In years gone by, as Arsenal’s title challenge has slowly faltered away through the season, manager Arsene Wenger has always said that finishing in the Champions League places is ‘enough’ and that failure to do so would be ‘disastrous’. So now, with Arsenal down in 7th with just 15 games left to go, is the same man about to declare it would be acceptable for the club to not dine with Europe’s finest in the competition? It can’t be denied that it’s been a fairly spectacular decline for the Gunners, how just under 8 years ago went an incredible 38 game season completely unbeaten. So, just where has it all gone wrong?
Arsene Wenger has often been labelled as a genius when it comes to recruiting young and talented footballers, and a look at Henry, Anelka and Fabregas tells us why. Those three players were all brought to the club on the cheap as rough gems, and now they boast an astonishing 254 international caps between them. Yet, is the 62 year old losing his touch? Carl Jenkinson was one this season who Wenger and his scouting teams hand-picked from the lower leagues, and so far has had a dreadful campaign. His performances began with a spectacular own goal in pre-season, and other highlights include a red card at Old Trafford. The question that must be asked is that why has Wenger not brought good, experienced players in. Over the recent years you’ve only got to look at the older players he’s brought in to see just why the criticism is coming in. Mikael Silvestre struggled, and Per Mertesacker similarly. There can be no debate that the recruitment has been all wrong, and perhaps this is the reason for their decline. Lee Dixon, for example, played until he was 38 for the club, and now their full backs are almost all under 24, and all out of their depth. That is perhaps the most damning example to show just what’s changed, and the negative effect it’s had.
Arsene Wenger has never been a master tactician, and will never be seen as one. His un-deniable talent lay in nurturing such youngsters shown above and turning them into superstars. However, his tactical mistakes have left Arsenal fans fuming this season, whether they care to admit it or not. Back in August he took a weakened and in-experienced side to face Manchester United. Did he adjust and change his philosophy, make them more secure at the back? No, and they were trounced 8-2. It was such a hammer blow that they still may never recover from it this season. Another, more recent example would be the substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the return fixture, for Arsharvin as the game edged towards it’s conclusion. At 1-1, with ‘The Ox’ having just set up the equaliser, it was delicately poised, but a defensive error from the Russian and the game was lost. Such errors are obviously in-evitable occasionally in such manager’s careers, but surely there have been too many this campaign.
Whatever happens, Wenger’s always got an excuse up his sleeve in the post match interview. This must stop if Arsenal are to move on from such failures and start working to success. His verdict on the recent run of 3 defeats in January? (Fulham, Swansea and Manchester United) ‘We could have won them.’ Wenger must move quickly to adress the issues which lost them the game, and not simply lament on refereeing calls or missed chances. With his side off the pace in the race for 4th, this is imperative. It’s by no means over, but for sure they’ve got some serious work to do.