It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are out of the Premier League title race, after shitting themselves against credible rivals. Meanwhile, fans are left to pretend unrealistic (Champions League) and meaningless (FA Cup) targets mean all’s still to play for. But really, we know season’s over.
It’s nothing new. And as hard as it is to say as a Frenchman who grew up in awe of Wenger’s French contingent, the buck largely lies with the manager once more. There have simply been too many crucial errors, new as well as recurrent ones, in Arsenal’s game on the pitch and management off it.
Lack of character
Firstly, there are the familiar weaknesses including Arsenal’s lack of physical strength and character on big occasions. This was particularly apparent as the Gunners were outsmarted and overpowered at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as it was at City and in the Old Trafford hold-up earlier this season.
And as always, the evidently deficient training methods which have been the source of so many injury crisis season after season remain. This means too many key players have been sidelines, most crucially Santi Cazorla and the then in-form Theo Walcott.
Then there are the new mistakes. For too long this season, Arsenal’s tendency to score late goals has overshadowed the fact that the team begins games with no drive or purpose, especially at home. While the players must take some responsibility for this, it’s hard to imagine another top manager wouldn’t get more out of this team. I maintain that this is, alongside Man City’s, England’s strongest squad in terms of strength and depth.
Yet, too many players have been under-performing. Many including Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and the forever-developing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain do not currently play at a level deserving of an Arsenal shirt. Under the strict tactical rigour of Mourinho, or Pochettino’s fitness regime or Conte’s contagious energy, many of the current squad would perform better.
When it comes to transfers, the downfall has come not from the usual lack of investment, but bad choices. Arsenal’s marquee signing Granit Xhaka has been disappointing, and the manager is so far failing to mold the Swiss’ renown tendency to stupidly lash out into constructive fighting spirit.
This is especially frustrating given the form of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, who was also available last summer and is soberly winning his team the league for the second year running. As for the failure to include a call-back clause in Jack Wilshere’s loan deal, that’s a rookie mistake Arsenal’s rivals demonstrated they would not make.
Last, there is the everlasting Emirates Stadium issue. It seems harsh to blame the embarrassingly quiet, graveyard atmosphere of the home ground on Wenger. But it is well-known that his influence within the club goes way beyond the dressing room. His lack of imitative in pushing the board to reform seating and create an atmosphere at home has been a costly issue.
It’s fun being an Arsenal fan…