Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Arsene We Trust?

Arsene Wenger’s 16-year reign as Arsenal manager is at an all-time low and the steady decline of a previous powerhouse of English football has now reached crisis point.

Tough times for Wenger
In the space of four days Arsenal have been dumped out of the FA Cup by a mediocre Sunderland side and emphatically thrashed by AC Milan to all but end their hopes of progression in the Champions League. Sitting 17 point adrift of league leaders Manchester City they have little to play for and facing a seventh straight season without a trophy, some supporters are now suggesting Wenger’s time is up.

The Gazzetta dello Sport described Arsenal’s 4-0 thrashing by AC Milan in the San Siro, their heaviest ever European defeat,  as “Una delusione totale” which requires little translation. Ex-captain Patrick Viera was quick to defend his old boss, stating on Twitter, “There was a lack of leadership, you cannot blame only Arsene, the players must take some responsibility.”

Embarrassed in Milan
Not many expected Arsenal to win in a tough away fixture to a side that currently tops Serie A, but this was not just a loss. Wenger admitted, “The result is a disaster, although the season is not finished… We need to show something completely different on Saturday.”

There were many differences in the game on Saturday, the most noticeable being the quality of Arsenal’s opposition, but the outcome was the same. Granted they were unlucky at times, but in what former midfielder Emmanuel Petit classified as the worst season of Arsene Wenger’s career, he pinpointed their problems. “They’re playing like they don’t know what’s going on… Mentally they’re very weak.”

Arsenal hit rock bottom
Wenger claimed, “We had a lot of possession, didn’t create a lot…” His methods have been criticised in the past for promoting style over substance and Highbury hero Dennis Bergkamp was quick to acknowledge that “Sometimes you need more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality… I’m not sure if Arsenal have enough of that.”

Arsene Wenger, labelled a “miracle worker” by former vice-chairman David Dein, won the double with Arsenal in 1998 and 2002. He became the only manager ever to achieve an unbeaten season in the Premier League in 2004 and reached the Champions League Final in 2006.

Duo are so badly missed
This success was built around experienced players and big characters, who gave Arsenal a ruthless sense of drive and determination. Think Seaman, Adams, Keown, Viera, Petit, Henry and Bergkamp among others. Now compare this to a current Arsenal outfit, which, aside of Robin Van Persie, struggles to boast a single outright leader.

Wenger has become widely known for his failure to bring in big name signings and his inability to hold on to his top talents. This season Arsenal lost the services of two of their outstanding players in Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri who moved onwards and upwards to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.

Speculation continues to surround the future of Van Persie, who is still yet to sign a new contract and if Arsenal fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they would surely be waving goodbye to the man who has single-handedly dragged them up to fourth in the league table.

Arsenal's only hope
Having signed five players in a frantic final 48 hours of the last transfer window, none of any notoriety, Arsenal fans have been left once again to wonder why Wenger, a Master of Economics, refuses to spend the money that chief executive Ivan Gazidis announces is available for transfers.

Petit stresses, “They have to spend money to get the big names.” But with the possibility of no Champions League football next year and the lack of willingness to offer lucrative contract deals such as in the case of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, Arsenal may be facing a dilemma of not being able to attract top class footballers.

To add insult to injury, Arsenal’s apparent decline appears to be coinciding in perfect unison with the rise and rise of bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham flying high
Third in the league, still in the FA Cup and playing the most attractive football in England, Harry Redknapp’s men are taking great delight in the shift of footballing fortune in North East London. 

In contrast to Arsenal, Spurs have been able to retain their best players in Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and bring in proven talent such as Rafael Van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor. One of Europe’s hottest prospects Eden Hazard also recently expressed his desire to ply his trade at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal have won only five of their last ten Premier League matches and scoring only twice, they have conceded six goals in their last two competitive outings. With the next three fixtures lining them up against Tottenham, Liverpool and AC Milan, the outlook is bleak.

A team void of any confidence, have a manager in Wenger who openly admits, “It’s very difficult to say where it leaves us and what we will do.”

The glory days are a distant memory
Whilst many have lost faith in the man who brought such success to the club in his early years, there is no hiding behind the facts. Arsenal have finished in the top four of the Premier League in every single season since Wenger arrived in 1996. They have also been involved in the Champions League 14 years in a row under Wenger, despite having only 12 European ventures in total previous to his tenure.

Petit believes “Arsene is still the solution” and many fans maintain faith in a man who has done so much good for Arsenal Football Club, but it is impossible to ignore the doubt in the voices of Wenger’s followers as cries of “IN ARSENE WE TRUST” are replaced by murmours of “In Arsene we trust?”

Written by Dom Wallace


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