A lot has been said about Arsenal’s misfortunes over the past couple of years and rightly so. An eight year trophy drought represents a shocking fall in grace for a team that once won the premier league unbeaten: a feat that has not yet, and doesn’t look likely to be, matched in this premier league era. It is unanimous among those who watch this beautiful game that this dire trend is solely due to the fact that Arsene Wenger has to be the stingiest spender on the planet.
However, I am here to dispute that.
Please do not get me wrong, I do believe it is a major reason why we haven’t won anything, but there is a vital underlying issue that we seem not to take note of. Since we last won the FA cup in 2004, Arsenal have watched as their best players depart for greener pastures, season in season out. In this regard, Wenger is guilty; if not for failing to hold on to them, then for failing to replace them with players of similar quality. That said; let’s really examine the situation comprehensively. Save for Cesc Fabregas, who was returning home, every single player who has left us sings to the same tune. They all left to seek success elsewhere, which effectively brings me to the point of this article.
The one thing that Arsenal – through Wenger – have lost is the winning mentality; the spirit of champions if you will. This is a key aspect that leads me to believe that no matter who we draft in, not much will change. I know this is can be construed as an outlandish statement to make, but let me elaborate.
Arsenal have not won anything in 8 years. There is a point during this period when we had Van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri, Flamini, Vermaelen, Walcott, Rosicky, Hleb, Song, Gilberto, Toure, Clichy and many more; all in one squad. Not only that, these players were at their peaks and in their element at Arsenal, as evidenced by the fact that none of them, except Van Persie, has reached the kind of individual levels at their new clubs which they had at Arsenal. Even the great Cesc Fabregas is not the player he was at Arsenal. Add the fact that a player like Adebayor, who I perceive as average, was once second to Ronaldo, and above Torres, in the EPL scoring charts at Arsenal, and you begin to get my point.
Say what you will but give that squad to Fergie or Mourinho and watch how there will be a trophy flood.
This has gone on to the present day. Take a keen look at our squad, player for player. Our midfield of Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta and Rosicky is on paper the best in the league: even superior to that of Chelsea. Ideally with the quality we have, we should boss possession by a large margin and create endless chances. Our defense has been criticized endlessly but did you know that statistically we have the fourth best defensive record in the league? Man city are the best having only conceded 24 goals, then Chelsea with 30 goals, then Man Utd with 31 goals; finally Arsenal with 32 goals. Shocking, isn’t it? Let’s Move on to our attack.
This season we have not been as prolific in terms of goals scored as we have in seasons past. This, however, I can attribute to the fact that we have acquired a whole new strike force since RVP’s departure. Let us carefully examine each signing. Lukas Podolski at Koln finished the season as the joint fourth highest scorer (tied with Claudio Pizzaro and Marco Reus) with 18 goals in the Bundesliga. On top of that, he has over 100 caps for Germany, one of the world’s best national teams, at 27 years of age. Olivier Giroud was the top scorer in the French league with 21 league goals. Gervinho, in his last season at Lille (who by the way won that years Ligue 1), finished with 18 goals in all competitions, beating then team mate Eden Hazard who was named the best young player that year.
Given these statistics, you are able to slowly come to terms with my point. Our squad (on paper) is not as weak as the performances we have been putting in suggest.
The problem is this: we do not have the belief or the spirit to fight, to win.
This is a problem that lies fully on the shoulders of Arsene Wenger. After we won our last trophy in 2004 at Highbury, we built and moved to the Emirates: a move that left us in massive debt. Wenger chose then to nurture talent rather than buy it ready made to save on costs. This was a great idea but poorly executed. I say this because it was a great idea based on the talent we were able to bring through (Fabregas, RVP, Wilshere, Clichy..etc). It was poorly executed because Wenger decided to put his faith ENTIRELY in talented youngsters. It doesn’t matter how talented those players were, experience is a vital ingredient of any title-winning side. This was the first stage of our descent.
Inevitably, we went trophy-less but that was not the problem. The problem was that instead of quickly remedying this by acquiring one or two experienced heads to complement the talented youngsters, Wenger began making excuses for his squad saying “they will come good”. This ushered in the second stage, and worst part, of our decline from glory. This is because no matter how true his excuses were, subconsciously he was accepting defeat. With the talent those youngsters had, it was guaranteed that they would come good. Problem is, until they did, Wenger had accepted failure.
Ultimately his plan back fired and here is why: Wenger had banked on all the players developing at the same rate and eventually peaking at the same time. This of course was not the case.
Some players like Cesc developed and peaked faster than the rest. This meant that they were talismen at a tender age and they shouldered the team’s fortunes. It worked for a while but eventually they realized that to win trophies they needed to play alongside players of their caliber; so they moved on. Of course with Wenger’s new philosophy he replaced these outgoing stars with raw young talent beginning the cycle again. We were stuck in a loop where some players would bloom faster, carry the team for a while, then eventually depart leaving the mantle to the younger, developing players. We were never going to win anything. David Dein our vice chairman was the first to notice this trend and when he couldn’t convince Wenger to change his ways, he too left.
Then Wenger began blaming our shortcomings on our financial policies that, ironically, were set up by him in the first place. He also began looking at finishing in the top four as an achievement. This ushered in the final stage of our fall from grace. This is because he began making the players and the board believe that finishing in the top four was an achievement worthy of praise, and Arsenal football club began operating as such. Players no longer had the desire/mentality to fight for honours and when they didn’t, nobody in the club raised a finger against the gaffer. This continued for years until the fans began to get restless. Wenger then started buying sub-par players to appease the fans’ demand for signings. I mean, can you believe that the same Wenger who bought Santos, Mertesacker, Park, Chamakh, Squillaci is also the one who bought Henry, Pires, Vieira etc?
What we are seeing today is a result of years of this flawed policy. Even when we buy top players such as Cazorla we still cannot, and will not, achieve anything because of the mentality currently possessed in the Arsenal dressing room.
Sure, Wenger may decide to go all out and splash funds on several top players, but I believe that until this mentality is rectified, we are fighting a losing battle.
There is no way we will achieve anything when Arsene can insist on playing a player like Ramsey week in week out expecting results. It is a clear indicator the he has lost his edge, and unless he can quickly and radically change this mentality; first and foremost in himself and then in the team, I believe that his time at the helm is quickly coming to an end.
What say you fellow Gooners?
Written by: Marcus
Please note the article was written before this weekend’s games (TotalArsenal).