Arsenal FC in Decline: How Long Can Arsene Wenger Hide Behind Scapegoats?
It has been said before, and it will be said again; Arsene Wenger has done great things for Arsenal FC.
To prove I haven't forgotten the past, I will detail his achievements: three Premier Leagues, four FA cups and three Community Shields. Individually, he has won three Premier League Manager of the Year awards, two LMA Manager of the year awards, 11 Manager of the Month awards, an OBE (they give them out to anyone these days) and has been inducted into the English hall of fame.
To most Arsenal fans, it has placed him in a position of God, a guru that cannot be sacked due to what he has done. A legend he may well be in the future, but not as he currently continues to disappoint and destroy his legacy. His earnest fans insist he cannot be sacked, or it will be sad to see him leave. If they are supporting Wenger over the good of Arsenal FC, then we have a problem.
The modern Arsenal fan is a far cry from the ones I was surrounded with as a kid. Due to Wenger's early success, style of football and definitely because of the Invincible season of 2004, Arsenal became the Harlem Globetrotters of English football. A new type of fan emerged. A fan solely concerned with the devine teachings of Arsene Wenger. They eat his every word and follow his every belief despite how ridiculous it may be. Perhaps you would have noticed that Wenger's greatest excuses are now reitterated by the majority of Arsenal fans today like parables.
Wenger is a great coach, but there is no doubt he has lost his way in almost every department when it comes to management. The fact he hasn't won a trophy in seven years (and counting) isn't that bad if you are a mid-table team. However, when you have had the Invincibles and become Champions League runners up, there must be a problem. The last seven years have seen a slow and obvious decline in the quality of football, the players, the tactics and the results. It's obvious to everyone but Mr. Wenger and his followers.
One of Wenger's biggest scapegoats has been the 300 million-pound Emirates Stadium, which meant Arsenal could not spend as they had done previously before. So came Wenger's youth policy which has seen some great players emerge such as Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini. The problem with his policy was that he neglected his older players, only offering them one-year extensions once they reached the age of 30, causing them to leave for better contracts elsewhere. All of Arsenal's experience was leaving all at the same time.
This caused a lack of loyalty in my opinion. A feeling that has spread to the present day as Wenger's star youth players leave him one by one. Wenger began selling players to rival teams, and his replacements have been few and far between or just not up to the standard of what came before. This situation has worsened season after season until we get to what Arsenal have now.
A squad full of mediocre players, coupled with one-dimensional tactics and poor decision making, means Arsenal are in danger of falling out of the top four.
Another scapegoat Wenger has been able to subliminly promote is the board and their lack of ambition. Though this may be true, the board continues to confirm that there is money to spend, money Wenger either doesn't want to spend or spends poorly. Arsharvin? Park?
Wenger has surrounded himself with players who should never even have an opportunity to play for the club: Silvestre, Squillaci, Almunia, Fabianski, Bendtner, Eboue, Djourou, Chamakh, Park e.t.c The board are not to blame for these players, and though many will point at the many transfer successes of Wenger, the truth is, they were done under the stewardship of David Dein, who orchestrated deals involving Bergkamp and Henry. Since he has left, the transfer ins and out have been a failure more often than not.
This season, Arsenal have had their worst start in the league since Wenger took charge. In fact, this has been the worst start since the 1995-96 season with the fewest points after 22 matches. If this is not an indicator of what is happening, then I cannot be sure what is.
Today, Arsenal hosted Man U, and nobody expected them to win, but there was always a chance, as Vermalen was back from injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was finally ready for his first premiership start, something that should have happened a long time ago when you consider the form of Walcott and Arsharvin.
After what was a mauling in the first half, conceding a Valencia goal, the Gunners came out much better in the second, especially after changes which replaced Djourou from his misery of playing right back to right at the back of the bench. Chamberlain assisted Van Persie to equalise and bring Arsenal back into the game.
What happened next was unthinkable. Chamberlain, perhaps the most dynamic player on the pitch at the time, was subbed on the 72nd minute, two minutes after his assist, for the player in Arsenal's squad currently most despised by critics: Andrei Arsharvin. The reaction in the crowd was astonishing. I had personally never heard this kind of sound before, a mixture of astonishment, anger and praise for Chamberlain. Chamberlain jogged off, head down and sat quietly on the bench whilst Robin van Persie made his feelings clear by questioning his managers decision.
At that stage, Arsenal were favourites to win the game, but the mood changed due to that managerial decision. Lo and behold, Man United's winner came from Arsharvin's inability to track back and close down Antonio Valencia, resulting in Danny Welbeck's goal.
I've looked at this incident a few times, but I don't think Arsharvin was to blame for the goal. It's just the poor way the team defends and the quick thinking of the Man U forwards. The game ended 1-2, and the final whistle was met with a chorus of boos. Van Persie stood transfixed and unhappy; it is clear he is thinking of a move. Why wouldn't he? He does not have to put up with this whilst his ex-colleagues enjoy success elsewhere.
At the post-match conference, Wenger was asked on his feelings on the match. With no referees to blame, he chose to focus on the positives. When asked why he substituted the games best player, Chamberlain, he announced that he was struggling with cramps. This is Wenger at his PR best. It had to be a lie. Chamberlain jogged to the bench and was shown no attention. The look on the little boy's face said it all.
Wenger is running out of scapegoats. He's used the refs, his coaching staff, his players and I'm sure he'll use the fans. It may be time for an uprising in North London.
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