Last March, we wrote an article outlining what needed to change at Arsenal following their 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich.
Following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth, it’s time for another State of the Union from the Emirates, where things have actually got worse. Fans might even yearn for those halcyon days where they qualified for the second round of the Champions League, just for an away day in Bavaria.
Bayern to Bournemouth is quite a fall from grace and just further underlies the deep-set problems at Arsenal.
We went back to what was said in last season’s verdict and look at what’s changed.
On a human level, you have to feel sorry for Wenger. The amount of flak he receives is extraordinary and he is the only one at the club who takes any criticism. He rarely deflects it to the players, more usually blaming the referee when things go wrong, so on that level a degree of sympathy must be given.
However, he holds so much power at the club that almost everything can be levelled at him. The poor-quality signings, the on-field performances and the contract situations of a number of players.
For years Wenger has been saying that they’re one or two players away from competing with the top teams in the league. In reality, Arsenal are now in the “Everton league” by themselves. Not good enough to compete with the top five teams, but better than Burnley in seventh.
Last year we said that Arsenal have a weak mentality that crumbles when sides have a go at them. In that regard, nothing has changed. The writing was on the wall in August, with consecutive away defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, failing to score in both. A lot of the problems have come away from home, with more defeats coming at Manchester City and now Bournemouth. Add in the draws to WBA and West Ham and the away record goes from poor to woeful.
Again, Wenger could be held responsible here. Other Premier League managers, like Jose Mourinho and Sean Dyche, set their teams up differently away from home. More resistance in midfield with a hardened edge. Their aim is to make life as difficult as possible for the home team and having more strings to the bow tends to work.
A poor mentality echoes throughout the club, from top to bottom. Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League last season was the moment when change was expected to happen, but it didn’t. You’d wonder if change will happen if they continue their current form and fail to qualify for any European competition.
Last season we questioned whether there were any leaders in the Arsenal dressing room. The answer was (and still is) a resounding no. Patrick Vieira was the last leader at the club and he left 12 years ago.
Alexis Sanchez led the team last season. His performances were the difference between a mid-table side and one that finished in fifth. He called on his teammates to improve, but he’s been heavily criticised for his petulance and now seems set to leave. While players may have grown tired of him and vice versa, he’s still highly regarded by his teammates who want him to play every week.
We criticised the lack of presence of Arsenal’s greats in the backroom team last year, but the club have overseen their biggest off-field overhaul since Wenger’s arrival over the last 12 months.
Former Barcelona Director of Football Raul Sanllehi has been appointed to a new position as head of football relations, which followed Sven Mislintat’s arrival as the new head of recruitment. Team Sky’s Huss Fahmy has joined as a contract negotiator and Darren Burgess is the new director of high performance.
Former goalkeepers Jens Lehmann and Sal Bibbo have been added to the coaching staff. Lehmann has been particularly prominent and has been spotted next to Wenger while the manager has served his touchline ban.
It’s still early days, considering Sanllehi and Mislintat were both appointed in November, but there’s evidence that Arsenal have begun a planning stage for when Wenger eventually leaves.
Arsenal’s fans receive a lot of coverage, particularly with their YouTube channel and they divide opinion. They can be seen as deluded thinking they have a God-given right for success, but deep down there’s a bit more to it. They pay the highest prices of any team in Europe and they do travel to watch their side play.
Sunday’s game showed the fans what they might expect to see without Sanchez and Ozil in the future and the realisation might have started to sink in. Without either, they’re pretty average.
Twelve years ago, Arsenal swapped Highbury for the Emirates with the promise that they’d be competing with Europe’s elite. The constant sales of best players to rivals, including Sanchez who’s been cherry-picked by the top two sides in the league, doesn’t send the best message to supporters. It’s a case of being sold a dream, but given absolutely nothing.
The #WengerOut group of supporters grows with each poor result and there is talk of more protests next week. Sitting five points behind rivals Tottenham also doesn’t help matters.
Wenger signed a two-year contract last summer so there’s no “will he, won’t he” narrative this season, but there’s still plenty to talk about. Sanchez and Ozil didn’t sign new contracts in the summer and the former is expected to move imminently. Wenger gambled on Sanchez performing this season, but it’s backfired and it has cost the club close to £60 million.
It’s not just those two players that have contract issues though. Jack Wilshere has impressed recently and he’s available on a free transfer at the end of the season. Aaron Ramsey’s contract is also up soon. The Gunners sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who’s contract was also set to expire at the end of the season, last summer. On the same day as Arsenal lost to Bournemouth, he put in his best performance for Liverpool against Manchester City.
Regardless of what you’re doing, timing is everything and Arsenal have made such a mess of this in recent years. Wenger’s decision to stay as manager has seen them miss out on a number of replacements, including Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti, although Ancelotti could be sounded out as a possible replacement.
Timing when it comes to transfers has also been poor. Guardiola and Mourinho got their business done early this summer and had a whole pre-season to spend with their team. All too often, Wenger has held out on deals, refusing to pay the going rate and then spends deadline day frantically rushing about paying more than he should for players.
If Wenger was to go tomorrow, then Ancelotti would probably be among the frontrunners for the job. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, Wenger seems set to see out his contract which expires next year. By that time, they might miss out on Ancelotti, if Chelsea part ways with Antonio Conte and re-appoint his fellow Italian.
There’s plenty of deadwood in the playing ranks at Arsenal too and they need to be replaced. You wonder who might turn out for the club next season if they allow all their players to leave. On top of that, if they finish sixth or continue to slide down the table, then who would join with no European football?
This is where reading could become painful if you support Arsenal. They’re miles off their traditional rivals. Yes, they drew against Chelsea last week and beat Tottenham earlier in the season, but they’re 23 points off Manchester City and 8 off the Champions League places. They might have to re-assess who their rivals are.
Big Game Losers
For the last few years, Arsenal have fallen down when it comes to playing against the best sides in the league. This year it’s slightly different. They’re struggling to beat sides in the bottom half of the table too. Stoke, Watford, Southampton, WBA, West Ham and Bournemouth have all picked up points against the Gunners this season. Let’s not forget that there’s no cup run either this year, after losing to Championship side Nottingham Forest last weekend.