Is it all over for Arsene Wenger at the Emirates?
The final whistle at St. Mary’s on New Year’s Day left Arsenal fans fuming. The optimistic expectation of getting back into the title race was quickly turned into frustration and anger. Szczesny’s blunder gave Southampton an unassailable 2-0 lead on a day when rival teams - Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool – all dropped points. This was Wenger’s chance to propel the gunners into fourth place, but his failure to do so has left fans and experts wondering if the Frenchman has overstayed his welcome at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger’s failure to bring in trophies has been compensated by his romance with the Champions League. While other big teams in Europe have had to splurge hundreds of millions of dollars in order to guarantee themselves constant participation, Wenger has managed to stay put in Europe’s finest competition economically. The youth have come through the ranks and the club, with its coffers locked, has managed to improve its financial position. While these are laudable feats, the fans’ thirst for silverware has not been quenched.
The supporters have overlooked bad signings and frustrating performances because they knew, come the end of the season, he would take them to the Champions League play-off spot. This season, however, will be different. While big spending Chelsea and Manchester City look set to fight each other for the title, the remaining Champions League spots will be hotly contested by other teams.
Wenger’s failed transfers
Arsenal’s inability to finish higher than the fourth spot can be partly blamed on Wenger’s performance in the transfer window over the last couple of seasons. League position dictated venturing into the transfer market in search of midfielders and defenders while Arsenal faced some usual problems almost every other season. Till the arrival of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal lacked big names who could be relied upon in difficult matches. With Ozil side-lined due to persistent injuries and poor form, pessimists wonder what Wenger will do if Sanchez were to ever stop firing.
Over the past couple of seasons, the manager had numerous opportunities to make quality additions to the Arsenal midfield and back four.
Cesc Fabregas was expected to return to the Emirates this summer. The deal was easy to close. Arsenal sold Fabregas to Barcelona with the Catalan club agreeing to offer him back to the Gunners first if they ever decide to let him go. That is exactly what they did. But, Wenger failed to see the need to spend in order to obtain the Spaniard’s services. Arsenal has gone through the better part of the current season without key midfielders – Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In the light of the current predicament, the Fabregas deal seems like a missed opportunity.
Yohan Cabaye, the spark in the Newcastle midfield was yet another midfielder who was linked to Arsenal following his departure in 2013. The Frenchman, who had clearly grown to become a talismanic midfielder, was a player Wenger could have easily benefitted from. Cabaye was in great form scoring 7 times in 17 appearances for Newcastle. Paris Saint German eventually beat Arsenal in the bidding process.
Luis Gustavo was yet another defensive midfielder who was Emirates-bound, but chose greener pastures. The Bayern Munich midfielder, who currently plays for Wolfsburg, had a price tag of $22 million. Wenger was reportedly prepared to meet the asking price but later backed out of the deal. Gustavo helped take Wolfsburg from 11th last season to Top-four contention. The Brazilian has the highest passing rate (86.5%) in the entire squad. He would have lined up on the pitch in place of Flamini and few would deny that Gustavo will do the job better.
Falling short at crucial times
Arsene Wenger has tried to do his best with the available bunch of players though. Young players, who were nurtured by the Frenchman for years, have come of age, providing extraordinary attacking prowess. But the lack of world class players and big signings has been evident in some crucial defeats which have come in the most important of games. These moments can be singled out and blamed for the Gunners’ throwing of the towel in the title race.
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal. This resounding scoreline does not tell the entire story. The preceding week saw Arsenal travel to the Allianz Arena and beat Bayern Munich. No mean feat. To see the same squad get thumped by local London rivals, Chelsea, was unexpected and unbelievable for many fans. They did not understand how a line-up which could trump one of the best teams in Europe could fall so short off the mark.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal. The Kop was at its loudest during this game. Arsenal’s fate was decided in the first half an hour of the game when the failure to defend two set pieces gave Martin Skrtel an unexpected brace. The Gunners never regained momentum and the numbers on the scoreboard kept getting worse, and te loss showcased the stark contrast in quality between the Gunners and Liverpool.
Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal. Arsene Wenger & Co. were fading in the 2013/14 season title race and they travelled to the Britannia to face Stoke City. Jonathan Walters’ 75th-minute penalty was the final nail in the coffin. This game at the Britannia in February saw them forget about the title altogether. It was a frustrating game where their failure to score in spite of a formidable attack took them down.
Everton 3-0 Arsenal. In the dying stages of last year’s campaign, when it looked like the gunners would comfortable secure the fourth spot. The 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park put their Top four hopes in jeopardy. There was a real chance then, of Everton trumping them for the final Champions League spot. Even though Wenger eventually got the better of Martinez in the last 5 games of the season, it showed a decline in Arsenal’s fortunes. Out of the title race and now holding on to the fourth spot with the skin of their teeth.
What Wenger needs to do
Arsene Wenger is a stalwart in the footballing world. Despite having a frustrating few years, he has the ability to turn things around. He needs to make a few changes before fans turn on him completely.
For starters, a change in player’s role will do Arsenal lot of good. Mesut Ozil, who creates more chances than any striker could ask for, should play in the No. 10 role and not on the wing. Ozil as a winger becomes obsolete in the final half an hour of the game.
Arsenal have failed to hold on to the lead in the dying minutes of the game. This is a result of some defensive lapses which are born out of the inexperience of the back four. While Mertesacker and Koscielny have a strong partnership, the absence of even one of them starts to leave gaps at the back. Gibbs, Monreal and Chambers are inexperienced and it will take a few years for them to develop to their full potential. Arsene Wenger needs to bolster the defence following the departure of Bacary Sagna. A big defensive signing this January is required.
Alexis Sanchez has proven to be the heart of the Gunners’ attack this season. He starts the game on the right wing and moves into a more central role when the goals seem elusive. He would not have to double up as a striker if they had some world class quality up front. The much talked about signings of Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Higuain, need to be made. A great striker can single-handedly change games and season as Luis Suarez showed the world last season.
Arsenal is a great team and great teams want to win trophies. The fans have made peace with the experiences of the past decade and have adapted to celebrating a top four finish. It is only a matter of time before they realise they want more. They will turn on the club and the manager for silverware, and when that happens, Wenger may find himself without a job and a great manager like him does not deserve to reach such an end.