I’m still reeling from Sunday’s debacle and might even decide to have a day or two off during the international break. Such is the apathy with which our season has played out, I feel like not really trying too hard. But rather than just leave my blog empty for days, I thought I’d reach out to friends and get somebody else’s view on all things Arsenal. Today, I’ve got Kev – GarrulousGooner to give me his Arsenal thoughts. Rather than me rabbit on, I’ll hand over to Kev to tell you what’s on his mind.
For the past 18 months or so, I’ve anticipated Arsenal’s future with caution. Anxiety; trepidation, even. What will happen when the greatest manager in Arsenal’s history moves on, probably to retirement? We need only look as far as 200 miles north to see the unsteadiness that can be caused by such a powerful and influential figure leaving the helm of one of the biggest club’s in Europe. Further afield, similar stories can be told of Pep’s Bayern, and Mourinho’s Inter side’s decline once they had moved on.
A Manchester United squad that won the league under Ferguson’s leadership finished seventh the following season, 22 points off the champions and noisy neighbours City. I’m not sure you would have found a bookmaker in the country that would give you odds on United finishing that far behind their rivals 10 years ago. Can you imagine in 10 years’ time if we finished that far behind Spurs?
Pfft. It’d never happen. Right? Right…
The trepidation grows stronger when you review our relative recent history: A double in Wenger’s first full season; another four years later; a total of 3 Premier League titles, one won at Old Trafford, another at White Hart Lane; an unprecedented unbeaten season, ‘The Invincibles,’ who gave us 49 undefeated; 5 FA Cups.
He has signed, and developed, many of the fans’ favourite ever players – Henry, Vieira, Pires. He even signed us Spurs’ captain.
Anyone who read my only other blog attempt will know that my earliest memory of Arsenal came as a seven year old – The Cup Winners Cup Final, and the infamous Nayim’s lob over David Seaman. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I trundled up to bed.
My next clear memory is Bergkamp’s hat-trick at Filbert Street. I will be amazed if a hat-trick ever surpasses that one as the Premier League’s greatest ever.
You’ll notice that Wenger’s appointment has been skipped. In honesty, I don’t really remember it; certainly not clearly. I can remember the headline; “Arsene Who?”, but not a lot else. I was too young to really form an opinion of my own. And I can’t recall my father’s, nor any other influences’, opinion on the matter.
Next comes comes Ian Wright surpassing Cliff Bastin’s goal-scoring record, and then the 3-2 victory over United at Highbury, secured by David Platt’s perfectly-placed header. That’s followed by hasty random memories of odd games from that same season – including Overmars’ winner at Old Trafford which well and truly started the march towards our first Premier League title. Adams sealing said triumph with the “That sums it all up” moment capped a fairly nice 10th year of life – the league win was captured on my birthday. My local non-league side won the league the day before. This football lark is easy.
The next seven years is dotted with positive memories. Amazing victories, goals, passages of play – impossible to list even 5% of them. The Invincible season remains my highlight as a football fan. How can it not? Friends and supporters of teams such as Liverpool and Spurs looked on with pure envy during my ‘formative years’, as only us and United were serious contenders for any major silverware.
As a 26 year old, I’m within a band of supporters who have only known ‘Wenger’s Arsenal’. A future without him scares me.
At least it did.
Just to go back to United briefly, they have spent over £200m (on transfer fees alone) since Fergie’s departure, on a squad that won the title in 2013. They would snap your hand off if you offered them 4th come May 2015.
The difference in the situations is that Fergie left having just achieved arguably his greatest ever feat. In hindsight, United should never have been capable of winning that league title. It was arguably his worst team for 15 years. And I think he knew it.
He left an ageing back-line, full of honours but very short on future playing time; a midfield which had never recovered from the loss of Keane and Scholes at the heart of it; and a striker, having fired them to the title almost single-handedly in one of only two seasons in which he didn’t spend significant time on the sidelines, and finding form he would never likely replicate at the age of 30.
The greatest manager in British football history? A fairly unanimous verdict. But he left the club in a position in which his successor was never likely to come out of it with any credit. I hope this is where the two situations differ. How long Wenger remains in charge may dictate that. Sunday saw the final piece of the jigsaw slide into place which ensures I now look at the future with excitement and enthusiasm rather than trepidation and anxiety. An odd-thing to say at the end of a week which saw us lose two leads – one to an Anderlecht side which was embarrassing to put it kindly (it was the first time we had surrendered a 3-goal lead in Europe, not to mention their fairly appalling away record in the competition), and another to a Swansea side who, whilst a decent side, we had beaten on our last two visits to Wales.
The feeling of excitement is fuelled by the hope that we won’t have to suffer in the same way multiple times a season as we have done for the last handful.
How many could see the collapse against Anderlecht coming? Not many, I would say. But, after witnessing it, how many of us felt genuinely surprised, shocked that it had happened? Not many on reflection either.
Much less so the Swansea defeat. I wasn’t at the ground, but I doubt anyone there, nor watching on TV, couldn’t see what Swansea’s tactic was. Their left-winger, the tricky Ecuadorian, was having Chambers on toast. He had 249 touches, and completed 20 crosses. The fact that anyone attacking those crosses from the opposite flank was jumping against Gibbs and Monreal surely signalled significant danger. It certainly did to me.
Now, I do have a certain degree of sympathy for Arsene, who has cited a lack of experience on the bench as a reason for not making a change. And we have suffered significant injuries, of which one is Debuchy – and no blame can be placed with anyone at Arsenal for that. I’m not sure I can say the same for some of the other injuries.
But, we could have started the game with a defence that, whilst youthful and inexperienced, would see players playing in their favoured positions – Gibbs – Chambers – Mertesacker – Bellerin. Instead we had a left-back at centre-half and a centre-half at right-back. Sure, we had an experienced left-back instead of the untried and untested Bellerin – but Monreal isn’t experienced at centre-back. And for someone whose ethos during his time here has been “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” I’m not sure I buy the experience excuse.
The two major games Bellerin has started in his Arsenal career have been fairly painful experiences for fans (Hull and Dortmund), but in both he has been a distance from being our worst player. To my recollection, his lack of experience hasn’t cost us goals.
Who I have more sympathy for than Wenger is Monreal. A lot of people have been quick to defend Özil when I have criticised certain performances from our record signing. “He’s playing out of position” you say. It’s a shame Monreal hasn’t been afforded the same generosity.
Even during the game, could changes not have been made? Could the defence have taken on the formation I highlight above? Or could a more responsible figure of Rosicky have been brought on to help young Chambers on the right flank? It maybe would have ended the same. But I would have felt less frustrated by a manger trying to intervene and change the course of a match than waiting for the inevitable to come.
So my excitement is fuelled by the hope of witnessing something new. I can accept losing. Players have off-games. Teams raise their game against you. An opposing keeper plays a blinder. The referee has a shocker. Those factors, whilst all frustrating in their own way, are acceptable. It happens. Anyone who thinks their team has a divine right to win any game is a spoilt child who frankly deserves the misery of defeat.
What I am struggling to stomach is witnessing the same inevitabilities occur time and time again. How often do we throw away leads? At present, we have lost nine points from winning positions this season. That would be painful over the course of an entire season. It’s excruciating after just 11 games.
Watching Arsenal is too often like watching a film when you already know the ending. If the film was Love Actually – all warm and fuzzy – then great. But it’s more like Marley & Me, leaving me in tears and questioning why life is so unfair.
Our weaknesses, which I won’t go over as many people with far more expertise than I possess have already done so, are there for all to see. Yet we don’t address them.
My point is this – something has to give. For the last few years we have accepted finishing fourth due to financial constraints of the stadium; for the greater good, if you will. I can’t stomach that any longer. A new approach is needed, a fresh outlook, different ideas. I would rather have a go at finishing first and end up finishing fifth than settle for fourth. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps Arsene leaving will signal the fall, and we’ll emulate Moyes’ United and finish outside of Europe. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
We’ll forever be in Wenger’s debt. I truly mean that. What he has achieved at this club I don’t think anyone else would have been capable of. He has guided us through arguably the most difficult period in our history, in the meantime building a squad full of gifted footballers, many British, that we can be proud of. And I am by no means advocating for an immediate change. But his squads have lacked the same qualities that are needed to be a championship winning side for too long. I just hope he moves on before what he is leaving us is forgotten and he ruins all of his monumental efforts.