Death, taxes and Arsenal capitulating in March. It’s a well-worn cliche now in the Premier League and one that Arsenal fans would hate being reminded of, at this stage in a season. Out of the FA Cup on Sunday in what was their first defeat in 14 games in the competition, at home against Watford has raised questions, familiar ones, on the mentality of Arsenal football club and the manager and doing it when it mattered.
It has to be frustrating for the legions of Arsenal fans, who spend out of their noses, travelling home and away to follow and support the team and being served the same thing year in year out. Top of the league in the beginning of 2016, it looked like they were in the perfect storm, to finally win a league title after a decade of transition and self-imposed austerity – they provided that glimmer of hope at home against title contenders Leicester City when they snatched a vital win at the death. But that was that.
It’s so strange yet so believable that Arsenal would win only 1 of their next 7 games, and that would come against championship side Hull City away from home, a result which was overshadowed by the appearance of an old banner which even then, miraculously made sense. The real rot started when they went to Old Trafford about to face one of the worst Manchester United sides in living memory with a chance to right the wrongs and ended up losing 3-2 to an 18-year-old’s brace.
What was weirder was that Arsene Wenger defended his team’s mental side of things after the game where he claimed they were 100% committed on the day. Any Arsenal fan would tell you, the performance at Old Trafford against a disjointed Manchester United in a game they had to win was anything but full of spirit and effort. This is where one wonders whether Wenger has the right mentality himself to motivate the players to win the league anymore.
To make matters worse, another debilitating and potentially crucial blow in terms of their title chances was the defeat, again in front of their own crowd, against a struggling Swansea City. Heads dropped and shoulders shrugged, it was pathetic to see a top side still in a good position on the league table giving up on the title challenge as early as March. And if this doesn’t stem from the manager’s own frame of mind, then what does?
After scoring the opening goal against Spurs in what was arguably the most significant North London derby the two clubs have had in the Premier League era, Arsenal went a man down after Coquelin was sent off for a foolish challenge and in the space of a few minutes trailed 2-1 thanks to a sensational goal from Harry Kane. But credit to Wenger’s men, the Gunners showed bottle and fight to rescue their season, for the moment, after Alexis Sanchez prodded the ball past Hugo Lloris towards the end of the game which Arsenal could have won.
It was back to square one on Sunday though after Arsenal lost their 3rd successive game at the Emirates to Watford in the FA Cup which now has the ‘Wenger out’ brigade going restless with looks of ‘I told you so’ all over the world and one cannot blame their judgement nor can anyone question the reason behind the stance. Arsenal could genuinely end the season without a trophy and this was the season they made progress. This was the season when their sufferings for a decade – depriving themselves of a proper right-to-the-wire title challenge let alone the trophy, were about to be vindicated. This was when Wenger’s ideals were to come to fruition. But it has all been déjà vu so far.
Several questions need answering come the end of the season whether Arsenal can push Leicester City and Spurs right to the end of the campaign. Was Arsene Wenger naïve enough to think he could win this league without buying an outfield player in the summer? If this side ended up trophy-less this season, have they gone backwards when they were expected to be progressing under this fault-free footballing model that Wenger has created at Arsenal? When Leicester City and Spurs, two relatively weaker squads on paper than Arsenal are, can grind out results in the business end of the season why can’t Arsenal do the same?
The disappointing thing as far as Arsenal fans are concerned is that it is not something new, this is the norm, the recurring theme at Arsenal under Wenger since 2004. Whichever way you look at it, two FA Cups in ten years does not scream astounding success. It scrapes the bare minimum at a club the size of Arsenal. But it has all been déjà vu so far. Even this piece saying it’s all been déjà vu in March. It is about time Arsenal needed a change. Be it in management or the board. It it time for a change. It sure is.