St Totteringham’s day has been earmarked as a day that Tottenham make a blunder that always condemns them toa lower League position than their North London rivals. This has papered over Arsenal’s own failings as at Upton Park, there was the seasonal skydive out of the title race and parachuting into a battle for top four. The Gunners were two goals ahead of West Ham as they looked to be the second team to beat the Hammers at the Boleyn Ground this season but within minutes, the two goal lead was whisked away as Arsenal have to mind the gap between themselves in third and Tottenham in second.
It happened at St Andrews Stadium when Eduardo suffered a nasty leg-break and Arsenal succumbed to a draw that would leave them treading water in the title race. It also happened years later at the Emirates when Eboue conceded a last minute penalty when he needlessly brought down Lucas Leiva in the box. These are the most vivid in the imagination but it happens every season. Now, here Arsenal are again with a title-chasing season written off and left in a battle to contend for a Champions League spot while the more deserving teams fight it out for the big boy prize. Fans are left feeling like the overzealous toddler whose parents send him to bed when the kid knows there will be bigger things happening later on in the night but those are only reserved for the adults.
Photo courtesy of The Independent
The alarm bells ring from the end of the transfer window with shortages in integral positions, little cover for injuries that inevitably occur, the squad is left with too much potential and not enough world-class talent leaving poor Gooners to fool themselves that it will be different this time. Every team is evolving and Arsenal are stuck with Wenger making condescending overtures to a greater purpose or just enticing everyone onto a merry-go-round that starts with hope leads to brief excitement but flings fans into disappointment. The season ends with more questions than answers. Why didn’t Wenger strengthen adequately? Why are there so many injuries? What is [insert player’s name’s] best position?
The truth is whichever way one looks at it, the buck stops with Wenger as he wields so much power at the club as he has the first and last say on the recruitment of staff and players, knows the squad best, receives little pressure from the board, puts little pressure on the board and is the person that relays all of this to the media. His safe hands guided Arsenal through a tough financial situation and he will be etched in history as one of the greatest managers of all time but there is a time when we all have to look in the mirror. Does he have too much faith in his players? Does he have too little faith in the market? Are his players inspired? Does anyone ever challenge him?
He has built, evolved and re-evolved this squad but not once has he even stumbled on a title winning team. The timing for the last decade has been off with Arsenal having a world-class striker without having a world-class defence, a sturdy defence without a world-class striker, a strong defence with minimal protection. Imagine if Arsenal fitted a fit and in form Robin Van Persie, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Song in his final season at Arsenal with Francis Coquelin or Santi Cazorla in front of the current defence with Cech in goal.
However, that’s the main problem with the Gunners and the Gooners, too much in terms of dreams and not enough in terms of reality, head in the clouds while Cheick Tiote levels for Newcastle when the team were 4-0 ahead, or while Lionel Messi chips another goalkeeper in the six-yard box or only to find Andy Caroll rising above you to thump a leveller in while Leicester run away with the title. The truth is Arsenal are nowhere near where they are supposed to be in terms of the Premier League or Champions League. They lack the consistency in the Premier League and the tactical adaptability to compete in the Champions League.
In both competitions, they have remained rooted in the same positions conjuring up the same sequences with Chelsea, Manchester City and now Leicester City surpassing them in terms of etching their names on the Premier League. In the Champions League, Arsenal have watched as Borussia Dortmund’s pressing machine made it to Wembley, Atletico Madrid’s disciplined and well-drilled chargers made it to the Estadio Da Luz and Paris Saint Germain or Manchester City’s oil-backed projects could make it to Milan this year. That’s been Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, canon-fodder for the willing while they scrape together enough to dream again the next year.
The truth is nobody knows where or when this merry-go-round ends with Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis ready to back Wenger to the ends of the earth while the Frenchman runs his club. There is no happy ending to this season as it will just end as all season’s have, well enough to hold hope for the next year, only for wool to be pulled over your face and to hope that it is doused in chloroform so that you don’t have to watch this nonsense anymore.