When Spring approaches, there are always a few certainties in life. Easter Sunday will take place, it will rain a lot and nature will restart its circle of life. Oh and Arsenal will be out of contention in all competitions.
Once again, the Gunners have stuck to their yearly routine, though they disappointed earlier than usual in the Premiership this season, indeed some say their chances were over as early as losing 8-2 to United. Certainly by the time they were turned over by Fulham, Swansea and then by Fergie and his boys again in the league, they waved goodbye to the title once more.
Not content with mere Premiership capitulation, the Gunners imploded completely last week, losing the first leg of their Champions League clash to AC Milan 4-0, before crashing out of the FA Cup thanks to a 2-0 defeat to Sunderland. The defeat to Milan, shameful though it was, is more understandable, the Italian side’s frontline clicked in a way us neutral viewers in England have never seen before. Tormentors in chief were Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and believe it or not, former Spurs reject Kevin Prince Boateng. And they had Pato on the bench. That team is enough to give anyone a hiding, but unfortunately for Wenger and his boys, it was them on the receiving end. The defeat to Sunderland was just miserable though, Martin O’Neill’s side completely outplayed Arsenal and they will be kicking themselves with City and United both out of the competition and Chelsea and Spurs facing replays.
So where now for Arsenal? Mr Wenger is in his 16th year at the club, and he faces his seventh successive season without a trophy. Let’s be honest, at any other club (bar maybe Manchester United), the Frenchman would find himself out of a job. This is now a significant period without success and they haven’t even come close to a Premier League title. OK, there was the occasion in 2008 when Gallas’s one-man pitch protest ruined team morale, but that was in March, a whole two months before the end of the season. There was the League Cup final defeat to Birmingham last year and the one to Chelsea in 2007, but who counts the League Cup anyway? And of course, the Champions League Final in 2006. As unlucky as they were in Paris that night, that’s still six years ago.
That just isn’t good enough for a side who regularly finishes in the Top Four, indeed if it wasn’t for their consistency in finishing in the Champions League places, you feel changes may already have been made. There is a realistic possibility they may miss out this year, although they currently lie fourth, they face an almighty challenge to hang onto that spot from Chelsea and to a lesser extent Liverpool and Newcastle. There’s no two ways about it, no Champions League football would ruin the club. Arsenal cannot afford to compete with City or Chelsea anyway, never mind without the revenue taken from the competition. Player exits will undoubtedly follow, the obvious one being Robin Van Persie who is already making serious noises about jumping ship in the summer. Alex Song has also been linked with PSG.
The man in question is Wenger himself. Arsenal fans have managed to defend their loved one in previous years by praising the way their club is run. His youth policy is admirable, his ability to decide when to sell a player just past their peak is second-to-none and he has an eye for foreign talent. You get the impression this has changed recently. This summer’s transfer activities were nothing short of miserable, they lost Fabregas to Barca (who certainly wasn’t past his peak), Nasri to City (couldn’t afford his wages) and Clichy also to City (never replaced.) Bringing players in was left till the last minute, hence why the defensive issue was never solved; indeed Per Mertesacker has proved disastrous. Only Mikel Arteta could really be judged to have had a positive impact at the Emirates since his move, although Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is starting to come to the fore. There have been recent signs the Arsenal faithful are starting to lose patience with Wenger; take note of the minority booing the decision to replace Oxlade Chamberlain with Arshavin during the defeat to Manchester United. A minority it was, but it was still audible.
Changes need to be made. The wage budget has to be radically altered, it is clear the policy of promoting talented youngsters is failing and big names need to be attracted to the Emirates. The likes of Mario Gotze and Eden Hazard have been mentioned, but neither of those two will sign for Arsenal if the wages aren’t there. The players currently at the club need an incentive to stay. They should throw the chequebook at Robin Van Persie, he is irreplaceable and therefore the club needs to do whatever it takes to keep him in London. The defence has to be sorted out as well, the likes of Mertesacker, Djourou and Squillaci just aren’t good enough, so why on earth wasn’t Gary Cahill bought in the summer? And the final issue revolves round the manager. Has Wenger lost his touch? There is talk of moving the man into the boardroom and taking on a fresh approach, but in all honesty, who could do a better job? Only Mourinho and Guardiola come to mind and it would take some negotiating to bring one of them to the Emirates.
This summer is important for the Gunners. There is no doubt the squad has a decent backbone, there are some talented youngsters there. The deadwood needs shifting on though, there are a number of players stealing a living off the football club (mentioning no names Mr Arshavin). However, the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Szczesny and Oxlade Chamberlain can form the basis of the squad for the future. Others like Walcott, Song, Vermaelen and Koscielny are also quality players, so therefore only a couple of new signings would have to be brought in to the club to fit around the talent already there. Wenger needs to be given a chance, given financial backing and most importantly, hold onto Van the Man. There is still hope for the Gunners, indeed most other clubs in England would snap your hand off to face the ‘crisis’ evolving at Arsenal. But things need to change. And quickly.