Since the start of the season, two Arsenal players with similar career trajectories both moved from north London to Liverpool and it’s quite the sign of the times.
When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chose Jurgen Klopp and Anfield over Arsene Wenger and the Emirates, it was a move which hinted at the decline in standards at Arsenal over the last few seasons.
Now that the Gunners are adrift at the bottom of the top six mini-league, and currently have a goal difference which is well inferior to those above them they are proving that the decline is continuing. Last season, Wenger’s side missed out on the top four on the last day of the season.
On Monday night, however, the Gunners saw Liverpool lose to Swansea City in a result few expected. It’s a reprieve for Arsenal’s top four hopes in many ways, as the gap between the clubs in sixth and fourth place, which could well have been eight points at the end of the evening, has been cut to five.
And yet, you still feel like this only shows that the Gunners are relying on the failure of others rather than their own competence to get anywhere this season. Perhaps this week’s transfer business will revitalise the club, but there’s a large pool of evidence to suggest that the Gunners’ optimism should be tempered a bit.
Despite the result, Chamberlain’s choice looks vindicated. It may not bring him any more trophies than if he’d stayed at the Emirates. It might but that isn’t the point. His progression as a footballer this season seems like the more damning metric for Arsenal than any Anfield trophy haul could be.
Since joining up with Jurgen Klopp, the England man has taken time to acclimatise to a new football club and a new style of playing – one whose breathless brand of pressing is a far cry from what is expected at the Emirates. It’s taken him a while. By now, though, he looks like an asset to his new club, even if he’s not a regular starter. But in this Liverpool side, it appears there are no regular starters anyway, as Klopp has made the most rotations of any manager in the league.
And then there’s the other player Arsene Wenger bought from Southampton, Theo Walcott.
Signed five years earlier, Walcott certainly isn’t a kid any more, and perhaps it’s his lengthier stay at Arsenal under Wenger’s tutelage which has seen him arrive at the Merseyside club which isn’t part of the much feted top six. Sinking that little bit lower, the new Everton signing has a chance to reinvent himself and progress his game – he can still become a much better player learning from a manager whose methods are different and perhaps even fresher than those he’s been used to for the last decade and more.
That would be the real nail in the coffin of Wenger, whose reign at the top of English football seems to be sadly drifting away. Walcott’s name is now something of a lament, a sad story of potential unfulfilled. And that has to do with the fact that his development never truly took off as it should have done.
In the last five months, Oxlade-Chamberlain has become a better player, or certainly he’s added something new to his game under Klopp. If Walcott is able to do the same thing, under Sam Allardyce in the same city, that would surely confirm what we already suspected about Wenger. Not just that his powers are on the on the wane, but that his ability to develop players – which was always a plus point in Wenger’s column since his arrival in England two over decades ago – has also faded.
That wouldn’t just be a sad reminder of a declining great, but it would also be a reason why young players wouldn’t want to come to Arsenal, especially with the likes of 20-year-old Brazilian prospect Malcom being heavily linked in the last few weeks.
As both Chamberlain and Walcott have moved on from Arsenal in recent months, time will tell if they do, indeed, improve. The evidence already looks as though a fresh start was needed for both of those players, and you wonder if the same remedy should be prescribed for the entire club.