Date: February 11, 2008. Arsenal lead the Barclays Premier League, 5 points ahead of Manchester United, and 8 points ahead of cross town London rivals, the Russian fuelled Chelsea. After the loss of Theirry Henry to Barcelona in the summer, Arsene Wenger’s young charges have played with style and panache to pose a threat to the title this season.
Pan to April 13, 2008. Arsenal lay deflated at the Theatre of Dreams that they set out to conquer, as goals from Cristiano “That Boy!” Ronaldo, and a Beckham-esque free kick from Owen Hargreaves turned the tables for the Gunners, who seemed to have shot themselves in the foot in the two months since February. United won, 2-1, leaving Arsenal tasting the well cut grass at Old Trafford, and essentially, putting paid to any hopes that Arsene Wenger harboured, of winning the Premier League.
To say that the wheels have come off Arsenal’s season, would be an understatement of monumental proportions. And the fact that Arsene Wenger remains adamant about not buying established players to boost the Arsenal squad seems to be a major cause for the derailment of the Gunners’ engine.
There seems to be a problem at Arsenal, one that stems from their charismatic manager, Arsene Wenger. It is a known fact that the Professor is one of the best in the game, but the repeated failure in Europe, and the lack of depth to the Arsenal squad can only be attributed to the Frenchman. Also, the way he has dealt with the stars (?) at Arsenal leaves a lot to be desired. The Bendtner-Adebayor bust up, the perennial Lehmann issues and the fact that his most consistent player this season, Matthieu Flamini, will be without a contract at the end of the season are only glaring examples of how Arsene’s strategies have glaring flaws that need to be ironed out as soon as possible. The Professor’s long standing rival, Sir Alex Ferguson, at Manchester United has been an epitome of this very characteristic that has kept the stars at Old Trafford in, and ostensibly, ones that shine brighter than at the Emirates Stadium.
Yes, there have been some instances that have contributed to Arsenal’s downfall, the injury of Eduardo, the loss of Flamini in the quarterfinals of the Champions League against Liverpool, the absence of Robin van Persie and Tomasz Rosicky and consequently, the intense pressure on Francesc Fabregas as the lone ranger in mid-field. But all of these can be traced back, yet again, to some strange policy planning on the part of Wenger. Also, at the back, Arsenal developed a deep vulnerability. Losing the excellent Bacary Sagna to injury was a blow, but did Wenger make the right decision in moving Kolo Toure from centre-back to right-back? The fallible Phillipe Senderos only reminded us all of the gaffes that another Frenchman, Pascal Cygan committed, when he was in the Arsenal defensive line.
It is time, that Arsene Wenger quit proving to the world his young talent managing skills, and wakes up to the fact that it is a football team that he is responsible for. Rather than enhancing his squad in January, Wenger actually reduced the numbers by agreeing to let highly rated midfielder Lassana Diarra, signed from Chelsea the previous summer, leave for Portsmouth. Wenger insisted his squad was strong enough to maintain its challenge for silverware but clearly enough now, the results have proved him wrong.
The line between success and failure can be very fine indeed. But perhaps cracks have appeared at Arsenal that need more than papering over.
And maybe – in contrast to Wenger’s opinion and despite the side’s many moments of brilliance – this current crop at Arsenal is actually just not quite good enough.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohgeorgie/1613760295/]