Where I mentioned him last year. It was around this time last year, that I looked at the Arsenal problem. At the time I said that the target for the club was to hit fourth place, but for a chance of something new and fresh the only change of importance would be that of the manager.
One year later, has anything changed?
Arsenal actually clinched third place rather than fourth, which was just as well seeing as though Chelsea’s Champions League win consigned the fourth team place to a Euro Cup spot. In that sense, it was a case of mission accomplished for the standard. Over the summer of course, there was the issue of Robin Van Persie leaving for Manchester United of all places. Yet Wenger could turn around and say in the likes of Podolski and Giroud, he had already planned with that in mind.
Yet, here remains the fundamental question – have Arsenal improved? The overwhelming answer on this season’s performances so far is no. Losing to Bayern Munich at home this week is not the real indicator of the lack of progress at the club. That comes about when considering the Cup exits to lower league opposition. It also comes when you glance at the league table and see Arsenal needing to kick on another level to overturn the gap between them and their North London rivals.
The argument can be put that Wenger’s new players need time to bed in. Be that as it may, there has still got to be something convincing about the strength of the squad that allows for that acclimatisation to happen. As it is the quality of the performances and the results have again flattered to deceive. What’s worse is that the season looked so promising with such a solid defensive display keeping a clean sheet for games and with the likes of Cazorla looking like he could be a find purchase. It was clear before long, however, that the inconsistencies would emerge in the squad to the point where at present they are on course to finish an 8th consecutive season without a trophy. Not only will be trophyless, but there’s every chance even reaching 4th place will be an underwhelming finish with expectations looking for progress.
I was interested to read the Arsenal captain Thomas Vermalen defending Wenger from those calling the manager to resign. The argument was that the calls were motivated by short term thinking. This has got to be some mistake. The last great Arsenal team that knew how to win trophies was way back in 2005. Since then there has been plenty of opportunity to develop another team capable of winning trophies and in this aspect Wenger has not succeeded. As many have pondered if a manager was at a top club having failed to have won anything for so long, would his job still be so secure?
Here is the thing that will make it worse for any Arsenal fan hoping for imminent change. It won’t happen. There is no reason for Wenger to resign at the end of the season with a season left on his contract. He might still feel having invested in the newer players, that this is still a project that can bear fruit next season. Talk of a warchest of fund at his disposal is merely more wasted paper ink as in reality nothing much will change in the prudent transfer policy that he has maintained over the years. Rather he’ll identify those individuals who he believes will improve the team at a competitive price, without breaking the wage ceiling.
In the meantime, even if they don’t qualify for the Champions League, there isn’t that much compulsion on the board to sack Wenger. His longevity and earlier glories and prudent approach to the team in the light of the club’s profitability continues to ensure a safe pair of hands in Wenger. The decline is distinctly clear, but it is not of the sort that ringes enough alarm bells where it counts.
This is particularly the disappointing thing, because as long as you give the trusted manager money to invest, he will argue that he needs to be around to seen the investment come through. By that reasoning he assures himself the next season to do so, and his pass is that the team still play attractive football, they still have the mental strength to win games, and there’s every reason to believe that they can still finish in a position to play Champions League football again next season. From the board’s perspective there is no incentive to upset the apple-cart by looking for a new coach/manager and usher in another season of transition.
Yet looking at how Arsenal are these days, it must be really hurt to be an Arsenal fan, and by hurt, I guess with the disappointments and failings of recent years, it is more a case of getting accustomed to your new standards – which are so far away from the glory days of Wenger’s early years.
C. L. J. Dryden