After Liverpool’s miserable loss at Crystal Palace on Sunday, one Twitter user started running a poll to find out whether Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers or Arsène Wenger of Arsenal would be fired first.
Fans, to their frustration, do not hire and fire managers. But in this interconnected age they can generate a lot of noisy pressure. Fans no longer need to go to the stadium to boo. And they can keep booing long after the 90 minutes are up.
On Saturday, as Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to hated Manchester United, the fans at the Emirates booed and held up signs demanding the manager be fired. Traveling fans in general, and Liverpool fans in particular, are traditionally more positive. Yet as Liverpool returned to the ground where its title hopes died last May, its fans spent a demoralizing afternoon in the rain watching their team capitulate, 3-1, to Crystal Palace.
The #Wengerout and #Rodgersout hash tags are busy on Twitter.
Since Twitter is the habitat of trolls, it is impossible to know if the sack-the-boss brigade are a majority. They make the most noise. That noise is amplified by the traditional media.
On Saturday, within minutes of the end of Arsenal’s defeat, the BBC was gleefully reprinting texts and e-mails from Arsenal fans demanding “Wenger out.” Many struck a bizarrely xenophobic note by demanding Wenger go “back to France.” Would the fans like him to take all the club’s foreign players with him?
Last season, Rodgers took Liverpool closer to the title than it has been in the Premier League era. Wenger won the FA Cup to add the biggest collection of trophies any Arsenal manager has won while at the club. He has won those trophies in more style than any other Arsenal manager.
Yet both sets of fans appear bored. They seem tantalized by Jürgen Klopp’s remarks last week that he wouldn’t mind managing in England one day. The Borussia Dortmund manager has the advantage that he has never failed at either Arsenal or Liverpool (he has failed at Mainz and, in the way Wenger has failed with Arsenal, at Dortmund). Yet however brilliant Klopp may be, he could not manage both clubs at once. Nor could he pull his boots on and replace Luis Suárez or Patrick Vieira, which is what the two clubs most need.
The trolling fans are ungrateful. They are deluded. A new manager will not instantly solve all their problems. Yet, the fans know what they are watching is not good enough. The fans are right. (They usually are).
On Sunday, Liverpool was out-worked, out-thought and out-pressed by Palace. The Rodgers system has collapsed. He was hired to turn Liverpool into a higher-priced version of Swansea. Liverpool’s squad cost far more than Swansea’s. Liverpool’s team is far worse.
On Saturday, Arsenal, not for the first time in recent years, outplayed one of its rivals, failed to take its chances and lost to a couple of sucker punches.
When Wayne Rooney scored United’s second goal after 84 minutes, it was his team’s first strike on target. The first goal was an own goal by Kieran Gibbs who was lying on the ground after colliding with, and injuring, with his goalie Wojciech Szczesny.
There are patterns here. How is it that, game after game, Arsenal keep creating chances and wasting them? And why was Per Mertesacker playing in attack when United counter-attacked to double its lead? Shouldn’t a manager solve such recurring problems?
Continuity and gratitude are virtues in soccer. Yet with Arsenal 15 points behind Chelsea and Liverpool 18 points back with two thirds of the season left, maybe this is the ideal time to bring a new man in and give him time to rebuild.
Klopp should keep his phone on.
It helps to be lucky. Depending on how you count, Mauricio Pochettino is somewhere between the 13th and 15th Tottenham manager since Wenger took over at Arsenal. That embarrassing stat has protected the new Tottenham boss as he has led his team marching toward the relegation zone. On Sunday, Pochettino’s team was every bit as bad as Liverpool and as wasteful as Arsenal, but it won 2-1 at Hull. For the second away game, it needed help from an ill-tempered opponent before fighting back from a goal down. This time it was Gastón Ramírez, who was with Pochettino at Southampton. The Uruguayan kicked Jan Vertonghen after being fouled by a different Tottenham player. Spurs, after a lot of misfires, exploited their man advantage. They are level on points with Arsenal. That should make Wenger even more nervous.
A bad sense of positioning. At 32, Brad Jones has been around long enough, and been a replacement often enough, to know that if you are on the bench even sitting behind the manager’s back does not give you license to fool around. On Sunday, as the cameras focused on Rodgers’ increasingly stormy face, over his shoulder, and very visible, was Jones. At one point, Jones seemed to be asleep; hardly the sign of a backup goalie ready for an emergency. Later, just after Palace had taken the lead, Rodgers’ glowering expression contrasted with Jones, who clearly sharing a joke. Well might Jones laugh. Simon Mignolet, the first choice goalie, had just let the ball between his legs. Yet Jones’ chances of a rapid recall might diminish when Rodgers watches the game tapes.
A good sense of positioning. Having won once, Burnley did it again, 2-1 at Stoke on Saturday. This not a surging team. Burnley only had 29 percent of possession. It was outshot 25-5. But it matched Stoke for shots on target: four. Two of Burnley’s shots were by Danny Ings. He scored with both. Ings has now scored twice in his last two games. He hit two for England under-21s against Portugal at Turf Moor on November 13. All four were scored from close range after a low cross. Ings is quick and smart. His first touch is excellent. Teammates know what he likes. So do opponents. How did Ings find himself unmarked in front of goal to and score his second on Saturday? In part because in the chess match of move and counter, Ings had managed to slip behind Geoff Cameron at the key moment. Cameron, realizing there was a problem, gave up, stepped out and hoped for offside. Ings scored. It’s such a simple attacking tactic it should be easy to stop. But it’s a tactic that’s working for Diego Costa who scored again from a cross against West Brom on Saturday. Costa’s goals have propelled Chelsea into first pace. For now, Ings and his goals have lifted Burnley out of last.