Any Arsenal fan would tell you, if you ask them of course, that this season has been the most disappointing in recent years, despite the fact that they are in a pretty good position in terms of Champions League qualification for next campaign, at this stage with the final few weeks to go. ‘Pretty good’ has been the case with Arsenal year in year out, as they always show a glimmer of hope in the beginning, of being able to challenge for the league title right to the very end, win them big games when the pressure is mounted on them, but in the end, the familiar collapse occurs and the fans end up looking for excuses to look forward to the next season.
Arsenal have been accused of having a soft underbelly and quite rightly so. But they were accused of the same the year before; and the year before that. It has come to a point where one must question how Arsene Wenger decided to approach the season without spending any money in the summer on an outfield player, when clearly, there’s room for improvement. To quote Gary Neville, it is either naivety or arrogance. And with every recurring year of failed promises, I’m inclined to think it is the latter.
People have different opinions and reasons as to why Arsenal consistently fail to push at the right time, when their biggest rivals falter and it is finally their time to capitalize on their drop in form. It may be inadequate squad depth, poor rotation, injuries at the wrong time so on and so forth but the common thread in all these failures has been the mental fragility that Arsenal have been suffering from, for the last few years, that when it comes to the crunch situations they crumble, more often than not.
Their biggest defeat in terms of dealing a blow to their title aspirations, might, according to many, have come at Old Trafford when Arsenal’s strongest eleven (or close) failed to beat Manchester United’s assembly of youngsters, who were still trying to soak it all in and playing in the Premier League in front of ah huge crowd on the same evening. But not, in my opinion. It came in the following game in the Premier League, when Arsenal were under copious amounts of pressure to beat a lowly Swansea City at at home to claw back in the race for the crown and they failed to do so.
It must be exasperating for the fans, I must admit – to watch their side do this, manage to create a sense of false dawn, season in season out, and around March they all collectively disappear; in big games, in games with potential to decide the swing of momentum. There is no other logical explanation to the capitulation which has become the norm at Arsenal now than to say this whole ‘settling to mediocrity’ stems from the manager himself. Arsene Wenger is doing something horribly wrong, whether it is in the transfer market or during one of the team talks before he sends his team out in the busy months of March and April.
Either he cannot put together the right team to do it from week one to week thirty-eight or he’s placing his trust in the wrong personnel. And the most worrying thing about all this is he will be the first to tell you where he’s got it wrong. In a season where the usual suspects have gone off the boil, Arsenal were the side expected to, and understandably so, have their name etched onto the trophy – but it looks unlikely now in what has been a season littered with surprise victories and unexpected defeats. With the genuine possibility of arch rivals Spurs finishing above themselves, is Arsene Wenger now in danger of tainting his legacy by continuing to stay? Not, if he goes out on a high next year – by winning the league and only by doing so. But can he, though? As ever, only he knows the answer.