What is the reality of Arsenal at present, and what the club has been for the best part of a decade?
Knee-jerk reactions following defeats such as the 6-0 loss on the weekend to Chelsea are batted away and rubbished by those who ardently stand by Arsene Wenger. Losses like the one suffered against Chelsea, and Liverpool and Manchester City earlier this season, are said to rob fans of perspective: for this season, Arsenal were in the title race and still have an opportunity to end the trophy drought. But what if the perspective is inaccurate?
What if the reality of the matter is that Arsenal are no longer capable of challenging the best teams in England and Europe. There’s far too much consistency on this front for those losses, and the manner in which they occurred, to be flukes and explained as bad days at the office. What if Arsenal’s position in the title race is a false one that takes away from how far the club actually is from challenging teams like Chelsea and Manchester City, and even having the mental toughness to pick apart a severely wounded animal in Manchester United?
Arsenal’s loss on Saturday to Chelsea wasn’t a one off. It had all the hallmarks of a typical, embarrassing Arsenal defeat to one of the games bigger teams.
Arsenal were ill-prepared personnel-wise; tactically they were an absolute shambles. You have to take everything into consideration when taking aim after such a defeat. The manager doesn’t lack resources to adequately prepare his team. Why is there such a disregard for the strengths of the opposition? And there is more than enough evidence that says Wenger really didn’t take into account how good Chelsea are on the counterattack.
Using Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain in central midfield alongside Mikel Arteta is kamikaze at best. Why not play Chelsea at their own game? Arsenal aren’t gifted with an assorted array of pace in the side, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is a very good outlet for such a tactical game plan; he’d already shown over recent weeks that he is capable of stretching the game.
Arsenal being overrun in midfield isn’t anything new, we saw it against Liverpool and Manchester City. So where is the action from the manager to combat such threats? Why not flood the centre of midfield with Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Kill Kallstrom? Not only are the team lacking pace, they’re also lacking creative ingenuity with Mesut Ozil out; Santi Cazorla’s dip in form is notable. But focusing energy on the defence was an option. Most were in agreement that Arsenal didn’t have to win this game at Stamford Bridge, but they did have to avoid defeat.
Nothing changes. It’s not just the players, because Arsenal have been losing in this manner for years, whether it be to league rivals like Manchester United or in Europe against AC Milan or Barcelona. Games like that tell a better story of Arsenal than routine wins against lesser Premier League opposition and temporary stays at the top of the league table. Arsenal have suffered more embarrassing defeats over than years than title races competed in.
It tells a story of the club and also of the manager. Is Arsene Wenger capable of taking Arsenal to the heights at which he took them during his initial 10 years with the club? There has been plenty of debate as to whether Wenger deserves a new contract with the club, and I still believe he does. He’s regularly fought against the seemingly impossible to get the club where they need to be: in the Champions League. It helped to set up the opportunities that are now available to Arsenal financially.
But the question of whether Wenger deserves a new contract is a different one to whether he should extend his stay. The players’ performances, or lack of, during two games in particular this season, were despicable. And yet the manager is accountable for the mentality that is allowed to foster in the Arsenal camp. Wenger is accountable because from the point where Arsenal lost 4-0 in the FA Cup at Old Trafford in 2008 till now, and even looking at home losses to Chelsea and United in between, as well as humiliating losses in Europe, the squad has changed drastically, but the defeats and manner of defeats remain the same.
The question needs to be asked directly to Wenger whether he can put a stop to these now routine losses, lack of preparation and complete mental capitulation against the top teams around England and Europe.