It’s been a frustrating season so far again for Arsenal, and Saturday’s shock FA Cup defeat at home to Blackburn has done nothing to lighten the mood around the Emirates. Out of the title race within a couple of months of the season starting, defeated by League Two side Bradford in the Capital One Cup, and several inept defensive performances this season has left even the most loyal of fans questioning the continued reign of Arsene Wenger. But is the criticism justified?
Unless a miracle is to happen in the knockout stages of this seasons Champions League, it will be 8 seasons without a trophy for the Gunners. It’s a statistic that is leaving all Arsenal supporters increasingly frustrated. Domestic competition is now fiercer than ever and a team who only a decade ago would be favourites to lift the Barclays Premier League title along with Manchester Utd, now find themselves in a constant battle to remain one of the top four clubs in England. Arsenal’s once safe passage into Europe’s top competition each season is no longer guaranteed, as they must now not only do battle with Manchester Utd, Manchester City and Chelsea, but with Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool to a lesser extent.
Many things remain the same at Arsenal. A flamboyant, free-flowing and easy on the eye style that when firing, earn Arsenal an overwhelming flood of admirers. But things have also changed during the last decade that aren’t so good. Once renowned for their strong defensive capabilities, Arsenal have developed an unnerving frailty in recent years. An inability to hold on to leads, a lack of resistance when under pressure, and a number of glaring individual errors have all contributed to the failings of Arsenal in recent seasons. One thing that Arsenal clearly lack is leadership. A player, or number of players willing to standup, take responsibility and organise a team capable of building and defending leads has eluded the Gunners in recent years. And when they’ve found those calibre of players, they’ve lost them soon enough. Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie to name just a few, driven to leaving the club in order to match the ambitions that their talents should allow them to fulfil.
Pressure is mounting from fans for Wenger to change his philosphy, and strategy in the transfer market. Arsenal have held on to the ideology of buying young players and developing/nurturing their talent for a long-time, and Wenger has often been proven right with a number of purchases. Wenger may argue he already has enough experienced players to call upon whom he feels are capable of taking responsibliity and dictating the direction of Arsenal’s matches – captain Vermaelen and Arteta perhaps those in question. Right now though, they’re not doing a sufficient job. Individual errors, and lapses in concentration are rife in a squad that often look like they lack belief. The biggest worry for Arsenal is that it affects them in all areas of the pitch – Szczesny provides little confidence for a very penetrable backline, Mertesacker is a shadow of the colossus he appears to be in the German national side, Ramsey lacks any kind of midfield identity, seemingly not knowing what kind of midfielder he is meant to be, summer signing Podolski is either fantastic or absolutely anonymous, and the less said about Gervinho the better. Quality strength in depth is seemingly what Arsenal lack at the moment, and despite possessing such precocious talents as Walcott, Cazorla and the ever-improving and imposing Wilshere, Arsenal seem to lack the cutting edge required to generate a consistent run of form. But is change the option? I don’t think so.
Wenger may not have won a trophy since 2005, yet he has continually succeeded in bringing Champions League qualification in every season since. For some fans that isn’t enough but its a massive feather in the cap in a time where Arsenal have neither had the financial power or capability to attract world-class talent to the club like their rivals. Financial statistics from the last decade show Arsenal have made a net profit of £15m from transfers in the last ten years, in comparison to Chelsea’s loss of £524.5m, Manchester City’s loss of £417.8m, Manchester United’s loss of £123.4m, and Tottenham’s loss of £102.3m. With those statistics on offer, even Wenger’s biggest critics surely can’t hold him accountable for a transfer budget that is surely not within his control, and his sides limited success can surely be attributed to Arsenal finding themselves playing in the most financially competitive and high calibre league in the world.
He does have things to work on and address. The need for controlling influences alongside the emerging Wilshere should be top of his agenda, and the need for a regular goalscorer remains despite Theo Walcott’s promising recent form. But Wenger is gradually moulding a set of players able to compete at the highest level, slowly but surely. His main aim with the current set of players will be to strengthen their defensive resolve, as their attacking prowess is their for all to see. The Arsenal supporters have long had the saying ‘in Arsene we trust’ – I suggest they keep that faith a little while longer.