I’ve compared Arsenal’s perpetual cycle to Groundhog Day so many times writing about it once again is beginning to feel… well, quite a lot like Groundhog Day.
Nonetheless, as the Gunners manoeuvred their way past Manchester City to claim a place in the FA Cup final for the third time in four seasons on Sunday, the growing fear of Arsenal’s typical end-of-season amnesia once again re-emerged.
Arsene Wenger has become football’s equivalent of a tyrant, spending the last twenty years – intentionally or not – making himself an immovable head of state, impossible to overthrow as he pushes his butt-grooves increasingly deeper into the Arsenal throne. If Arsenal fans want change, a genuine Coup D’Etat is needed. But that’s been the case for half a decade now; and Arsenal supporters have themselves to blame as much as anyone else for it’s failure to materialise thus far.
Arsenal have become as predictable as the four seasons, which rather conveniently fit into Arsenal cycle. Autumn offers a genuine hope that things will be different this time around; winter generates further excitement barring a few hiccups here and there; everything falls apart in the spring as the Gunners are suddenly faced with a spate of must-win games because of earlier misgivings; and just as the calls for change ramp up towards the start of summer, they suddenly disappear in a matter of weeks as Arsenal finish in the top four and win the FA Cup.
Back to the subject of tyranny, Wenger maintains this flow of #WengerIn, #WengerOut and #WengerIn by using the greatest ploy in the dictator’s unchallenged rule handbook – the illusion of change. The peasants begin to revolt, some even hire aeroplanes to vent their disillusionment, and Wenger responds by hinting things will be different next season. This term, that has come via an FA Cup semi-final win and Wenger’s reluctant introduction of the 3-4-3 system.
But make no mistake about it, these are simply smokescreens that help deflect from the real issues at hand. Sure, Manchester City are a decent side, but beating them isn’t new ground for the club – the 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium inspired by Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin in January 2015 was meant to be the turning point – and considering Arsenal’s run so far in the competition, facing two non-league sides and only two top flight sides, progressing to the final really isn’t much of an achievement. It’s exactly what Arsenal should be doing.
Likewise, the switch to 3-4-3 feels almost like a token gesture. The formation has taken the Premier League by storm this season and second-place Tottenham adopted it towards the end of 2016. Wenger, meanwhile, has implemented it with eight games of Arsenal’s season remaining, with their domestic and European title hopes already other, in a tacit suggestion that he’s open to change.
The system may have brought two wins over Boro and City but neither were overly convincing – in fact, Arsenal were very lucky at Wembley on Sunday as City hit the post and the bar and had a legitimate goal wrongly chalked off – so expecting Arsenal to start next season in the same way would be naive. Even if they do, there’s no reason to suggest it will bring them better fortunes considering how dominant Chelsea and Spurs have been when using the system this year.
Yet, we always get to this stage of the season, when Wenger always shows an ability to change if not a genuine willingness to and the smooth sunshine allows Arsenal to play their best football, and suddenly the fans forget the grievances they had before. Even if they aren’t eradicated completely, the majority still regress them like childhood trauma and begrudgingly succumb to the idea of things being different next season. By the time the next season actually starts, they’re all taking about Arsenal’s newfound ruthlessness, how the summer signings will give them a new edge, how this will be the season Wenger silences the critics, how things will be different.
But let’s face the facts: when is the last time Arsenal were involved in a title race from the beginning of the season to the final day? When is the last time Arsenal progressed past the last 16 of the Champions League? When is the last time Arsenal won the League Cup? When is the last time Wenger significantly changed his ways? When is the last time Arsenal genuinely surpassed our expectations? History doesn’t always repeat itself, but as Arsenal look to gloss over yet another disappointing season by lifting silverware at Wembley, you have to wonder why anything would be any different next time around.
The Gunners have become so predictable even winning the FA Cup isn’t an achievement anymore; it’s just a part of an endlessly repetitive cycle. Some may argue only the modern breed of spoilt fans would scoff at stability and silverware, especially in the most competitive era of the Premier League’s relatively short history, but stability is no longer beneficial – in fact, it’s becoming increasingly detrimental at the very top of the game.
In the 13 years since Arsenal’s last title, Chelsea have had eleven different managers, won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, the Europa League and the Champions League. Constantly finishing in the top four and lifting three FA Cups during that time period hardly compares, so what benefits do stability truly bring nowadays?
Arsenal are trapped in a never-ending purgatory but for a few months every summer, the fans tend to forget how and why they’re there. Albert Einstein once said doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and by that reckoning, a strong portion of the Gunners fan base should be sectioned under the mental health act. Butt-grooves and all, Wenger isn’t going to change.
If Arsenal fans want a different, more successful and less predictable Arsenal, they can’t let an FA Cup final at Wembley stop the coup d’etat. If anything, it’s their biggest platform yet to make the call for change.