There’s nothing you can say about Arsenal that hasn’t already been said, and nothing you can prescribe that hasn’t already been prescribed.
Arsene Wenger has played to the same formula for years, and when it comes to the Gunners’ performance, where they fall short can be traced back to the same old areas as before.
This season, though a new dimension looks to have been added to the Gunners’ woes, their startlingly bad away form is really just another manifestation of an old lack of fight and robustness. It’s something we see season after season in other forms, but this year, it’s surfaced in away games and left Arsene Wenger’s side in fifth again.
All is not lost, of course. Arsenal are through to an EFL Cup semi-final as well as the knockout stages of the Europa League, and winning both competitions could serve as a springboard for future success in the same way that Manchester United’s capture of both trophies last season seemed to herald a new dawn for Jose Mourinho’s side before the Portuguese manager’s negative tactics seemed to blow that chance.
For the Gunners, though, rather than a milestone in the fight back to the top of the premium competitions, where they’ve belonged for so many years, these second tier trophies instead feel like yet another low watermark on the way down. Whereas settling for a top four place was the problem of the decade before this one, will the new year bring confirmation that Arsenal are now the fifth-placed Premier League club who will spend the next few years competing in trophies Arsene Wenger always thought were beneath him?
There is still a chance at the United style fightback, and two shiny new trophies don’t look unobtainable. When you get to the semi-final of a competition you’ve never won before in over 20 years of management in England, you’d like to think that Wenger will finally be up for the League Cup. And when you’re in the second tier competition which yields not just a medal, but an automatic place in the Champions League group stage for next season, you’d also like to think that it means something to the Gunners.
But with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil seemingly heading closer and closer to the exit door – perhaps as soon as next month – and with little chance of replacing players of that quality in the January window at least, you get the feeling that this season is the latest in a long line of write-offs at the Emirates, where Arsenal’s season may well have a different feel, but the same old outcomes.
That means 2018 will probably not be a year in which Arsene Wenger can sign off as Arsenal manager on the back of a grand old victory to live on through the ages. He may never be able to do that at all, in fact. But instead, he must allow his job to become one of instilling a sense of positivity at the club for the first time in years, and leave Arsenal at some point soon with some genuine hope that the future is bright. The Gunners will likely start 2018 still looking feeling like they’re in decline. They must end it by feeling back where they belong.