Arsenal fell to a shock 1-2 defeat at home to Watford in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup on Sunday.
The loss ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the competition which stretched back to their campaign in 2012, ending the club’s only realistic chance of landing any silverware this season never mind they are still within touching distance of Leicester City and Tottenham in the race for the title as well as having a second leg of a round of 16 clash with Barcelona at Camp Nou to negotiate next Wednesday.
The Gunners went into the game strong favorites to progress to the next round of the competition. However brilliant strikes from Odion Ighalo and Alain Gueidiora condemned the North London side to a disappointing exit from the competition.
The game was typical Arsenalsy in its execution- lots of possession by the home side, yet lacking a cutting edge with which they would have put the Hornets to sword as well as a shocking open-goal miss by Danny Welbeck from 7 yards in the dying minutes of the game.
They showed a false sense of technical superiority yet lacked the decisive finesse to make their domestic and technical advantage count. No one who has followed Arsenal over the last decade would be surprised by their display today at the Emirates Stadium.
Time and again, their season have often unraveled in the Spring, leaving them to gravitate to their familiar season-end trophy of fourth position, with the manager, Arsene Wenger going ahead to praise his team for their mental strength in securing a final Champions League berth on the last day of the season.
In the last sentence contains perhaps the most complete encapsulation of Arsenal’s season as well the problem that is preventing the team from progressing beyond the spot where they have been marking time on.
Arsene Wenger is no doubt a brilliant manager. He remains Arsenal’s most successful manager to date and brought unprecedented success as well as economic stability to a club that was threatening to regress into the doldrums of mid-table mediocrity.
However it is undeniably obvious that the respected Frenchman has become a victim of his own success. Due to meager trophy haul that he has overseen over the last decade, his tenure at Arsenal can be bifurcated into 2 eras; the Highbury and the Emirates era.
It was during the Highbury era that he built Arsenal into a formidable force both domestically and on the continent. Playing a fearsome brand of attacking football that combined grace and grit, Arsenal won the League and Cup double twice, went a whole season unbeaten and got to the final of the Champions League, losing unfortunately to Barcelona in Paris in 2006.
The move to the Emirates began a lean period exacerbated by the manager’s parsimony and stubbornness. Having midwived the construction and the economic aspect of building the financially-draining edifice, Wenger embarked on a self-administered task of making the economic and sporting ends meets, something that became more and more impossible due a myriad factors that included the influx of foreign investors into the Premier League and the presence TV broadcast money which gave other teams the opportunity to compete for the same set of players.
And there began his woes, self-inflicted as they were. Instead of evolving with the times, he stubbornly stuck to his guns (quite literarily), retaining the geriatrically quaint belief that he had the squad to challenge for honors on all fronts all season as well as the integrity of UEFA to stringently apply the provisions of the Financial Fair Play rules, which would see him cherry pick premium talent from erring clubs at dirt-cheap prices.
His stubborn belief in the unfairness of undue financial advantage accorded the likes of Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and Manchester City by rich sugar-daddies, one he insists is responsible for the over-valuation of players in the transfer market, has seen him withhold the club’s healthy pot of cash, robbing the club of the opportunity to purchase players of premium quality that would have afforded the Gunners the opportunity to challenge for titles on equal footing with their rivals.
When it began to dawn on him that the FFP era was never going to dawn due to the influence that the mega-rich clubs wielded, he grudgingly began to buy a few world class players, expensive cast-aways from Europe’s top tier clubs.
By the time, other clubs were also astutely spending princely sums on the purchase of a clutch of players whom they believed would strengthen them significantly in their relentless push for trophies. His dithering in the transfer market, one for which he has become legendary, has seen Arsenal lose out on a number of players who have gone on to other clubs to shine impressively.
Another fans-infuriating quality of his was the way he stood up for his players, even when it was blindingly obvious that they were below par and not good enough to make the team. He persisted, petted and paternally mollycoddled his charges into lazy-boned mediocrity, aided by a board that hold him in thrall due to the financial prosperity that his parsimony has gotten for them.
During the Watford post match conference, the former Monaco boss doled out the same tiring platitudes laced with familiar words like disappointment and farce. If he remains forever as Arsenal manager, you are guaranteed to get more of the same, an irritating endless loop that won’t be stopped at all.
The fans are of course disappointed at the way the season has ended, or is threatening to end. During a recent 4-0 win over Hull City in the previous round of the same competition, a section of the fans unfurled a banner that read, “Thanks for the memories, Wenger but please it’s time to go.”
While many felt that was a tad too disrespectful for a man credited with revolutionalizing the English game, the fact remains that the fans are the ones suffering the most.
They pay the highest season tickets in Europe only to see the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Odion Ighalo score competition eliminating goals on the Emirates turf, the same Emirates that Wenger insisted was going to elevate the Gunners to the level of European superpowers.
Should they be ignored, being that a significant portion of club revenue would be wiped out from the coffers if they stayed away from the stadium?
Having overseen a decade of lean return of trophies, using basically the same methods season in season, perhaps it is time for change, even if for the long-suffering fans who certainly deserve better than what they are currently offered.
Although purists and supporters of the embattled French manager maintain that a change in manager doesn’t automatically translate to a happy return of trophies, citing the Manchester United and Liverpool examples as proof, the fact remains that if something is not working, it should be fixed.
Arsene Wenger’s methods are clearly not working and whether he steps down at the end of his current contract or he is asked to leave at the end of the current season (which is very unlikely), he has but little time left at the Arsenal helm.
It is hard to imagine the board making plans to replace Wenger whenever he leaves. This lack of planning is what in itself would set Arsenal up for a post-Ferguson style problematic transition. Having been lulled into the cozy, somnambulic comforts afforded by the steady stream of profit that Wenger’s continued stay affords them, they have been inured to the potential harsh realities of life after Wenger.
A change in manager may not necessarily be a death knell to the hard-to-escape purgatory of mid-table.
A number of clubs including Spurs, Bayern, Barcelona and even Liverpool have facilitated managerial changes and benefitted immensely from the refreshing shot in the arm that a new regime affords, one that Arsenal so desperately needs right now.