It might seem bizarre, but perhaps the bulk of the pain that stemmed from Arsenal’s 3-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, wasn’t necessarily from the the result itself.
Because on the face of it, as brutal as it may seem, seeing Jupp Heynckes’ side dismantle the Gunners shouldn’t and didn’t come as any real surprise. The nature of the performance and the way Arsenal went down naturally hurt supporters, but the fact was we simply saw a far superior team beating an inferior opponent. Had the game been replayed, nine times out of ten, the result would have been the same.
It’s in what the game stood for and to a greater extent, their entire season so far, that has really invoked the dejection. Arsenal are a club that should be challenging for Premier League titles and at the very least, giving the likes of Bayern Munich and the cream of Europe’s elite a genuine, competitive examination over the course of two ties.
Today, the club still harbors those sort of champagne dreams. The problem is, they’re backing it up with lemonade ambition. And until they change the psyche of settling for second best, no matter who is at the managerial helm, be it Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho or Martin Allen, the outcome is going to be the same.
The thorn in the narrative here is that Wenger has possessed a defining influence over the degradation of a mindset that has seen the club go from winning to Premier League titles to hoping to scrape a fourth placed finish. Has the competition been bloated by those on a vastly inflated financial footing? Yes. Has Wenger had to work behind a veiled set of financial constraints? Most probably, yes.
But have either of those factors made the Gunners’ slide from the top inexorable? Most certainly not.
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Much has been made of the correlation between wage expenditure and on-field success, but while it isn’t quite a direct marker of where a club should be heading, the servicing of a £154million wage bill at the Emirates Stadium, hardly marks the resources of a pauper. It might not be quite that of a Manchester City, but they should be doing a hell of a lot better for the sort of money they’re dishing out.
And it’s where that money is being dished out that lies some of the greatest faults in the current mindset of the club. On the wider scale of the Premier League, it seems somewhat difficult to justify the £100,000-a-week wages that Theo Walcott’s new contract has now afforded him. Within the club’s flawed wage ideology however, there’s no way they couldn’t justifiably not offer him the terms he demanded.
Until the deadwood has been shifted from the ranks, that wage bill is going to continue to saddle the club on its current direction. But it’s where you draw the line of the cull that needs to take place at Arsenal, that you realise quite the job the club have on their hands to start challenging for titles again.
Because if that’s where they truly feel they belong, then some radical changes are going to have to be made this summer. Let’s be under no illusions here, the core group of players that Arsenal have at their disposal are as good as any in this country. The likes of Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski are a set of extremely fine footballers indeed and in Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain amongst others, the club boast some exquisite young talent, too.
It’s hardly as if this is headline news here, but the fact is there simply isn’t enough of the aforementioned talent around at the club needed to reach the levels of expectations the fans rightly demand. And to get back to the top, both Wenger and the board need to rediscover the mindset of a winner, most notable, the cold streak of ruthlessness.
Who in this Arsenal squad isn’t good enough to even consider the thought of a Premier League title? Gervinho? Andrey Arshavin? Marouane Chamakh? If so, they’ve all got to go.
New contract or not, are the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Wojciech Szczesny realistically good enough to propel their side to the top of the Premier League table? If not, then they don’t belong in the first team. Simple as that.
Throwing money at a problem isn’t necessarily going to solve all their issues, but for as much as investment may or may not be an issue at the Emirates, they’ve wasted enough money for far too long now. If resources are tight, than you have to make sure that every single penny invested or funds raised from transfer sales, is invested wisely back into the club. Now would be a good time to start doing it.
Arsene Wenger isn’t going to haul his club back up to the Premier League’s summit by sticking to the same set of principles that he has done for the last eight years. He has spent enough time harbouring untold levels of patience towards members of this squad, only to be mercilessly let down time and time again.
Call it a new sense of direction, a Eureka moment or simply a last roll of the dice in last chance saloon. Both Wenger and the hierarchy at Arsenal are going to have to learn to be ruthless if they want to get back to where they belong. Should they fail to regain that winning mentality, then maybe a change at the helm wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.