Over the years consistency across the Premier League was normal; United’s never say die spirit, Terry putting his body on the line, Gerrard digging deep to drag Liverpool forward, Spurs pretending to be a legit title challenger and Arsenal being the nearly men.
Fast forward to modern day and United are a shadow of who they were, ‘Father Time’ has caught up with Gerrard and Terry and Spurs in the past few seasons have looked like a well-oiled machine worthy of putting up a fight but Wenger and Arsenal are still timeless – not in a good way.
Since the golden days of Bergkamp, Henry and Viera, the Gunners have tried unsuccessfully replicate the playing style and the outcomes of the Invincibles. While there exists occasional flashbacks of beautiful football, unfortunately, the results have been starkly different and the trophy cabinet at The Emirates is a sight for sore eyes.
Pandering for unearthing a raw gem i.e. the next Kolo Toure, Viera or Henry have gotten Wenger a lot of players like Sanogo or Park Chu Young but none of them have come close to the legends of the Gunners.
It’s been almost 10 years since the great number 14 left for Barcelona to win a trophy he knew he wouldn’t at Arsenal, his goal scoring ability is yet to be found in another. While Van Persie provided some relief, the likes of Chamakh, Giroud, Eduardo, Bendtner, Welbeck and Adebayor just did not fit the bill. Money might have been a problem in 06-07, but it surely isn’t now. Wenger’s argument has been that there is not enough quality in the market. Exasperated fans would point out the likes of Higuain, Cavani, Martinez, Jovetic, Dzeko, Morata and Mandzukic were available at a point in time but were either not bid for or their prices were met leaving Arsenal with a sub-par attack.
And the same holds true for other positions in the Arsenal spine as well. The Viera shaped DM hole was replaced adequately by Flamini in the start. But his transfer led to Alex Song, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey trying to call fill the Frenchman’s boots.
The lack of a genuine defensive midfielder in 2014 provided Coquelin with a chance to shine. Despite being an impressive talent, unrealistic expectations on the youngster backfired on his lack of experience during games with rash challenges and red cards costing points. With Schneiderlin, Vidal, Khedira, Gonalons, M’Vila and Cabaye available and linked with the club, one really has to wonder how do Flamini and Arteta get playing time and why was someone brought in?
Well the Professor did answer those questions with this grand statement in 2012. “There are no defensive midfield players at the moment,” and then proceeded to back Arteta for the role.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop here. It gets worst when you look at the defensive line-up and the goalkeeper. Adams, Seaman, Cole, Lehman, Campbell, Keown, Toure, Lauren were inadequately replaced yet since then the back-line has never looked solid.
Post Seaman’s retirement, Jens Lehman did uphold Arsenal’s superior levels for a certain time period however turned into a player who was too wayward/inconsistent to be a top keeper. It took Wenger eight years to replace Lehman, which shouldn’t have been a tough task but alas when you are Wenger you don’t do things the easy way.
The Post 2006 Arsenal reflected an utter lack of leaders and standout characters. None from the current crop of players could attempt to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and put their hand up to say ‘I got this’ in a time of need. A more common recent sight has been dropped heads with player with long audible breath expressing sadness.
And the choice of the captain, says it all. Mertesacker in my opinion should never be starting at his age and fitness anymore, yet somehow the lumbering German possesses the captain’s armband and time and time again, been made to look foolish. When Merta is not around, Theo Walcott, the club’s longest servant is the captain. His personal career and Arsenal intertwine. Every year Walcott will impress for a bit, then comes a point where he either forgets how to find the net or gets injured, unfortunately. He then returns to form to be hailed as a new signing by Wenger and announcement is made on how his healthy self could potentially propel them to the title but a closer look at statistics will tell a different story. Similarly, each year begins with an Arsenal fan expecting titles, goals and fantastic play, and are eventually brought down to reality with the closest celebration being the fourth place which takes you into a Champions League qualification.
A culture of mediocrity has been instilled at the club – their realistic/internal target seems to be Champions League, otherwise no top club coach has been allowed to stay at the helm for long despite repeatedly failing. Celebrating the 4th place is a testament to that mentality.
Having the most expensive season tickets in the league, Arsenal fans wouldn’t be mistaken to assume that they would get to watch the finesse of Bergkamp, the fortification of Viera, the guile of Pires, the pace of Cole, the directness of Ljungberg and the genius of Henry on display instead they get to see Giroud, Mertesacker, Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Monreal and Gibbs. Only two of those names are world class and they are repeatedly let down by their teammates.
To his credit, Wenger has been readdressing his transfer policy and had a few marquee signings in consecutive summers i.e. Ozil and Sanchez but those two are definitely not enough. With every club in the premier league unleashing their transfer war chest, Arsenal are yet to step up their game to create a squad with enough depth that can compete on multiple fronts and not just roll over in the knockouts year in and year out in Europe.
Moreover, Wenger and his staff have to be held accountable for all the near transfers and the massive list of failed ones. In modern football, you can’t sign teenagers or raw talents and hope to turn them into league winners. You need players who hit the ground running and can lift the entire squad and contribute as star men. Just like prior years, Wenger has been ‘scrooge like’ with his transfer chest and has not gone out of the way to win/buy a trophy. While it’s no sure way for success, it does help. I guess by not spending, Wenger manages to reduce the expectations while effectively/inadvertently killing any chances of a title.
With the current wait for more than 12 years for a league title, one would assume Arsene would have learnt his lessons but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Mourinho has always been quick to remind people that Wenger has no pressure to perform and he would love to do his job where there is no fear about results or titles. While that may be a gross exaggeration it does hold a certain amount of truth, Wenger has been kept on when better managers across Europe were let go for e.g. Capello after just winning La Liga, Ancelotti for finishing title less in Chelsea and Real Madrid. As long as the books are green he is A-okay in the board’s opinion.
It’s high time he is judged not on the books but on the performances on the field and more importantly, the titles he wins. As the famous Dark Knight line goes, either you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Mr Wenger, unfortunately you have become the villain now and I would like to join the likes of Emmanuel Petit and Piers Morgan and say Thank You Wenger but your time has run out.