My Pint's Half Empty: The Arsene Wenger Conundrum

credit: Paul Blank, Wiki Commons

Look, being a disgruntled fan is just what I am – it’s not easy, but someone’s gotta do it.  And to add salt on my open wounds I happen to be a Gooner.  I’ll take your sympathy – I have no shame.

Believe me, it’s not easy these days, and judging by the healthy crowd outside the Emirates in the wake of one of the poorest showings by any Wenger-led Arsenal squad on Saturday vs. the Swans (I mean the very name is irritating), I am far from alone. The pint, as they say, is half-empty for many Gunner pundits.  Speaking of which, anyone have Piers Morgan as a follow on Twitter?  He makes me feel like Merri Sunshine, whoever that is.

See, Arsene Wenger has enjoyed a stranglehold on the club for an eternity – only Fergie has been managing for his club longer and he seems a relic (A relic any club would want I’d imagine).  Wenger has been, for the most part, unchallenged until the last couple of years. Why?  Simple.  The sheen of the new stadium is wearing off, and the club is closing in on a decade of trophy-less play.  Not good.

Of course not everyone was terribly excited about the move from their historic Highbury home (my weak attempt at alliteration), but at least the prospect of a nice shiny new place to watch the “Kings of North London” was exciting enough to look at.  And their was the promise of fiscal responsibility…blah blah blah.  But now, now is different.  The stadium is worked in, and the team continues to struggle.  Something, or someone, is gonna blow up.

I must throw some caution to the wind – this is still a decent enough team.  By season’s end there is still a shot at finishing in a yet another Champions League season next year in what has become an all-too-familiar “battle for fourth”.  So what’s the problem with that?  Much like that ugly dog-like monster guarding the Philosopher’s Stone in the first installment of the Harry Potter series (sorry, lost a bet to include a HP reference), there is a three-headed problem at the Emirates.

When the team moved from Highbury it was not so far removed from one the greatest seasons in the history of English football – the “Invincibles” of course.  The standard set through the late 90’s and the turn on the century was high, thanks to the likes of Dennis, Thierry, Jens, Sol, Robert, Patrick, and Freddie.  The bar was set very high, and expectations for results were very real.  A winning attitude was developed amongst the team and its fans.  But since, the results have been sub-standard in comparison.

In the last several years, I believe few fans would argue that the club hasn’t been in a serious position to challenge for either Champions League or the Premier League trophy.  There have been fantastic players over the years, don’t get me wrong.  That in itself is part of the second issue: the revolving door of world-class players.

credit: Wonker, wiki CC

When Cesc Fabregas (I won’t include that Samir guy – they are not level) left a couple of years ago it was like a punch in the stomach that you could see coming from a mile away.  The whispers of his departure were really revving up in the year leading up to his departure.  But when the news finally broke of him leaving to the Camp Nou, you could just feel it was a sign.  He wasn’t only the best player, but he was the captain – the team wasn’t even close to the same when he wasn’t on the pitch.

Just as quickly, people were looking to the next in-line to rule the Emirates roost, Robin van Persie, who of course delivered.  But the smell of “would he stay or would he go” lingered like rotten flesh or flatulence after a night of pints.  I would venture to guess that the majority of fans in the months leading to his departure would have said they thought he would indeed test other waters.  Basically, I’m saying few were surprised.  So just as those Invincibles built that winning mentality, a few seasons without a trophy, and the sale of the two cornerstones to the franchise, toppled it just as quickly.  For shame.  What was a surprise, at least for me, was the departure of Alex Song.  That was a kick in the groin on a cold day.

Now the third reason Arsenal fans are upset is that we have heard from Stan, Ivan and Arsene over the past year or so that the team has money to spend.  There are several notable holes in the absence of #4 and $10 (the old one, not Jack – though Jack’s injury left a hole as well) – Who is going to score?  How are we going to shore up the back-end?  Do we have or need a defensive mid after Alex Song’s departure?

Wenger’s answer to those questions was to sign three bargain players (see below) – nice enough players who he got for great deals.  He asked Mikel Arteta to fill Song’s shoes, and decided to give playing time to Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson.  He continues to rely on Gervinho, God knows why, and the Ox, who in all fairness is still very green.

While I am a huge Lukas Podolski fan, even before he joined his mates in North London, and Oliver Giroud seems to be rounding into form and Santi Cazorla was an absolute steal, they are excellent components, not leaders.  That is to say had they been signed in conjunction with RvP re-signing or, going back an extra year, Cesc, they would be a serious contender for both Champions League and Premier League trophies.  I think the team is screaming for someone to grab it by its horns, and thus far it hasn’t happened.  Few would entertain Theo filling that void either, while we’re on the topic.

Are Cazorla + Podolski + Giroud better than Robin van Persie?  Absolutely.  Are the same better than RvP + Cesc + Song (and yes, +Nasri)?  Dear lord, no.

Dangerously, Arsenal have been very upfront over the past two weeks since announcing a mammoth deal with Emirates that instantly makes them one of the three most lucrative clubs in England.  They have said they are now in the position to compete with other big clubs for talent, which seems like a good thing, but very much is a double edge sword.

So what to do with Arsene Wenger?  Clearly he is not in an enviable position.  Given that the team is based on London the microscope is already in full zoom.  If he doesn’t win a transfer target, and I mean a legitimate target, in January, then the pressure is going to mount to the breaking point.  The problem is that team’s usually overpay in January.  Already the natives are restless, and they are begging for a sacrifice.

With my glass half-empty,

Cheers.

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