Arsenal’s demise from the Invincibles is a problem which has not been solved by Arsene Wenger. You could point to several significant reasons for Arsenal’s trophy drought, which has overshadowed the clubs recent success; did they became a victim of the emergence of the billionaire owners in football meaning they could no longer compete financially, with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea? Did Wenger make an error of judgment by never replacing Arsenal’s talisman captain Patrick Vieira? That in itself is only a scratch on the surface and just part of the real answer to the underling problem for Arsenal in the last seven years. The real reasoning lies deep in the centre of the club and the issues which have emerged off the field rather to those on the field in recent years.
Arsenal in 2003-04 season changed the footballing philosophy of the Premier League, they brought an attacking style to the league which had never been seen before. They were hailed as the Invincibles and defied football logic by winning the Premier League without losing a single game. Still eight years on we look back at this remarkable football achievement and with the emergence of billionaire owners and the oil money of Chelsea and Manchester City no one has matched or come close to eliminating this achievement. Wenger alone had created something unique and had revolutionised the way football was played with the Invincibles. Wenger was hailed as a genius and many thought that season Arsenal would go on and rule football for years to come but the strength and talent of the Invincibles faded and deported. The foundations of which Wengers empire had been built was slowly falling part as the end of an era was drawing close at the historical Highbury Stadium.
The demise of the Invincibles in 2006 is an underling reason why Arsenal have not won a trophy since they left Highbury. It’s more obvious now, that Wenger made an error of judgement by never replacing the club’s talisman captain; Patrick Vieira, Arsenal have not had a captain and leader like him since, as result Arsenal’s midfield still lacks any “steel” and is too “brittle”. A host of players have played a part in trying to fill the void left by Vieira in the team such as Flamini, Denilson, Alex Song and Diaby in recent seasons but all of them have fallen short of filling the boots and providing the same presence in midfield. At the time of losing the captain, no one foresaw the consequences it would have and Arsenal are still waiting for a trophy. It was an end of an era which seemed to start the exodus at the club like many other players after him which is a worrying continued trend still. Somehow Vieira, seemed to foresee the fall and demise of such a great club and team when he left for Juventus in 2005. The demise of the Invincibles continued with Ashley Cole’s move to Chelsea a year later in 2006 and then the departure of Arsenal’s all time top scorer; Thierry Henry in 2007 to Barcelona. The walls of the Invincbles were crumbling down around Wenger.
The sale of Arsenal’s “crown jewels”, with the cream of the best players being sold season after season, has been a worrying continued trend at the club and has been a major factor for the trophy drought in recent seasons. Worryingly it doesn’t seem to be halting any time soon, with Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna looking destined for the Arsenal exit as their contracts run down. It’s a problem which should never happen at a top club, to allow players contracts such as Van Persie and Theo Walcott run down to their last 12 months is a trend which would have never happened under the years of David Dein who always ensured players contracts were never left to their final 12 months. As result of this error of judgement, last year, Arsenal saw one of the club’s talisman; Samri Nasri, leave to Man City and go on to win the Premier League, along with Gael Clichy who was the last surviving squad player of the Invincible era. This trend is not new either with Kolo Toure another key player, leaving for City in 2009 following the trend set by Adebayor who signed for £25m on 18th July 2009.
If Arsenal are going to win trophies consistently again, it’s paramount that Wenger keeps a core squad of players together. Arsenal can’t possibly continue to compete for Champions League football and honours, let alone compete with Manchester City and Manchester United for the title if, season after season, they sell the likes of Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie to their fierce rivals. Wenger is not to be blamed as such, the real blame lies with the board who system of allowing players to run down their contracts to their final year and force a sale from the club. Arsene Wenger has not received the praise he deserves for doing a remarkable job in itself to just keep Arsenal afloat and in the top four.
Football is in an era now that is dictated by money, which Arsenal have become the victim of being unable to financially compete in the market with teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea; the game has sold its soul money and with everyone spending more than they have. Arsenal are an example of one of the only clubs being run properly and rarely spends what it can’t instead its criticised and ridiculed because of its lack of trophies in seven years and the sale of their best players pouched by other teams like City and Chelsea and bought with oil money. It also slips many people’s minds that we are in era of spending giants in football now, where City and Chelsea have blown everyone else out of the water.
The goal posts have moved in football, sadly it’s not about the prestige of winning the FA Cup or League Cup, the now so called minor cups, but the value financially of winning cups. The FA Cup is now only worth £1.8m and the League Cup is worth even less financially, at £100,000, which is why Arsenal have not prioritised them ahead of a top four place.
Another problem which is often ignored by Arsene Wenger, with regards to Arsenal’s demise in recent seasons, is the lack of winning mentality in the squad. Wenger’s recent teams have lacked that “winning mentality” and “fight” of previous Arsenal teams, to win those gritty games on a rainy Tuesday night in Stoke for example. That “winning mentality” is not bought it’s coached into teams. The Invincibles, had the “winning mentality” running through the team with Vieira, Campbell, Bergkamp and Henry. The cup winning teams before them had the same “winning mentality” at the core with Tony Adams and Steve Bould who all had the same desire and fight to win! You can have the most talented players but without that mindset or fight you win nothing which has been the problem with the more recent Arsenal teams.
Wenger knows Arsenal’s ability and its resources available to the club better than anyone, especially those fans who are ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ and forget that this is the very man who won the Premier League three times and the FA Cup four times during his current 16 year tenure at the London club, whilst also managing to win the Premier League without a single defeat during the 2003-2004 season. But fans always expect immediate success in this day and age in football, when you tasted it like Arsenal have and are a club of that statue, continued success is expected every season.