Seven years ago, Arsenal moved from the triumphs of Highbury to a new ground promising to hold even greater delights. Yes, the fans would have to pay more money for a ticket at the Emirates – indeed, the highest price in the league – but the club was forging a move towards self-sustainability and success.
Thierry Henry had moved to Barcelona at this point; Patrick Vieira to Juventus. The old guard were shifting, yet remember what they told us? A new crop of youngsters, would, with time, challenge the world. But Nicklas Bendtner struggled and eventually gave up; a goalkeeper of credible stature could not be located; and the great hope of Theo Walcott did not reach any measure of his potential till too late – symbolising the more general disappointment of this stadium transition. No trophy for six, then seven and now eight years – funny no longer.
So, unsurprisingly, the best players went. Robin van Persie moved to Manchester last season; Samir Nasri the year before. Most crushingly, Cesc Fabregas returned to Barcelona in 2011. Whatever he says about loyalty in his immature youth now, who would be surprised if the sparkling Jack Wilshere followed this pattern in the near future?
And that’s how we arrive at yesterday’s defeat to the vastly superior Bayern Munich. The porous defence once again performed to their miserably low standards – three conceded goals was the result. Bayern’s attack wasn’t even particularly coherent or penetrating, and must improve if designs on a Champions’ League trophy are to be fulfilled.
Yet we can analyse all the failings of the Arsenal defence, or the stifled midfield. We could scrutinise the individual brilliance of Tony Kroos, a German whose seventh minute strike foreshadowed an evening of overwhelming dominance. We could painstakingly mark every player: the hosts, again, would receive low scores.
Or we can look at the brutal fact: Arsenal just aren’t that good.
And when up against Bayern – seeking to reach a third Champions’ League final in four seasons – a defeat was always likely. That’s why we must analyse the wider context to explain this defeat.
As we have discussed, Arsenal haemorrhage good players as frequently as they concede goals. Why is this?
Manchester United has a similar youth set-up: successful – probably more so, but still comparable. But complementing this, Sir Alex Ferguson punctuates the progression of home grown quality and overseas young talent with a Big Buy – be it Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov or Robin van Persie. This allows success to be maintained, as the best young talent is encouraged to stay with this signal of intent. In addition, United – unlike Arsenal – have managed to retain a few older players to create stability.
Arsene Wenger would be best served purchasing a really expensive player – say, £30m – every two or three years than buying a handful of mediocre – say, £10m – players every year. Instead of acquiring Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Mikel Arteta, attempt to locate one outstanding player, for instance Wesley Sneijder. You may disagree with the specific examples, but surely not the principle of this model: favouring quality over quantity. This sustains success and subsequently facilitates the ability to consistently acquire these exceptionally talented players and retain your own exceptionally gifted technicians.
Quite often, managers are unfairly blamed for a club’s failings. This occurs especially at another London club, Chelsea, where the manager in reality has very little control. At Arsenal, however, the vast majority of blame must be placed on Wenger, who has disproportionate control. He has consistently bought substandard talent, and has subsequently sacrificed success. Consequently, Arsenal’s best players have left. It is a vicious circle: no success, your good players leave; no good players, no success.
It is not likely that Arsenal will continue to roll along in the gutter of no hope, it is assured. Seemingly, the only way to reverse this inexorable decline is to replace the man who instigated it: Wenger.
It is Wenger who coordinates Arsenal’s policies: the ones that have freely permitted the exit of the best players; that have failed to generate the progression of the club’s young talent; and that have obstructed the purchasing of a “great” player for a decade.
Yes, Wenger may punch above the club’s weight, but the club have only got to such a dismal weight because of him.
The consequences of removing Wenger may be fatal; Arsenal may decline further. But, for the fans that so loyally cling to the glory years of the mid-2000s, is the possibility of success not worth the gamble? What is the worth in persisting with a slow and steady decline?
Arsenal requires an overhaul of revolutionary proportions. A revolution means dramatic change – that means sacking Wenger.
When the supporters chant that Arsenal is “by far the greatest team the world has ever seen”, the evident irony is coupled with resigned poignancy. As Wenger admitted, a 3-0 victory in the second-leg away against Bayern – required to progress – is “impossible”.
Unfortunately, while Wenger remains in charge, it seems a return to past glory is also.