It seems the last time Arsene Wenger sent out his strongest team on a consistent basis was the nearly season of 2007/08. That year, the central midfield duo of Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas arguably became Arsenal’s best partnership post-Vieira. They were flanked by Alex Hleb and Tomas Rosicky, and their results and charge on the Premier League title was testament to how technically excellent and effective they all were.
That appears about it for Arsenal, as since then the injuries have continued to pile up, the best players have continued out the exit door, and for all of Wenger’s wisdom in the game, he never seems willing to seize the day.
The win against Tottenham saw Arsenal play their most impressive football of the season, certainly from an attacking perspective. It wasn’t just that the team were in the right frame of mind for the occasion, but every member of the starting XI was comfortably the best Arsenal had to offer. That so far has been the only league game where all of those players have started together.
But should it be seen as mismanagement from Wenger? After all, isn’t it he who often says that the club are only focused on the next game as it is the most important? Why then opt for rotation? Why keep one eye on the next game when all manner of disappointments can occur between two matches? Why not go out and grab all three points when they are clearly on offer?
It came to light a few days following the game at Aston Villa that Jack Wilshere was carrying a knock and needed to be rested. But supporters and the media weren’t to know that. The player was evidently fit enough to take a place on the bench, with the option of throwing him on in the worst case scenario. It sparks memories of the game against Aston Villa at the Emirates in 2009 where Cesc Fabregas came on for a 20-minute two goal cameo, only to be subbed off after aggravating his injury.
You can understand why any manager needs to rotate his players over a season which tallies up 50-plus games. But Arsenal have always been a greatly different proposition. They’re a team who can crumble with shocking ease, they’re a team who are often devoid of any leadership on the pitch, and the most obvious factor of failing to capture all three points has been the considerable lack of depth.
To reiterate recent points, Arsenal seem to fall to pieces when just one key player is taken out of the starting XI and replaced with someone of lesser quality. The most famous night at the Emirates up until this point is certainly the win against Barcelona in 2011, a match which saw Arsenal’s strongest midfield and attacking line up start. Goals came via Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin, the second of which being put together by Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere. Two weeks later, Arsenal crumbled in the League Cup final against Birmingham. The makeup of the team was largely the same, except for arguably the most important factor—Cesc Fabregas.
Arsenal have always had fantastic players—undoubtedly some of the best in England and Europe—but the squad has always held them back. The lack of consistency with the makeup of the starting XI has been a problem, and there’s always a sense that we never really experienced the best of this Arsenal era on a regular basis.
It was Robin van Persie who was a regular casualty for much of his Arsenal career, while the injuries certainly increased for Fabregas in his final few seasons with the club. It was also a disappointment that Aaron Ramsey missed the entire season in which Jack Wilshere rose to prominence, while Thomas Vermaelen spent a season out injured following his impressive debut year at the club.
There’s always been a gap, an unmistakable but costly void somewhere in the team. Would Arsenal have gone on to win the title in 2008 had van Persie, Eduardo, Bacary Sagna and Flamini not picked up injuries at various stages in the year? That was certainly Arsene Wenger’s best team since the move to the Emirates. But like the Invincibles, we simply didn’t get to see enough of them.