As the season draws to a bitter and heartbreaking close, the Arsenal management, players and fans are asking themselves whether this is truly the lowest point in recent history. Despite the team’s recent progression to the FA Cup final, for the third time in 4 years, the pressure faced by Arsene Wenger has grown to the point where his future is being openly questioned at every turn. It seems that a critical mass of opposition amongst the Arsenal faithful has finally been reached, but is this rage misplaced? Should the focus instead be shifted onto the players, who have consistently proved themselves to be lacking the mettle necessary to compete at the highest levels? We take a look at who should shoulder the blame.
In May 2014, Arsene Wenger led his team to victory in the FA Cup, the first major trophy in ten years. It was heralded as a turning point, a new beginning after years of careful rebuilding and penny pinching. 2014 appeared to answer the questions that were beginning to emerge about Wenger’s capability as a manager; the team looked stronger, it was established at the new stadium and money was available to spend and improve the squad.
Three years since, and this ‘New Arsenal’ has simply never emerged. Without fail, the team has crashed out of the Round of 16 in the Champions League and surrendered the title race before the start of May. The only solace has been the FA Cup and consistently finishing above Tottenham, only one of which could happen this season. The questions being asked in 2014 have not only re-emerged, but have crystallised into fundamental opposition to Wenger’s management.
The debate around Wenger is now a gruelling and emotionally exhausting fixture of being an Arsenal fan, but should we be focusing more on the players? Wenger achieved all that he did with an amazing group of players; not just Henry and Bergkamp, but Viera, Adams and Keown. These were committed, hardened professionals who had the guts to see a campaign through to victory. Who from the current squad would even get onto the bench of The Invincibles? Koscielny, Cech, Sanchez, but few else. The current crop seem to be more concerned with taking selfies for their Instagram pages than they are with delivering week in week out.
Managers will always take the blame for failures, but we all know that ultimately it’s the men who walk out onto the pitch who have the capacity to make the difference. When he’s on his day, Ozil is capable of anything, truly one of the most gifted players in Premier League. But how many recent performances have seen lacklustre input, poor touch and indifferent body language? This isn’t just some keyboard warrior attacking professional athletes, either, Aaron Ramsey came out and said that “We’ve let him [Wenger] down at times this season”. Any Arsenal player who says otherwise is lying to themselves.
I recently heard Michael Carrick speaking on this subject from a Man United perspective – “at this club, you can never feel settled… If you get into a comfort zone and are too much at home, then it will come back to bite you”. Do you get that impression from the current Gunners squad? The current Arsenal squad simply do not have enough of a fire underneath them driving them to perform. They are too settled, too comfortable, too complacent. But motivation and pressure to perform should be coming first and foremost from the manager, and the question must be asked about why hasn’t Wenger been able to light this fire? How has he let them become so de-motivated? If Arsenal are to finish in the top four, they will need to win all of the their remaining Premier League fixtures, and Wenger will need to act quickly to find the motivation needed.
Should Wenger be in charge at the beginning of next season he will need to overhaul his squad. Not for the first time, it is being said that he will need to bring in several quality reinforcements, that is without taking into consideration whether Sanchez and Ozil will leave the club. Koscielny and Giroud are both being courted by Marseilles, and Bellerin is openly flirting with Barcelona. Heavy investment is needed, and without it, Wenger will lose even more of the fans confidence, but he has an opportunity to clear out the dead wood and bring in players who are fresh and hungry.
Calum Stephens – Writer, journalist, amateur gambler and long suffering Charlton supporter with a background in Politics and academic research. Specialising in European and English football league analysis and predictions.