by Luke Irelan-Hill
After an eight year trophy drought, the Arsenal team of today could not be any further away from the team that once went 49 consecutive games in the Premier League without losing. Arsene Wenger’s side crashed out of FA Cup at the weekend to Championship side Blackburn Rovers, they are 5th in the Premier League, 21 points behind leaders Manchester United and four behind fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsene Wenger has been a credit to the Premier League since the Frenchman moved to England to take over Arsenal in 1996 and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever football managers. However after a string of poor form from his team and the departure of several key players, it seems that Arsene’s legacy is finally coming to an end.
Wenger is a man that usually keeps his cool, but his press conference on Monday has maybe shown the biggest sign that his time is coming to an end at the Emirates. The cracks that have been papered over in the trophy-less years are becoming too big to keep ignoring.
Arsenal have gone from a team that wants to win the Premier League, to a team that believes getting into the Champions League is the sign of a successful campaign.
Where did it all go wrong?
The 2003-2004 Premier League seasons saw Arsenal win the Premier League title without losing a single game. The Gunner’s became known as the “Invincible’s” and their achievement has gone down in footballing history, where it will always remain.
But the following season saw the slow breakdown of Arsenal. The perfect jigsaw that Wenger had spent so long piecing together was starting to fall apart. By the end of 2006 more than half of their winning team had left the club. Club captain and influential midfielder Patrick Vieira sparked the chain of unfortunate events when he departed the club in 2005. No club is built around one player, but when a world-class player like Vieira leaves the gap was always going to be felt. After this departure many more left the London club including Robert Pires, Ashley Cole, Gilberto Silva, Lauren and Kolo Toure. Sol Campbell also departed in 2006 and Dutch legend Dennis Bergkamp retired in the same year.
The biggest problem when player’s leave, especially all in a short time, is the need to replace them. Manchester United and Real Madrid have managed this over the years, but Arsenal have never quite been able to do it. Patrick Vieira had the winning touch and was known for having fire in his belly. He was passionate, single-handedly drove the team forward and he complimented the stylish attacking style of football that Arsene Wenger liked his team to play. Bergkamp had the ability to read a game and his silky finishing skills made him a perfect link between starting and finishing a move. He also had the ability to create a moment of match winning brilliance in games Arsenal didn’t look like winning. These two players, along with a rock-solid back-four in Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Lauren and Ashley Cole made Arsenal unstoppable and at times unplayable. Players have since come and gone and the team has been rebuilt, but they have never jelled together in the same way the Invincible’s did.
The biggest question to ask is why did Arsene Wenger let more than half of his team leave within two years of achieving greatness with them. Money could be an underlying factor to the clubs downfall and it may have been the motivation behind so many Arsenal players leaving as it is no secret that Arsenal refuse to pay unnecessary high wages.
Despite losing half the team, Arsenal managed to put up a brace fight against Barcelona in their 2-1 defeat in the 2006 Champion’s League Final. Many Arsenal fans saw this loss as a victory as it showed that even though the team was going through a transitional period they were still one of the best teams in the world.
2007 then saw the inevitable departure of the next captain and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. After spending the season carrying the team by himself, Henry moved to Barcelona and hearts turned to Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie who were quickly becoming recognised as world class players.
Fabregas was the club captain between 2008 and 2011 and many people believed that by building a team around him, Arsenal would be champions again. The Spanish midfield maestro no doubt lifted the spirits of down-hearted Arsenal fans as he had the ability to create goal assists amongst some of the tightest defences and he could also provide the perfect goal scoring finish. Robin Van Persie rose to fame during this time at the club as well, as he became one of the best strikers in the world and almost filled the massive boots left by Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry alone.
Beautiful football and a never ending trophy drought is all that Asrenal have achieved since the days of the Invincible’s. It has been the same old Arsenal that we have continued to see in the true Arsenal fashion. Time and time again they have sold their best players. Cesc went to Barcelona in 2011 and Van Persie went to rivals Manchester United in 2012. Key players Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy were also sold to Manchester City leaving Arsenal fans feeling deflated and an incredibly irate Arsene Wenger under considerable pressure.
Where are Arsenal now?
A mid table team are the words that every football team does not want to be associated with or described as but this seems to be the direction in which Arsenal could be heading. They have not come close to challenging for Premier League silverware since 2006 and their once solid defence which all their sides have been built on remains shaky.
Arsenal still have a lot of potential in Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere who have the ability to bring Arsenal back to life but there is always the chance that they will be sold on to rival teams before they are allowed to reach their full potential.
Only time will tell if Arsenal will ever be crowned champions again. But the one thing I hope is that Arsene Wenger is remembered as being one of the best and most successful managers Arsenal have ever had, and not the manager who went too many seasons without winning a trophy.