The fall of Arsenal has been like a slowly evolving political scandal. The final denouement arrives several years after the initial explosion of the news in the public sphere. This is preceded by the slow drip of information that accumulates to a point of no return. Then the slide to the bottom becomes unstoppable.
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That is what is happening to the Arsenal right now. There is nothing spectacular about their fall this season. Keen watchers of the team’s trajectory since 2008 have warned about this. Results like the 8-2 at Old Trafford in 2011 only served as a marker. But it was a telling blow. Other terrible results have followed that over the years; these were just symptoms of the inner problem.
After such horrendous defeats and a reluctance to replenish the squad with quality players, the imminent fall of Arsenal was the inevitable conclusion. Arsene Wenger’s though has somehow fashioned a way to make his collection of mid-table quality players to punch above their weight. It is a testament to his genius that he guaranteed a top 4 finish every single year until last year.
Last year, the chickens finally came home to roost for Arsenal. The slide to disaster has become apparent for everybody to see. Even the FA Cup final victory over hot favorites, Chelsea, did little to obscure what was obvious to everybody. But the eternally optimistic, but deluded manager used the Cup victory as a convenient crutch to hide the failure of his team.
He gave a classic rationalization of why the team failed to make the top four for the first time since 1997 when he arrived at the club. According to him, the uncertainty over his future as the manager of the club affected the players’ performance. And of course, he blamed impatient supporters and the press for causing the unease.
That was an attempt at misdirection from Mr. Wenger. Only die-hard Wenger fans bought that excuse. His reasoning was defective in so many ways. There is nothing special about Arsenal supporters.
Nigeria News is full of the chronicles of football fans worldwide; they support a team that is doing well, hurt as much as the players if the team loses; then turn on players and coaches if the team consistently plays badly. It is very hard to back players who are paid handsomely only to churn out depressingly bad displays when it matters. That is the default attitude of football fans in every single club.
The smart move for Arsenal and Wenger was to have relieved the manager of his job after last year’s FA Cup victory. And an even smarter move was not to have renewed his contract in 2014 after ending the season with the FA Cup. That was the first trophy for the team in since 2005 when they defeated Manchester United in the FA cup final.
The board though, lacked the cojones to sack Wenger. Or the America owner, Stan Kroenke, didn’t care enough (and still doesn’t care) to make the call.
So, here we are, in the first year of a new contract for Wenger. This time around, there is no uncertainty about his future. But the team is even worse than before; so far off the top 4, it resembles an expensively assembled mid-table team.
The game that sticks most in the minds was the lost at Watford. Arsenal scored first. In the second half, Watford put in a bruising display to score two goals and win the match.
In the post-match interview, second-half substitute and club captain, Troy Deeney, gleefully claimed all they had to do to defeat Arsenal was to bully them out of the game.
Therein lies the problem with Arsenal. They are too soft, especially in defensive midfield position and in the defense. They don’t have a problem with scoring goals. The stats show that: after 29 matches, they have scored only 4 goals less than United in second and two more than defending champions Chelsea in fifth.
The defense tells a different story. They have conceded as many goals as Southampton in 17th and just two less than the bottom-placed team West Brom.
Since the departure of Viera and subsequently Gilberto, Wenger has found it hard to replace them with commanding midfielders to protect his back four. The roll call of defensive midfielders is laughable. But somehow, even with these limited players, he managed to keep the team very competitive.
However, while other teams have made changes to their teams, helped in no small way by increased revenue from records TV sponsorship deals, Wenger has stuck to his old methods. And his so-called tried and tested method of turning young and unknown players into stars doesn’t cut it anymore
The results tell the story. Players who came to Arsenal with lots of potentials are falling by the wayside. The highest profile of these is Theo Walcott. He was once touted as the new Thierry Henry. He is now bamboozling supporters at Everton with his pace, which had been the only thing he had going for him.
Other players who never reached the heights expected have departed. There are still young players like Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi, the current Wenger ‘youth’ experiment that’d surely end in failure. Ramsey and Wilshire, no longer young, are still around showing those intermittent flashes that flatter to deceive.
The jury is already out on Arsenal. The only way to revive the fortunes of Arsenal FC is to remove Wenger. Even bringing in better players is not going to work. His methods had already been exposed as outdated.
Whether the board would do that at the end of the season is left to be seen. The signs though are Wenger would be around until at least the end of his contract in 2019.
Things are going to get worse. Arsenal Fans should brace for a long painful wait for a new manager as the slow, ponderous dinosaur in charge waits for a meteorite to mercifully to remove it from the Emirates Stadium dugout.