If you had put a football bet on around the turn of 2013 that Arsenal would finish in the top 4 of the Premier League and qualify for the Champions League for a 17th successive season, chances are you would have been laughed out of the betting shop (or online portal depending on where you bet). The fact they did it speaks wonders for the quality of the players and management, but was it good enough?
Since last winning a trophy in 2005, Arsenal have followed a similar pattern; they’ve been forced into selling their top players, through the players themselves forcing moves in most cases, often late in the transfer window therefore leaving little time to replace with quality; they’ve then started seasons indifferently and looked like they might drop out of the top 4 for the first time under Arsene Wenger; every year they fight back but get nowhere in the cups or have an embarrassing defeat.
This past season was no different but now the tensions from the fans and the board on the manager are starting to tell and next season there has to be a change to a winning mentality or he could lose his job. The problem this season was how to replace the 30 goal a season player and captain Robin van Persie, who joined the eventual champions Manchester United in an acrimonious transfer. Arsenal’s fans are sick of losing their star players to rival teams and although cumulatively the players bought to replace van Persie scored around the same amount of goals, it looks like sub standard replacements have been brought in, and of course Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski all needed time to adjust to English football.
In the cups Arsenal limped out to lower league opposition in Bradford in the League Cup and a home defeat to Blackburn in the FA Cup. Although they progressed through the groups in the Champions League they were soundly beaten by eventual champions Bayern Munich in the knockout rounds despite a valiant comeback in the second leg when Bayern may have taken their feet off the gas a little.
The playing style is still good when it works and Arsenal have tightened up in defence, but it’s not quite as easy on the eye as it was a few years ago, with slightly less impressive results to go alongside that. Next season will be a watershed moment for Arsene Wenger and his tenure at a club that has become synonymous with him and his values of attractive football. It has become something of a joke to opposing fans that he aims to play well and does not care about the result. This is not true according to those close to the Frenchman, who is said to hurt deeply after every poor result, but something has to give soon.
If next year Arsenal continue their style of struggling up to the New Year and then fighting back to finish 4th, whilst giving up on the cups and domestic success, Arsene Wenger’s time will be up. He has the transfer funds to make a marker and really kick on and challenge next year. If he doesn’t the end of the road will be here and a big change will occur at the Emirates.