1 game down of the Premier League season and you’d be forgiven for thinking Arsenals season was over already. Following their opening day defeat to Liverpool, questions have been raised about the capability of Arsene Wengers side to mount a serious title challenge this season. A substandard effort last year and failure to deliver any World Class signings over the summer has created an atmosphere round the Emirates more hostile than a sit down dinner with Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland. Of course at this stage any suggestions that the Gunners are finished is a huge overreaction – but what is the problem with Arsene-al?
It’s a familiar story for the Gunners. They’ve been a couple of players short for the last however many seasons, but they’ve got an admirable knack of always finishing in the Champions League places. But a top 4 finish and another FA Cup triumph might not save Arsene again. And with the league more competitive than ever this season, a lack of signings could see them slip out of the top 4 and be the catalyst for them to begin to be left behind. You have to feel for Arsene Wenger. For all that he’s done at Arsenal it appears the fans are never happy enough, but is it justified? They should have won the title last year and be favourites for it this year – and the reason they didn’t is down to one man. Fair enough he’s done so much for Arsenal, 2 doubles, an unbeaten season, Champions League final. Not to mention the new stadium transition to the Emirates. But 3 titles in 20 years simply isn’t good enough; no other manager would be allowed that sort of time at a big club with that little success.
Wengers timid Scrooge-like approach in the transfer window is nothing new. He has long been in favour of counting his pennies rather than splurging them in big transfer deals. He has romantic ideals of winning the league his way, with players he discovers or gets on the cheap. But players like Anelka, Vieira and Sol Campbell being available for peanuts just doesn’t happen anymore. Thierry Henry was a snip at £11 million and Wenger helped to make him the player he became, but in the modern market even he would have fetched more than double that at least, and that was before he had achieved anything. Same goes for Aaron Ramsay when he arrived. Instead of spending though, Wenger prefers to fill his side out with average players who arrive for moderate transfer fees in the hope they could be something – Gabriel, Elneny, Sanogo, the list goes on.
Arsenals stadium has long been paid off and they’ve got money to burn, but there is seemingly nothing that takes Wengers fancy enough to throw his chequebook at it. Meanwhile majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has come out and said Arsenal can’t compete with the big guns in the transfer market. Really? Where’s all that money from the leagues highest priced season tickets gone then? You can imagine a conversation between Kroenke and Wenger being like a dad giving his child pocket money, “Well Arsene, you can spend all your money on that one and have it now – or, you can save it and buy a better one next year”. Wenger has become so involved with the board room though that he has almost forgotten to put priority on the things that matter. Good business doesn’t win football matches.
His lack of steel was never more evident than the day he sold Robin Van Persie to their arch rivals. A man Arsenal needed to challenge for the title, he flogged to the highest bidder, which happened to be Man United. And why? Because at 29 it made sense from a business viewpoint to cash in on Van Persie before his contract run out. Arsenal got £25 million out of the deal, and in return RVP shot Man United to another title. I wonder if Fergie would have been so kind if the boot was on the other foot? Or if Arsene would have done the same a few years earlier? No chance. And they’ve not really replaced Van Persie since.
He’s shown he’s not afraid of spending money, Ozil, Sanchez and £30 million on Granit Xhaka proves that. Although you can’t help but feel the Xhaka cash would’ve been better spent on N’golo Kante. A player of the same position as Xhaka with Premier League experience who switched to Chelsea for the same fee. Which is a bargain when you consider the amount other players are moving for in this window. Even youth players these days are worth a fortune before they’ve made their debut. Today’s £50 million is yesterday’s 20. But Wenger is reluctant to pay today’s prices and it’s like he doesn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket for fear of ruining his omelette.
The sad reality is that Wenger has lost his touch. No longer can he attract players on reputation alone. Fewer and fewer players want to play for a ‘specialist in failure’ as Jose so bluntly put it. Jamie Vardy turned his back on Arsenal, but I’d bet he wouldn’t have done the same had United or City come calling. You could argue that there aren’t many top class, available strikers around at the moment. Lacazettes decent record in France doesn’t make him a sure thing – although we said the same about Drogba. Having bid for him already though, we know Arsene is interested. So why doesn’t he just go out and break the bank and get him? He’s got the money at his disposal but he’s up to his old tricks again. Lyon rejected a 40 million bid from West Ham – so Arsenal bid 28 million. What are you smoking Arsene? It’s like the Suarez bid all over again. Why not try £40 million plus a pound and see where that gets you? You’d be lucky if £28 million got you Brian Deane or Keith Duffy in the modern game. Deane is now in his late forties whilst Duffy was in Boyzone. Maybe he doesn’t want to take the risk because he thinks his job is safe regardless, due to his close ties with the board. But at the end of the day it’s not the owners that remove the manager first, it’s the fans, and patience is wearing thin.
The thing with Arsene and Arsenals fans is they’re like an old married couple of 20 years, they’ve got comfortable. The honeymoon and the happy early years have faded. Arsene thinks his wife a.k.a the fans are happy to sit at home watching television repeats and going on holidays to the same resorts. But the fans are fed up of sitting watching the same old story (particularly when they’re paying over a grand in ticket prices to do it). And their holidays to Tenerife are actually pricey trips round Europe which end in them always coming home disappointed. Now they can see why the kids Cesc, Robin and Samir have left home. The fans heads have turned, maybe they can go out and get a new man. Someone more adventurous, who will take risks. Well let’s give Arsene one more chance to put things right they say, to have a bit about him and to turn this loveless marriage around. Yet romance doesn’t always have a happy ending, especially in football. If they fail to mount a serious challenge this season, Wenger should do the honourable thing and step aside as a legend. It’s almost as if the board are waiting for Arsene to remove himself and move alongside them upstairs before they have to awkwardly remove him. He could go on for another few years yet, but with one year left on his contract to run, it seems Wenger desperately needs to win back some love to have his happily ever after. He may well have left it too late. He’s got 2 weeks left till the window shuts to sign some players. If he fails to bring anyone in to try and save his legacy, then he can only blame himself for the divorce.
By Darren Wells.