It is almost a decade since Arsenal’s “Invincibles” team of 2003-04 completed their entire Premier League campaign without defeat and wrote themselves into football folklore.
The nine seasons that have followed have seen a drastic change in fortunes for both club and manager Arsene Wenger, with mercurial form and perennial under-achievement plaguing the fortunes of a team who were once one of the most feared in the modern game.
Exactly where the nucleus of the problem lies is subject to debate, indeed it may be that no single factor is responsible, but more a congregation of factors.
It is universally recognised that the squad is lacking in specific areas. Namely, the acquisition of a world class ball winner since club legend Patrick Vieira departed for the bright lights and fashionistas of Milan in 2005, incidentally the last time The Gunners lifted silverware. There have been some contenders for the role, namely youngsters Mathieu Flamini and Lassana Diarra, but with neither deemed good enough they soon moved to pastures new, where they have since amassed 6 trophies between them.
The club has also lacked a truly great shot stopper since goalkeepers David Seaman and Jens Lehmann left the club, as well as badly needing the goal-scoring instincts of a predatory striker; it would seem the spectre of Thierry Henry still looms large at the Emirates.
It is true that Arsenal have not spent as much as their rivals in the transfer market in recent years and the club cannot afford to simply throw money at problems the way other clubs can. However, questions must be raised concerning Arsenal’s activity (or lack thereof) in the transfer market and it is here that Arsene Wenger must face scrutiny.
Of course Wenger is a world-class coach; no-one can deny that, his record speaks for itself. But his powers do seem to be on the wane and in recent years The Professor has looked more akin to an aging, punch-drunk boxer who just doesn’t know when to call it a day.
Now there is no doubt Wenger has heart and nerve and he has proven critics wrong in the past, but he lacks the guile of his Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson, a man who has evolved his style to fit the times and remain successful over the years. Wenger, so often the architect of his own downfall, lacks such panache. Undeniably he is a great tactician, with a beautiful philosophy of passing football and perhaps he did build the best team many of us have ever seen, but he seems to be struggling to adapt his methods to a sport that evolves so fast.
Indeed, his reluctance to spend big in the transfer market seems to directly contribute to the lack of silverware. Much to the chagrin of Gunners fans there has been big money to spend, but Wenger has elected not to do so. To further crystallise this point, he seems to be turning Arsenal into a selling club, offloading the clubs most talented players at the close of each season and failing to find adequate replacements. The Manchester clubs were notable beneficiaries of Arsenal’s new status as a ‘feeder club’. Hardly surprising that both clubs have won the premier league in subsequent seasons.
Wenger points to successive top four finishes every season since he took charge, and the thrall of Champions League football outstripping the need for silverware but he is fooling nobody. He must look at ways to return Arsenal to the domestic force they once were, or step aside and let someone else have a go.