There have been many damning indictments made of Arsenal’s recent Premier League run but few quite so startling as one delivered by Bernd Leno.
Never famed for their reticence, German goalkeepers have an illustrious history of being frank and unabashed but Leno’s assessment of his colleagues in the build-up to the 1-1 draw with Southampton was breathtaking in its scale.
Speaking to Sky Germany, the 28-year-old pointed the finger firmly at the team, calling the manager “the least to blame” for their predicament. Most staggering of all was the quote below:
“The attitude is bad, the discipline is lacking and we have no self-confidence. There are many factors at play here.”Bernd Leno
It doesn’t get worse than that, does it? To question the attitude of a player is to question their desire to win. To question their discipline asks much the same. It hints at a number of players who aren’t trying or don’t care enough to do what is being asked. If Leno is to be taken at face value, it speaks to more than simply an issue of luck or some sort of temporary blip, it calls into question both the desire and calibre of some of the players themselves.
Leno went on: “If you look at the way we were running around on the pitch at times, then the players are the only ones to blame. I have to be honest about that.
“We’re getting red cards, making mistakes, standing out of position. These are things that we have clearly addressed a thousand times. In the end, it’s a lack of focus on the part of the players.
“The coach is not an issue in the dressing room, there is no criticism of him. We criticise ourselves and the players know that they are responsible.
“We actually have quality, but all of a sudden there was this break. But nobody can pin it on just one person.
“The numbers speak for themselves that things haven’t been going well lately. Before that, we often lost deservedly.
“We did draw 0-0 at Leeds, but that was a lucky point. We deserved to lose against Tottenham, against Wolverhampton as well, against Aston Villa even 3-0. Those [games] were just far too many weak results and disappointing performances.
“The attitude is bad, the discipline is lacking and we have no self-confidence. There are many factors at play here. We have addressed this very clearly internally and everyone agrees that we have to change this very quickly.”
Even if we accept that Leno could be exaggerating the scale of the issue or misreading it to an extent, it is simply unacceptable that any member of the squad would be in any way lacking focus or unwilling to give 100 per cent.
And, given the nature of some of the performances we have seen, it would appear there is more than a grain of truth to the accusations. There are myriad things that a manager and his coaches can work on the training pitch; positioning, speed, strength, shooting, tackling – you name it. What can’t be worked on with cones and whiteboards, however, is the innate desire to win and to put into practise what has been asked of you.
We can’t begin to move forward as a team until those guilty of such gross negligence are found and rooted out of the squad, and that is where, despite Leno’s protestations, the manager is culpable. If, as his stopper says, there are players simply unwilling or unable to perform, the manager must act to remove them and bring in those who can and will.
Perhaps that process has already started and the draw against Southampton will mark a turning point for the squad as they face a triumvirate of testing fixtures in Everton, Manchester City, and Chelsea in the coming week or so.
Unless and until that process is complete, however, we run the risk of sleepwalking into further trouble while some among the squad take things easy. That we can’t abide.