“Arsenal must be the most frustrating club in the world to support” I was told this weekend, after all the good work of the past one-two months was quite possibly tarnished in one Harry Kane header.
One lapse of concentration from the usually brilliant Laurent Koscielny. One fingertip save from Hugo Lloris to deny Danny Welbeck giving Arsenal the three points just ten minutes earlier.
And it got me thinking, whilst not being able to speak for fans of clubs I don’t follow in foreign lands, we really probably are the most unbelievably frustrating club in the Premier League – and probably the whole of England.
That is not to say of course that we have the worst time of it out of anyone. Definitely not. More often than not we come away from the weekend with three points, and probably about 1/3 of the time having been treated to a good performance and an enjoyable game of football.
Furthermore, whilst we may have had eight consecutive trophy less seasons until last year, constantly finishing fourth in the Premier League or better and enjoying European nights (and victories) against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan in that time is a far cry from the plight of properly miserable fans like those of Portsmouth or Leeds – and it would be ungrateful and spoilt not to acknowledge this.
But the key point to the original statement is ‘frustrating’, not ‘miserable’ – and here I think we certainly have a claim.
Just three weeks ago to the day I was watching the ‘new’ Arsenal comfortably beating Manchester City at their own home. Beating a top side away from home, something we hadn’t (really) achieved since about 2010.
If you a consider a top side to be one that finished in the top four that season (so that discounts the Chelsea team that finished seventh but won the Champions League), the last victory away from home against such opposition was 0-3 vs Manchester City in 2010 when young Dedryck Boyata was sent off just five minutes in
You could tell by the reaction of Arsenal fans on Twitter that victories of this nature had become far too infrequent, with one fan suggesting Santi Cazorla’s performance that day was the best from any player in the Premier League era.
But nonetheless, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking based on that performance, that Wenger had been shutting shop and delivering Mourinho style master classes against these sides for years. Even Piers Morgan was able to muster something positive to say:
Wenger’s completely changed his tactics in big games. Far less possession now, far better control. I like it. #afc
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 7, 2015
How very painfully typical then that Arsenal should less than a month later turn up in another big game apparently scared of the occasion, unable to string ten passes together and ultimately, getting dominated. Tottenham were well worthy of their victory and then some.
In fact, had Olivier Giroud’s scuffed shot not been wonderfully passed in by Mesut Özil after ten minutes, giving Arsenal at least some liberty to sit back and defend (what they clearly wanted to do from the first minute), I suspect the score line could’ve been three or four nil.
Imagine all the pressure Spurs were putting on the Arsenal goal and David Ospina, from Arsenal’s opening goal onwards… Now imagine that degree of pressure, but with Arsenal also horribly and predictably exposed as they look for a goal themselves, with Spurs’ players having more time, more space and more freedom.
I’ve said it before, but Arsenal are simply in a vicious cycle of mediocrity under Arsene Wenger and it’s not going to change unless he does. Is this simply an overreaction to one game in which Arsenal didn’t turn up and it’ll be business as usual next week?
Well, looking at the fixture list it’s quite possible – if not probable – that Arsenal will indeed go on a bit of a winning run and all of Wenger’s critics will at least momentarily go away. A couple of tough but winnable away fixtures (Palace, Newcastle) aside – the next game Arsenal shouldn’t be expected to win is probably Liverpool at home on the 4th April, and to be honest, they should probably be looking for three points there too, meaning Chelsea on the 25th April is actually the next game I would personally ‘settle’ for a point.
At the end of the day though, it’s still a matter of time before this same thing happens again, and again, and again after that.
This was meant to be the season when everything changed for Arsenal. A club revitalised with a fresh hunger for trophies after the FA Cup win, a club with the willpower and the ability to compete after the signing of Alexis Sanchez proved Mesut Özil.
A club whose top performers last year (Ramsey, Szczesny, Mertesacker a notable three) were supposed to push on and become World Class, bolstered by better players around them and more scope for the occasional rest with a stronger, more filled out squad.
The reality? Stagnation, in fact, I think Arsenal have gone backwards. The league table shows what looks like it’s going to be an epic battle for third and fourth. Even the champions Manchester City aren’t truly safe from being dragged into it.
Looking at the fixtures between now and the end of the season, I do think Arsenal will get top four and they might even win the FA Cup given the teams left in the competition, almost an exact mirror of last season then – except it’s not half as exciting, or promising.
Arsenal were in the position last year of being title challengers up until February. Yes, it collapsed but at least they were in it. Leading at New Years and top of the league for the longest period of any team.
In addition to that they ended a nine year trophy drought. This season, I’ll be honest, the magic of the FA Cup victory won’t be half as sweet and finishing fourth will be a bitter, almost comically predictable accomplishment.
Arsenal should have cemented themselves this season as a real force in not only English, but even possibly European football. They have the players, the finances, the infrastructure and according to some the manager to do so.
But if that were the case, why are they still regularly losing to not only Chelsea and Manchester United, but teams like Southampton and Tottenham, the sort of competition they should’ve long ago left behind.
The question really is, how long will it take Gazidis/Kroenke to realise this and demand more from Wenger/the team? Probably unfortunately a long time yet, for as long as Wenger is safely keeping the club in the Champions League, that revenue stream nice and stable.