Premier League 2017/18: Why are the Gunners firing blanks?
Back in my school-days, a line often repeated by my class-teacher went something like, “Teaching you is the most stressful job there is.” Clearly, she was not an Arsenal fan.
It seems like an eternity when the Gunners last lifted the English League title. More precisely, 13 years, when Arsenal went an entire season unbeaten to go down in history as The Invincibles. A rock-solid defence marshalled by Sol Campbell, a commanding midfield led by Patrick Vieira, and a lethal strikeforce spearheaded by Thierry Henry. *Wipe drool*
Fast forward to this season, and the Gunners’ unbeaten run lasted two games. The last time Arsenal won their first two fixtures in the league was in 2009. A club that was used to sitting pretty on the top, now calls the 4th place a trophy. A club that attracted the best talents from World Football now struggles to extend the contracts of their own players. A club whose fans packed their stadium to watch the Beautiful Game are now spending fortunes flying planes in protest.
So what went wrong?
In his book ‘Stillness and Speed’, Dennis Bergkamp talks at length about the team that was. One thing that struck me about that side was its unity. An extract within tells us of the times when players stayed back after training to play a game of 5-a-side. Henry, Adams, Ljungberg, Bergkamp himself and the lot weren’t really done even after the boss called it a day.
Compare that to a more recent time at London Colney. In an interview earlier this year with Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, Granit Xhaka said this, “At Gladbach, I often went out to eat with a few team-mates after the training. At Arsenal, we usually train in the morning, after which everyone goes their way.”
This Arsenal side has often been criticised for lacking ‘bite’ when they’re up against the big dogs. Heavy defeats that Arsenal fans ‘8-2’ remember, yet ’10-2’ never forget, have become more and more frequent.
Liverpool, most recently, opened that can of worms.
Those defeats could’ve ended at respectable scorelines, yet midway through those battles, chins dropped. There was no rallying call urging them on from within. There was no voice reminding them of the historic crest they played for. There was no one fighting for the other. There were 11 talented Arsenal players on that field but there was no team.
Thierry Henry pointed out in the aftermath of the latest pummelling courtesy Liverpool that there’s a culture of ‘comfort’ within this club at the moment. He couldn’t be more right.
Up top, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has little to no interest in the ongoings at his football club. And therefore, it’s almost frightening that he takes all the major calls at the club. CEO Ivan Gazidis does pop up from time to time with the promise to bring in a ‘catalyst for change’, but that seems to be nowhere in sight.
There really isn’t much that can be said about the ongoings behind the scene with complete certainty. But the players act as the first line, a barometer to gauge the mood at the club. And going by their latest performance, this club is a mess.
Now you’d wonder when I’d call out the boss for all his shortcomings.
Arsene Wenger has made me fall in love with football. His teams have played the Beautiful Game the way it’s meant to be, the work he’s done for the club from the ground up, the loyalty he’s shown to the fans who, for quite some time now, have been calling for his head.
Yet it’s times like these that has me torn. Why would you play wantaway stars (out of position that too!) and leave your newest recruits on the bench? Why are you still so tight-fisted with the chequebook when you finished 18-points off the top last year? Why did you continue to bear the wrath of the protesting fans and sign up for another 2 years? Why would you not simply walk into the sunset last season when you finished gloriously as the FA Cup’s most successful manager?
Life after Wenger seems uncomfortable, but change seems imperative at times like this. I still hope he proves me wrong and goes on an unbeaten run. Who knows? He might just finish the season with a trophy or two!
Yet, I hope my aforementioned teacher never has to endure the dilemma of an Arsenal fan.