Arsenal FC 2011: Where Did It All Go Wrong for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners?

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Arsenal FC 2011: Where Did It All Go Wrong for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners?
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Where did it all go wrong for Arsenal this season?

That’s one question millions of football fans around the world will be asking over the next few days.

In late January, Arsenal were firing on all four fronts in the Premier League, FA Cup, Carling Cup and Champions League. Fast forward to early May and, despite having secured Champions’ League football for next season, Arsenal are yet secure third place in the Premier League which would guarantee automatic entry into the group stages of the world’s top club competition.

A season that began with so much promise has ended in near farcical shambles with no one really sure whether or not any progress has been made. At the risk of repeating what has already been said before, it would seem that Arsenal have once again proved to be consistent in one thing only…inconsistency.

Much has been said about certain woeful performances throughout the season and one can only wonder if it was a different breed of players that turned up against Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.

The bitter taste of losing a lacklustre Carling Cup final to an average Birmingham team still remains, and the results sheet only prove the point that Arsenal were very close to winning three out of four trophies this season.

Arsenal’s home form this season in the Premier League was nothing short of appalling as opposed to previous seasons where the Emirates Stadium was a fortress, the team simply froze or simply fell apart expecting that all they needed to do was turn up and three points were safe in the bag.

Home games against the likes of Newcastle, Tottenham and Aston Villa should never have been lost and games such as the draws against Liverpool and Blackburn should really have been wins for Arsenal. Add those points and the league table might just have a different look.

Arsenal were bundled out of the Champions League by a combination of poor refereeing decisions and a miscontrolled pass. In the Carling Cup, a last minute defensive mix up resulted in a freak winner for Birmingham City.

In all, you can say that Arsenal could easily have walked away with three of the four trophies on offer. However, in football, “maybe” is simply not enough. Nobody ever remembers the runners up or who came second in the league, people like to see trophies…they want winners.

I’m not one to slag off Mr. Wenger for his lack of trophies in six years or a Premier League title in seven years as I do know that he wants to win. The question then is, “Do the players want it as bad as they say they do?”

In some games this season, some of the players have been simply fantastic and in the next game, have looked like they couldn’t be bothered about what was happening on the pitch around them. Yes, injuries took their toll on the team but players should be as motivated on a windy night in Stoke as they would be at the North London Derby at White Hart Lane.

It’s that inconsistent streak I’m talking about. I’d rather not speculate about the cause or the solution but rather, simply point out the obvious.

Many speak about Arsene Wenger’s motivation, they say he doesn’t want to win trophies and is only concerned about managing the balance sheet and developing new talent. I disagree! He wants to do all three, and this is where he’s grossly misunderstood and under appreciated. Arsenal’s task over the last few seasons has been simply to qualify for the Champions League, and we must distinguish the manager’s objective from the club’s “unwritten” corporate goal.

The truth is, his performance every season is judged not by how many trophies we win or how many clean sheets we kept but simply by his ability to keep us in the Champions League places.

I remember reading the chairman’s notes to the financial statements from two seasons ago, and if I’m correct, he said that after the move to the Emirates stadium, the club did not anticipate being in the Champions League every season.

As such, qualifying for the Champions’ League every year as Arsene Wenger has done can be said to be an excellent performance given the targets that were set “or not set.” I say this with a hint of sarcasm!

As a new manager to the club, Wenger knew he had to win to justify his new appointment and subsequent stay at the club. Targets surely were set, and he delivered on them. The first nine years brought three Premier League titles and four FA cups. The years that followed after the move to the Emirates have brought no trophies but Champions League football every season.

One question I always ask is this, Which is more important to the club? Trophies or Champions League football?” As has been asked before, would you sacrifice Champions’ League football for the sake of winning the Carling Cup? I admit that trophies are important but in the bigger picture, of what value is the Carling Cup compared to the lost revenue from not playing in the Champions League.

In the last three or four seasons, Wenger has cut the figure of a broken man struggling to balance the high expectations of fans who are not in a position to formally appraise him or formally evaluate his level of success and the Arsenal board, in whose eyes he can do no wrong.

There needs to be a sane balance between expectations on both sides tied into the manager’s ambition for the team. He may not often spend big in the transfer market but the Arsenal squad of today is one of the most expensive to maintain.

He may be able to justify not churning out huge transfer fees to the board due to the fact that they have set low targets for him and the team but can he justify to the fans, the high wages paid to players who are unable to replicate good form, week in and week out. Food for thought?

The growing discontent among many fans is an issue that needs to be addressed before it results into a full blown revolt by supporters of the club. The club have not done themselves any favours by increasing ticket prices right after announcing a take over. It almost sounds like a betrayal of the fans.

The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) has urged existing shareholders not to sell to their shares, and it would seem that their concerns and intent on retaining shared ownership of the club have been taken into consideration. The Arsenal fanshare scheme was launched last year, and it offered fans an opportunity to invest in the Arsenal Football Club, buying in little pieces at a time.

A complete takeover, however, would mean that all such floating shares which the club had guaranteed to make available would no longer be on the market, and the club would run the risk of being run with the philosophy of a single individual, as against, the shared ownership values which had been entrenched into the club’s thinking for decades. Stan Kroenke has since provided guarantees that the scheme will be retained for the next couple of years.

When Alisher Usmanov bought into the club in 2007, there were many sceptics including myself, who were unsure of what his true intentions were. Same also for Stan Kroenke. However, Mr Usmanov does make some valid points.

In a statement released by Red and White Holdings, he said that those who had called him names and were supposed to be custodians of the club had sold out for a tidy profit whilst devaluing the club.

He insists that he has refused to sell despite knowing that he could make a profit of £60 million because, as in his own words, “He truly loves the club”. He is insistent that he does want the club to succeed and to win trophies.

As the second largest shareholder, he has a point when he says that he should be involved in decision making at the club. He has apparently called for a face to face meeting with majority owner Stan Kroenke, and I anticipate that he will pass across his concerns without mincing words.

My view on the matter is this, if the fans wish for the team to have a new direction, they must accept that this can only happen if the individuals given leadership at the top change their way of thinking or are changed.

Wenger is a great manager, and I have no doubts that if you task him with winning the league, he will ask for commensurate resources to accomplish it. However, knowing his competitive nature and viewpoint on prudence, when tasked with simply qualifying for the Champions’ league, he will attempt as he always has to win the league with a team that at worst is only good enough to qualify for the Champions League.

A team’s worth is judged not only by their technical ability but also by their mental strength. Dothe current Arsenal team have the steel to match the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United or even Chelsea at their best? Time will tell!

Till next time…Victoria Concordia Crescit

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