Arsenal: Patience Please
Are Arsenal heading in the right direction? 2013: a new year, a new start and new chance for the Gunners to get it right. Today on our blog Andrew Winn believes that this year, after so much misery, the tide will start turning.
The trophy cabinet has been empty for almost eight years now. The months of May and June pass without the once customary end-of-season grandiose parade of glory for the club, and with that they find themselves no stranger to speculation regarding the manager’s future.
They are a team that can promise so much yet frustrate so often, a side that can fall from the sublime to the ridiculous more than any other, sometimes not just from one fixture to the next but within a matter of minutes. They can field a near-full strength side for a run-of-the-mill cup fixture against a League Two club yet fail to win, then follow that up by scoring thirteen goals over the next three matches.
Adding to the list of worry is the recruitment policy; the fees involved in players who have only achieved in underwhelming the support, the stubbornness of the hierarchy to not splash out on that one major name, instead choosing to pinch the pennies awaiting financial fair play, and lest we forget, the feeder club-esque departures over recent years.
It's Not the End of the World
You would think that with everything apparently wrong at the club, some fans would have welcomed the end of the world predicted by the Mayans last month. If the unravelling has not already started, it’s bound to any day soon. Next up at the Emirates: mid-table obscurity that would make Liverpool fans point and laugh. However, for every supposed fault, every dip in form or questionable transfer deal, one thing remains clear:
There is nothing wrong with Arsenal.
Many will suggest otherwise: the cynical will remind that continuous appearances in the Champions League does not make up for the fact the team aren’t champions of England. Enemies will point out that they now support the players that Arsenal fans sung about not too long ago. The level-headed neutrals will analyse the post-Bradford three-game winning streak, and underline that they were all against sides at the wrong end of the table. To make it worse, they may mention that the same starting 11 that could score seven against Newcastle barely struggled to get one against Southampton just a few days after.
Worse still, the cynics, enemies and analysts won’t be the only ones looking at Arsenal’s run of upcoming league fixtures – Man City, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool - and be thinking they might not win at all in January. The morose performance against Southampton could be the start of a long, tiresome month for fans of the club, but by Arsenal’s own standards, it would be a mere molehill compared to the last one.
At the beginning of 2011, the club achieved an impressive nine wins and three draws, culminating in a valiant and steadfast 2-1 victory against the best of Barcelona in the Champions League. This run of form could have been the beginning of something special for the players Arsene had built into a unit. They were second in the league and still in all competitions with the League Cup final later in the month. Even the 4-0 to 4-4 crash at St. James Park was brushed off as ‘one of those things’ as they remained just four points behind Manchester United.
What followed was, for reasons yet to be fully understood, a collapse of monumental proportions. Firstly a FA Cup-blip against Leyton Orient forced a replay in an already busy schedule. One week later, a costly mistake saw Birmingham snatch an unlikely cup final victory. The rest of Arsenal’s season imploded: Barcelona won revenge in the second leg, United knocked them out of the FA Cup, and only three more league wins over three months saw them end the season fourth, twelve points adrift.
That was only the tip of the iceberg Wenger’s titanic had crashed into. Six months later, four of the starting eleven that secured a victory over Barcelona had departed. A year after, another two had gone. £110m worth of talent had turned restless. Had good fortune been on their side, swaying a couple of results in their favour, the blip may have only lasted a week or so. Had team morale and the lack of form not departed them at such a crucial time, success could have been round the corner and, crucially the band could still be together. Instead, the side that Wenger had built up had split up; with those leaving persuaded they could achieve success elsewhere.
There is nothing wrong with Arsenal: the continued, long-term disappointment at the club lies in the impatience of others.
Everybody Just Keep Calm
The disappointment however is not as overwhelming as it may seem. There are glimpses of promise and yes, the paint may appear to be peeling on the surface, but the engine is still ticking over nicely. Since the beginning of 2010/11 season, a period of 96 games including the aforementioned blip, Arsenal trail Chelsea by just one point. Considering the unsettling change that has happened within the playing squad at Ashburton Grove over the past two years, to remain that close to a more powerful rival shows that the wheels have not come off at all.
Now almost two years since that night against Barcelona, there’s a new Arsenal taking shape; a team with greater potential, aiming for rewards their predecessors could not reach and this time, hopefully, staying until the job is done. They’re far from the finished picture admittedly, but not many teams in the top half are nowadays. It’s taking shape, though; there’s an experienced spine running throughout the team, mixed with British youngsters with huge potential, the ink still wet on their new contracts. This side will have mixed results, shaky form and dark days. They’ll survive through it though, and come out better for it.
Wenger may have had his pride dented with those he has seen grow up only to leave to be ‘surrounded by champions’, but such comments will only add fuel to his belief he can and will grow his own.
Next up at the Emirates: Arsenal once again challenging for the Premier League title. No promises of an instant success; those who demand it, much like the players since departed, will be disappointed. However the outlook is much brighter than it used to be.
The Odds: Arsenal are currently best priced with Bet365 at odds of 2.10 to complete the season in the top 4 while 12.00 at Betfred to claim the FA Cup. If you like their Champions League chances, they're 21.00 with Sportingbet to reach the final.
Follow A.D on Twitter: @adwinn
Find more of A.D's writing at his blog ADWinn.com