Even Arsene Wenger’s staunchest defenders would have to concede that the 67 year old has shown a streak of stubbornness in recent years, refusing to compromise on ideals that now fall short of what’s required to win significant silverware. Just two domestic cups in the past eleven years is testament to that.
Even so, while the under-fire Frenchman has certainly made a rod for his own back this past decade he should not shoulder all of the blame for Arsenal’s woes. These eight should be standing in the dock right alongside him.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Cole’s fractious move across town in 2006 may now be ancient history but the left-back’s highly publicised desertion was immensely damaging to the Gunners’ standing. The previous two years had seen Chelsea in the ascendency with Arsenal frantically playing catch-up. Now an integral part of the ‘Invincibles’ had upped and left them for an extra 35 grand a week. It marked the north London giants out as a selling club, a perception that proved costly in seasons to come.
Robin Van Persie
It was a perception that six years later culminated in Wenger losing his finest talent and captain. Prior to the 2010/11 campaign the Dutch striker had so cemented his legendary status at the club he was happy to switch shirts and take on the number 10 previously glorified by Dennis Bergkamp. Just two summers later he was off to Old Trafford for a surprisingly reasonable £22m. The player said at the time, “We had a different view. That is life. Nobody is angry and me and I’m not angry at them.”
Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that Robin.
The extravagantly gifted Chilean is presently playing a depressingly familiar game that involves a delicate balancing act of declaring your love for your current club while showing a well-turned ankle to any potential suitors. Sanchez may have notched a decent 21 goals this term and put in some exceptional displays among the bad but his drawn-out stalling on a contract extension is heaping further pressure on his boss.
Gervinho? Really? What did the Ivorian do that warrants his inclusion here?
The short answer is not much at all but that was precisely the problem. It’s little coincidence that Wenger has experienced his greatest highs with fantastically impactful strikers capable of lighting up Highbury and the Emirates – Wright, Bergkamp, Henry and Van Persie most notably. Granted that is an incredibly high bar to reach but Kanu managed on occasion as did Adebayor. Gervinho however, he of the generous forehead, did not – though slapping Joey Barton on his debut does excuse him a multitude of missed chances.
The stopper whose name translates to ‘Just give me a minute. I have to sneeze’ was highly regarded by Wenger who believed he finally had a long-term successor to David Seaman. Indeed in 2009 he went as far as saying “We have identified Wojciech as a future great, great keeper”.
Though it’s true to say that Arsenal are still regressing despite having the experienced consistency of Petr Cech in nets, who knows what might have become of them had either the giant Pole or Fabianski stepped up and made their mark.
And speaking of unfulfilled promise step forward ‘young’ Theo, now 28 yet still considered to be on a learning curve and regularly flattering to deceive.
Season after season – ten now and in his testimonial year – the winger shows flashes of excellence in five-game bursts only to succumb to mediocrity or injury and though it’s extremely harsh to point out that Walcott’s time at Arsenal almost exactly mirrors their gradual decline it also happens to be true.
Sebastien Squillaci/Philippe Senderos/Pacal Cygan
The aesthetically pleasing architecture of Wenger sides was always underpinned by English steel. Quite why Le Prof then veered from a winning formula and looked towards France and Switzerland for his defensive bedrocks is anyone’s guess but certainly this underwhelming trio of flops are as culpable as anyone for Arsenal’s reputation for having a soft centre in recent times.
Wenger has publicly defended his under-performing contract rebel this week claiming the Gunners’ influential schemer has been mentally scarred by the recent drubbings at the hands of Bayern. Is it fair to suggest that a five-time German player of the year – a £42m record signing to boot – should perhaps be strong enough to take responsibility in crisis? Or at least not hide. That would suffice for starters.
Ozil is modern-day Arsenal in a nutshell: capable of the wonderful so long as the sun is out and the terms are favourable.