Where Have Arsenal Gone So Wrong?
On 27th February, Arsenal looked on the verge of something spectacular and unprecedented- the realistic chance of claiming four trophies in the same season. Having just beaten Barcelona at the Emirates, confidence was understandably sky high. Of course, we all know that things didn't go to plan. A horrendous defensive mix up a minute from the end gave Birmingham a surprise victory, and the Gunners' have been on a downhill slope ever since. But it needn't have been that way. The position that Arsenal found themselves in should have laid the foundations for a successful future. The prospects of new players to improve the team and the chance to tie down their very best players to long contracts looked on the cards, but somehow the exact opposite has happened.
Should the blame be placed at the feet of Arsene Wenger, the club's board, or the fans for the unrealistic expectations they have come to demand since the Frenchman arrived in London in 1996.? I would argue that a combination of the three has left Arsenal languishing in 15th place after seven games, and a mediocre return of just 7 points from as many matches. This is not a case of the early league table distorting reality- Arsenal are in a real mess. How Wenger has managed to arrive at the current squad and think it can put up a title challenge is deluded to say the least. Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta are fine players, but are they really going to win the league for your side? Per Mertesacker's signing smacks of desperation; a gamble based on international caps and not, crucially, form. At fault for most of Blackburn's goals in the recent defeat, he inexplicably let the ball bounce over his head at White Hart Lane, where Gareth Bale was lurking, who should have made him pay.
Wenger's stubborness to part with serious cash has, and will continue to, make Arsenal suffer when it comes to the nitty gritty, the moments in games where titles are won and lost. A decent first XI belies the fact that Arsenal have a squad which is at best, 6th in the league in terms of ability. His dedication to youth is to be admired, but often youngsters are brought in with no previous first team experience, leading to poor Carl Jenkinson's horror show at Old Trafford. Money is, and has been there for Wenger to spend, but he simply cannot compete with the big boys when it comes to transfer fees and wages. Is this Wenger's fault? Probably not, but in the last 7 or 8 years, he has been anything but shrewd in the transfer market.
The unbeaten season of 2003-04 was an astounding feat, and one that is unlikely to ever be bettered or indeed equalled. The brand of football Arsenal played was breathtaking. Fast, skilful, and it brought results. For this the Frenchman must be commended. It is arguable that his influence has allowed many foreign players to flourish in the Premier League, leading into arguably the world's most exciting division.
However, he has failed to move with the times. Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City show that simply having a Plan A is not enough to win the title. When push comes to shove, when it really matters, these times can mix it up- Play it long, narrow the midfield or shut up shop. Arsenal look seriously devoid in this area, and will be found out time and again by times who like to play direct. Wenger urgently needs to look at his footballing philosophy because if he persists with the same methods, Arsenal will fall further and further behind.
And finally, the fans. Arsenal fans demand success and have been used to the good times Wenger brought them. Yet, Arsenal should not be entitled to win trophies, just because they play "nice football". Arsenal fans sometimes let themselves down with this argument. As a Chelsea fan, I am constantly berated because Chelsea don't play "nice football". That may be true, but football is all about winning, and i'm sure most Arsenal fans would swap the so-called nice football for a few more trophies come the end of the season.