The year is 2006. Arsenal have just been beaten in the Champions League final to Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona team, most of which formed the foundations for Pep Guardiola’s side that has been deemed one of the best in the history of football. They’ve just moved into a brand spanking new 60,000 capacity stadium, with a beautiful playing surface and some dashing looks. Thierry Henry is the stalwart remaining from the last Gunners’ side to win the league, the 2004 invincibles.
Fast forward 12 years, and they sit sixth place in the Premier League, just five points clear of Burnley, having been knocked out of both cup competitions, and face a daunting Europa League tie with AC Milan, on the back of four consecutive defeats. It’s not good reading whatsoever.
If you asked any Arsenal fan to find a single positive from this season, they’d struggle. Obvious weaknesses that have been present for years are being exploited, their best player was sold to a bitter rival, and they are the laughing stock of the league, again.
While the staff closer to the pitch get no help from disinterested owner Stan Kroenke, definitely more of a businessman than a football man, those in and around the on-field happenings have to carry the can for the decline of one of England’s great clubs. Since 2004, the club has won four FA Cups, three of which have come in the last four years. That’s not good enough for a club of Arsenal’s size.
Since the departures of the likes of Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Patrick Vieira, it’s been very clear what this team has been missing; a spine. A clear group of leaders who stand up for the cause when the team has needed it most. Wenger has persisted with Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in midfield for the majority of the season, all of which are completely devoid of positional awareness or discipline, as well as offering very little going forward against the bigger sides, and away from home. The Gunners’ leading away scorer this term is Nacho Monreal, with three. Says a lot.
Now that Alexis Sanchez has gone, Arsenal have nobody who can create something out of nothing, create a great chance or go on a spirited run from nowhere. There’s very little danger in playing them. The Arsenal defence as a whole, is poor. Hector Bellerin is a wing-back who isn’t very good at attacking nor defending, boy did Barcelona dodge a bullet there. Laurent Koscielny has ability, yet is injury prone and too often bullied by centre-forwards, and Shkodran Mustafi might well be the worst winner of any World Cup. The way he cried for a foul when Sergio Aguero merely touched him the Carabao Cup final was beyond belief, and absolutely embarrassing for any centre-back, let alone someone who has won football’s ultimate prize.
There are problems in goal as well, Petr Cech is a shell of his former self, the ten points he was supposed to be worth every season remain, just deducted rather than added. Old stopper Wojciech Szczesny is a far better keeper than Cech. Reserve David Ospina, who impressed so many at the last World Cup, looks shaky and error prone, just like the rest of the squad.
The man who always carries the can is Arsene Wenger, and to some extent rightly so. However, Steve Bould next to him is supposed to be an expert on defending, yer this Arsenal side look a far worse defensive unit than Brighton, who were playing Championship football last year.
Look at what has happened to players since they joined Arsenal; Alexandre Lacazette was one of the hottest strikers in Eruope, banging goals in left, right and centre for Lyon. But now? A shell of a striker, low on confidence and belief who appears to have lost all trust in his own ability. Mesut Ozil was the best playmaker in Europe when he arrived at the Emirates, yet now he floats through games as if they’re not important, and seems endlessly reluctant to pull the trigger on a shot. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang must be wondering what they’ve stepped into.
It’s far too late for Arsene Wenger’s legacy. He was responsible for everything that was great about the club, but he’s also responsible for everything the club has become, a wretched, depressing, uninspired and pathetic shell of its former self.
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