern "weren't better than us the way the score says". Vieira did admit that Arsenal had "struggled" and defended poorly. "It's frustrating because we concede too many goals and we need to work on that," he said. Vieira admitted "at 3-0 down you could say that it was 95 per cent we wouldn't go through". But Kolo Touré's late goal "has given us a little bit of hope and it's not impossible". Of the 16 previous occasions where a side established a two-goal first-leg lead, only twice have they lost it although Milan, of course, last season surrendered a three-goal advantage to Deportivo. Given Arsenal's potency, anything is possible and Bayern may rue not just the goal they conceded but also Torsten Frings' lamentable late miss. "I still have confidence in the quality of my players and of their spirit and desire," Wenger said, but it jarred with his previous statements - especially as Bayern coach Felix Magath had also used the word "desire", saying Arsenal had lost theirs.

Maybe it is time for some players to be moved on. Arsenal's defence needs rebuilding and greater, experienced competition would provide something more vital.

Cash, despite the commitments to Ashburton Grove, is available. More can be generated by a judicious sale - such as Jose Antonio Reyes or, even, Cole. Wenger has got it right before. But, just now, Arsenal fans are not sure that "Arsène knows".

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