Arsenal: Another season of underperformance?

The Disappointing truth for Arsene Wenger

 

The point earned at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon was a significant one for Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal team, in effect securing a place in next season’s Champions league barring a last day capitulation at home to already-relegated Aston Villa and favourable results for both Manchester City and United. If Tottenham lose at Newcastle, the Gunners may still secure second spot and continue their record of finishing above their great North London rivals in every Premier League season since 1995. With Tottenham having been heralded for their impressive season to date, for Arsenal to finish ahead of their neighbours would represent a fillip to fans, yet, putting local rivalry aside, Arsenal will still finish a minimum ten points behind surprise Premier League winners Leicester City, and were ruled out of the title race as early as the middle of April, while Spurs were able to maintain their title push for a further couple of weeks. And herein lies the disappointment for Arsenal followers, who it appears may be quietly contemplating (aside from a vociferous minority whose minds have already been made up) Wenger’s future in charge of a club he has led so impressively for 20 years.

The 2015/16 Campaign: Good enough?

This has not been a vintage campaign for the Gunners, yet in some ways this season has been vintage Arsenal. Top four finish – check. Eliminated in the last 16 of the Champions League – check. An FA Cup run – check. Periods of being almost unplayable – check. Mental and defensive fragility – check. This season has been a microcosm of post-2003 Wenger – a young and talented team threatening to succeed, but ultimately falling short. And the sense will remain among supporters that in a year when the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United were all below their best in league terms, this was a massive opportunity lost. The same accusation has been levelled at neighbours Tottenham, but with more recent pedigree and a wealth of resources at their disposal, it is the red half of North London which may be rueing the surprise success of Leicester more heavily. Yet this is also a time for introspection, and have Arsenal truly been good enough this campaign? With players of the calibre of Mesut Ozil (signed for £42.5 million) and Alexis Sanchez (£35 million) in the ranks, Arsenal probably really should have at least pushed the Foxes closer (of course Manchester City and Chelsea in particular cannot be forgiven the same failure), while Champions League failure has been a reoccurring theme since reaching the final in 2006. And unlike the past two campaigns gone by, this year there has not even been FA Cup glory to fall back on after surprisingly capitulating at home to Watford in the Quarter Finals. Yet the early season signs were good as Wenger appeared to have addressed a long standing weakness with the capture of the experienced Petr Cech in goal, and Arsenal were sitting pretty on top of the Barclays Premier League on New Year’s Day 2016. Traditionally Arsenal have been strong finishers to Premier league seasons, but this campaign makes sorry reading for the Gunners – since that New Year’s occupation of top spot, Arsene Wenger’s men have claimed only 29 points from 18 games, compared to 35 points for Tottenham and an incredible 41 for Leicester, ensuring the Foxes romped to the title with room to spare.

The Good News

Although there is an increasingly vociferous minority calling for the head of the Frenchman, most Arsenal fans would prefer to see Wenger leave on his own terms – a planned demonstration at the Emirates on 21st April during the game against West Brom became nothing more than a lukewarm murmur of discontent. Yet there is an increasing realisation amongst supporters that the time for change is coming if the club is to seriously challenge for the top honours all those connected with Arsenal crave. But significant comfort should be taken in the fact that the club will once again compete at Europe’s top table next season, and armed with a financial war chest the envy or more or less any club in the world, barring the behemoths of City, Chelsea and PSG, the club should be able to attract the calibre of player which would push the Gunners beyond their current relative malaise. Indeed, further analysis of the current squad would reveal that strengthening in a couple of key areas, most notably the centre of defence and in the centre forward position, could catapult the club to long-elusive glory. Whether or not Wenger is the man to be trusted with the chequebook remains to be seen, yet the club’s board seem determined to stand by the man that has been the heart and soul of Arsenal as a 21st Century giant of the English game. Within the ranks of the current squad, to complement the global stars of  Ozil, Sanchez and Cech, the club boast the younger talents of Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, all established first –team players who should have the best part of their career’s ahead of them (if, in the case of Wilshere and Welbeck in particular, they can stay fit). With the 60,000 Emirates stadium and global metropolis of London as the backdrop, the near future of Arsenal football club should be more than secure, yet one of the many  by-products of this most deliciously unpredictable of seasons has been the self-doubt bestowed on many of the league’s bigger clubs as a result of Leicester’s unprecedented success, and Arsenal are certainly one of those performing the deepest of soul-searching. Yet what is one of the great things about this greatest of games? There is always next season…

 

2016/17 Premier League – To Win Outright

Manchester City – 2.50

Chelsea – 6.00

Arsenal – 6.50

Manchester United – 8.00

Tottenham Hotspur – 8.00

Liverpool – 10.00

All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 10/05/16

By: Steve Paget

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