In the span of four days, Arsenal let slip any hopes they had of overtaking Chelsea for the Premier League title, and in typical Arsenal fashion. Despite being eight points behind Chelsea before the midweek fixtures, Arsenal had a chance to put some pressure on the Blues at the top. The Gunners were taking on mid-table side Watford at the Emirates Stadium while Chelsea traveled to Anfield to face top-four contenders Liverpool.
If results went Arsenal’s way, they could have reduced Chelsea’s lead to five or six points ahead of the weekend. Chelsea drew at Anfield and Arsenal went ahead and suffered a shocking 2-1 loss to Watford.
Then Chelsea made sure to eliminate any title ambitions Arsenal still maintained by winning 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, a scenerio that’s become all too familiar for football fans over the years — this is the norm for Arsenal. Which begs the question: how long will Arsenal continue to put their faith in Arsene Wenger?
Many pundits and fans have criticized Wenger over the years about his management of Arsenal since last winning the Premier League in 2004. However, that criticism has intensified since 2013 when Wenger started spending big money to buy top players, and it looked like they were really serious about competing for the league title.
2013: Mesut Ozil — £42.5 million
2014: Alexis Sanchez — £35 million
2015: Petr Cech — £10 million
2016: Shkodran Mustafi — £35 million
It's become a vicious circle for Arsenal fans:
- Arsenal sign top player(s) in the summer.
- Team starts the season well.
- They suffer a shock result against a team near the bottom of the table.
- They get hammered, usually, by the team they're challenging for the title.
- Arsenal get knocked out in the Champions League round of 16.
- Fans begin to boo and question Wenger.
- Arsenal finish in the Champions League positions and above Tottenham.
- Fans are placated.
- Cycle then repeats itself.
Over the years, many have made excuses to defend or blame Wenger, but my question is, what objective does Wenger have for Arsenal?
First, let’s keep in mind that Arsenal is a legendary club in England that has always competed for all the big trophies. However, since winning their last Premier League title in 2004, Arsenal have only won six trophies:
Community Shield: 2004, 2014, 2015
FA Cup: 2004-05, 2013-14, 2014-15
In those 13 years, the league has been won by five different foreign managers (Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Claudio Ranieri), five times by Sir Alex Ferguson and twice by Manchester City. Even Leicester City has been able to win the EPL crown.
Arsenal also haven't been much of a threat in Europe over the years. Since losing the 2005-06 Champions League Final to Barcelona, Arsenal have been knocked out in the round of 16 stage in seven of the last 10 editions, only making it to the quarterfinal stage twice (2007-08, 2009-10) and once to the semifinals (2008-09).
What’s interesting is the method he’s taken to building his sides over the past decade. After “The Invincibles” era, Wenger focused more on bringing up youngsters from the academy and signing young players at a small price. The idea was to develop a top class team, but all that went out the window when Arsenal starting selling the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Robin Van Persie.
Then he started to spend money, but he failed to provide the world-class striker or defensive midfielder his side needs.
Alexandre Lacazette says he wants to leave Lyon in the summer. Arsene Wenger has declared himself interested in failing to sign him.— Paddy Power (@paddypower) February 6, 2017
A lot of pro-Wenger fans point to the debt that was owed for the new stadium, the ridiculous cost of big signings now and Arsenal's continued appearances in the Champions League.
There are a few problems with these excuses. The Emirates Stadium has been paid off, and it’s been well reported in England that the club has millions in the bank to spend on the team. I will recognize that Wenger has done a great job guiding the team through the difficult financial restraints and at least getting Arsenal in the Champions League.
Regardless, now that the club has no debt and has money to spend, they should be aspiring for more than just finishing fourth.
So what’s keeping Wenger from wanting to seriously challenge for the Premier League? Does he really want to win the EPL again or has he lowered his standards so much that a top four finish suffices? Furthermore, what’s keeping the Arsenal board from changing managers?
Arsene Wenger has done a lot of great things for Arsenal, and I understand the loyalty a lot of Arsenal fans have for him, but the club has lost its winning ways over the past decade and Wenger has not done much to recuperate that old mentality.
There is no reason to believe that Wenger will radically change to make Arsenal actually compete for the English Premier League with that he’s done over the past decade. It looks like the decision to change managers is being left by the Arsenal board for Wenger to make on his own.
If Wenger stays next season, Arsenal might finish in the top four, but they won’t compete for the Premier League title.