Arsenal have been a dominant side in the world of football for a number of years. Holding a joint record number of FA Cup wins with Manchester United (12) which they achieved with their two FA Cup wins in the 2013/14 and 15 seasons, along with holding the accolade of being the only team to win a title unbeaten in the remarkable Invincible season of 2003/04. However, of late, their dominant status has diminished into what can be seen as a ‘running joke’. In this article, I intend to outline exactly what has gone wrong for Arsenal in recent years to knock them off their pedestal.
Lack of leadership/ mentality
Some important factors that are often overlooked but abundantly clear are the character, leadership and mentality that run through a squad. Arsenal have had great characters within their squad whose presence and stature were often enough to instil fear in opposition and motive their teammates. That doesn’t even take into account the leadership qualities they carried. On leadership, the captaincy role was solidified as a key part to the Arsenal squad through the likes of Tony Adams, Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry. Greatly influential, leaders with their no-nonsense mentalities, stature and elegance of play. These stars characterised what the role of a captain really meant.
These days, the character of the players has been lost and is nowhere near as influential as the old days. The best Arsenal have in regards to an on the pitch leader is Per Mertesacker. However, due to injury concerns and the ever improving ‘Kostafi’ partnership at centre-half, game time for him seems near impossible. On player quality sparkling influence, Alexis Sanchez is the best they have. However, his constant negative reaction to being substituted and towards his teammates’ mistakes after tough matches can cause more harm than good, as the tabloids have already started pick on.
As for Mesut Ozil, although crafting his unique style of play through his ‘lackadaisical’ approach, the occasional lack of work rate and obvious uninterested body language may disrupt morale in fellow Arsenal players and fans alike. Particularly so in big games where your best players are expected to step up, Ozil has often been found guilty of ‘not turning up’ on a number of occasions.
Lack of ambition
Considering that Arsenal intend to compete against the world’s best such as Bayern Munich, they are not as ambitious enough in the signings they make. This is clearly shown in the 2013/14 when they attempted to meet then Liverpool forward Luis Suarez’s buy-out clause by offering £40,000,001 (I have purposely written the value in this way to show how ridiculous it is).
A competitive club like Manchester City and Manchester United make statements with their bids, paying £54m and £36m plus add-ons the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Anthony Martial respectively. These are signs of clubs with definite ambitions to challenge in all competitions. A more recent example is Arsene Wenger’s comments post the 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge saying, “I could have signed Kante”. With reports suggesting his reasoning for not following through with the move being that his wage demands were too high, it leaves Gunners’ fans thinking “why is he unwilling to spend the money we know he has on players chased by rival clubs?” Probably a lack of ambition to ‘fight’ for trophies is what prevents him from breaking the bank.
Arsenal have not been anywhere near as strong as they should be in transfer windows. I understand it would be unfair to make these transfer criticisms despite them signing their two most expensive players in the last three years in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for £35m and £42.5m respectively. But as previously mentioned, most Arsenal signings have not been strong enough to position themselves to compete with the best. Too often have Arsenal fans see news of transfers only to realise it is a signing that strengthens their academy opposed their first team. Although a commendable transfer philosophy that builds for the future, Arsenal have gone so long without winning silverware that they must look to signing current quality opposed potential quality.
Arsenal did this recently with Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, two extremely well qualified and experienced players who gave something else to the team. Very few of such calibre players have been attracted as much as they should have for a team with Arsenal’s credentials. It is encouraging to see a transition beginning to take place, with this 2016 summer window bringing in Swiss midfield Granit Xhaka (24), World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi (24) and experienced forward Lucas Perez (28). This gives a sign that the club are now looking to sign for experience alongside quality and, as long as they continue in this way and develop a stronger intent to spend big, they will break this habit of transfer devolution sooner rather than later.
In recent years, Arsenal have gone through seasons in patterns – start off strong, drop in form around January/February, finish 4th. This has been ever synonymous with Arsenal and is not an image that top clubs should associate themselves with, especially those with a fan base hungry for silverware. The fact that this has ended up becoming a running joke amongst football fans proves that this type of result at the end of a season is very frequent. However, they have mustered finishes in 3rd and 2nd in the last 2 seasons. We therefore, are tempted to believe they are showing healthy signs of improvement (albeit finishes 2nd only thanks to London rivals Spurs’ 5-1 capitulation against Newcastle). If they can continue to end campaigns higher than 4th, I believe that would be enough to get people off their backs and act as a platform for greater competition in the following seasons.
Although this is often unavoidable, it is a factor that does need to be taken into consideration. This is a problem that has plagued the club for years, affecting particularly talented players including Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and of course, the infamous Abou Diaby. These players are known to be injury prone, however, it is not like they are the only ones affected. Key players and youth prospects suffering injury usually devalues any squad and it has particularly been prominent at Arsenal with losses of Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott in recent years. This is not so much a criticism of the club, but the question must be asked about why so many injuries occur during a season. A slight change in the Arsenal medical staff or training regimes in the near future may prove to be beneficial in order to go a full campaign with a majority fit squad.
Management (unwillingness to change)
Finally, we have to address the management. The Arsenal boss Mr. Wenger has been criticised for not adapting his tactics or transfer policies and that could be put down as a factor to their lack of success. They are known for playing with a slow build up, possession-based style, which diminishes their tactical advantage, as most teams will know how to play against them.
Also, the lack of physicality they have in the squad, particularly in midfield, has been quite clearly a factor that sets them apart from their rivals. This has led to criticism from Sky pundit Gary Neville in 2015 who called the Frenchman “either arrogant or naïve.” The board are not to be spared either. They set the targets for Wenger and his squad to achieve. They are in control of how much money the club has within their transfer budget every window, with potential to increase or decrease values. But most importantly, they are in control of who takes charge of the Arsenal.
In recent years, there have been numerous “Wenger in, Wenger out” debates, but the final decision is ultimately down to the board or the man himself. It is up them to help quash the fans nerves and offer more assurances as to the status of the management but instead no decision has been made and constant speculation is affecting the team.
In conclusion, all of these are issues in need of immediate addressing in order for Arsenal to begin competition on the highest level consistently throughout an entire campaign. There could be a bit more serenity and understanding from the Arsenal fans themselves, but most of their grievances are well and truly justified. Yet, in my most honest and humble opinion as one of the Gooner faithful, I believe the management is in the need of change. With stories of Juventus boss Max Allegri and Atletico’s Diego Simeone being linked to the club, it is fair to suggest that the future still can be bright for Arsenal.
With great respect for all he has accomplished, Arsene Wenger has done an incredible job during his tenure in the red half of North London, I personally believe, for his own health and the progression of the club, the board must take the difficult, but executive decision to not offer Arsene Wenger a new contract at the end of his current deal.