@AmyEustace asks how many trophies must elude Arsenal before a new manager stalks the touchline at the Emirates…
By now, there must be enough dust in the trophy room at the Emirates to block out the light from the sun. Arsenal fans certainly don’t need reminding of the fact – it’s the abiding theme of every Arsene Wenger critique, after all – but it has been eight years since the North London club had a new addition to its 13 league titles, two league cups and 10 FA Cups.
It’s a lamentable truth of modern football that so few managers tend to withstand droughts such as Arsenal’s. Plenty of clubs down the years might have benefited from their patience and willingness to look to Arsene Wenger’s storied past to reap rewards in the future. The sad reality is that gaffers have been dumped for far less ill fortune than what Arsenal have experienced in recent years. The Frenchman has been riding a wave of goodwill that some past and present Premier League managers could only dream of; propped up by achievements which are, by now, long resigned to the history books.
Every now and then, a run of miserable results serves to dilute the perception of Wenger as the all-knowing Professor and paint him as a man somewhat out of his depth. Unfortunately for him, one of those black clouds has descended again. Arsenal find themselves all but out of two competitions in as many weeks thanks to a cup defeat at the hands of Blackburn and a merciless thrashing at home in a Champions League first leg tie with Bayern Munich, only adding to the misery of a December penalty shoot-out defeat to League Two’s Bradford City in the league cup.
The Premier League itself is out of reach – table toppers Manchester United have opened up a sizeable 21 point gap ahead of them – and they have now slipped to fifth. To add to Gunners’ dismay, their loathed neighbours Tottenham have leapfrogged them into fourth.
Arsenal responded to what Wenger described as a ‘difficult week’ with a patchy performance against strugglers Aston Villa. Having took the lead through Santi Cazorla, Villa equalised and you would have been forgiven for thinking that Arsenal – in their delicate, post-Bayern state – would have crumbled, but another Cazorla strike sealed the win, somewhat rescuing a torrid spell in Arsenal’s season, but only just. The cracks are still plainly visible.
It’s a matter for debate, but arguably Wenger has been living on borrowed time for many years, and it’s not the first time the possibility of a sizeable trophy haul has slipped from his grasp. He has about as much difficulty keeping Arsenal’s cup dreams alive as he has zipping up his famous coat. Few will forget their crushing defeat in 2011’s League Cup final to Birmingham City, which proved a catalyst to their exit from every other available cup.
Where do Arsenal draw the line on their love affair with Wenger?
How many trophies must elude them?
How many stars must leave before something changes?
Arsenal fans have spent the season watching their former beloved striker Robin van Persie function on cruise control at Manchester United, while their own team proves he was absolutely right to leave North London. RVP spent eight years at Arsenal, with just an FA Cup winner’s medal in his first season to show for it. United, on the other hand, look to have the league sewn up and their Champions League and FA Cup aspirations are still alive. Meanwhile, van Persie’s old club have had to face up to the fact that once again, this is not their year.
OK, so it isn’t all Wenger’s fault
Wenger isn’t solely to blame, although managers rarely are. Serious questions have to be asked of Arsenal’s board, who are derided for their frugality. Indeed, it’s a miracle Arsenal have consistently achieved top four status given the lack of squad investment and the departures of so many of their best players – players who owe a lot to Wenger for their development.
Sometimes, however, the 63-year-old seems stuck in his ways, bereft of ambition and unable to motivate his young players. There’s a certain weakness to Arsenal; a fragility that truly great teams simply do not have. Not since The Invincibles have Arsenal ever looked truly unbeatable and by now, that seems so long ago.
Wenger’s contract is up this year, so if there’s any time for a change of approach, it’s probably now. Somehow, I doubt that Arsenal’s board will make that call — after all, change is terrifying, and who can imagine anyone else stalking up and down the Emirates touchline if not the lanky Frenchman in the bubble coat?