Arsenal vs England's Elite Clubs

How have Arsenal performed against the big clubs of England in recent seasons? Today on the blog Amit Singh offers his thoughts on what another trophy-less season means for the Gunners.

ArseneWenger

Arsenal look almost certain to end the season trophy-less for the 8th year in a row, which has prompted widespread debate on the future of Arsene Wenger. The club beat Villa 2-1 at the weekend which puts them well in contention to finish in the top four again, which some fans deem to be sufficient, but ahead of a big clash against Spurs at the weekend, their place in next seasons Champions League is far from assured. The 3-1 defeat against Munich, at home, was also one that will be difficult to stomach for many Arsenal fans, with their side seemingly uncompetitive against some of the top clubs both at home and abroad. 

Form against big clubs

The clubs inability to beat big teams at home is clearly apparent. Some fans argue this is due to a lack of 'winning mentality' but in truth it is indicative of a lack of quality. If we observe Arsenal's record against top four opposition over the last four seasons we can see how dismal their form has been.

SeasonPointsGoals ForGoals AgainstGoals Difference
2012/2013 4 (18) 9 11 -2
2011/2012 6 (18) 10 15 -5
2010/2011 10 (18) 7 4 +3
2009/2010 3 (18) 6 12 -6
Total 23 (72) 32 42 -11

A total of 23 points from 72 against the top sides is simply not good enough and is surely due to problems with quality. Arsenal just aren't competitive against the top sides’ any-more.  Barring a decent return in 2010/11 they also concede far too many goals against the top sides, including 11 already this season and 15 last season.

To put this into perspective Man United have picked up 41 points out of a possible 66 during the same period, which demonstrates the difference in results and is reflected in the success United have experienced during that period.

Beating the teams in and around you is of course crucial for success in the Premier League and Arsenal simply are not doing that. Arsenal sides of old were far more dominant against sides at the top of the table, but this season fans were claiming that their side were Championship contenders after a 1-1 draw at the Etihad. With their current form against top sides Arsenal surely must re-address their expectations as they are no longer a side capable of regularly beating top teams.

With that in mind any talk of title challenges (as we had earlier this season) is incredibly premature if not bordering on absurd. 

Failure to adapt?

Why, have Arsenal become so uncompetitive against top sides when they went unbeaten in the 03/04 season? The main issue appears to be that Wenger has had to deal with adapting to the new pressures of the Premier League. In his initial reign in charge he vied for dominance against Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, but his decline in success has certainly coincided with the rise of new money clubs such as Chelsea and now City.

The arrival of Abramovich certainly raised the bar in terms of expectations and in terms of quality at the top of the Premier League. Sir Alex rose to the task and has only been spurred on by the increased competition, whilst Wenger has not adapted, failing to produce a competitive side in the period following the invincibles.

In fact having won the title in 03/04 Wenger did not really go out and strengthen his side in the manner one would expect given that Chelsea, who finished 2nd in 03/04, had hired Mourinho and were free spending, clearly strengthening an already good squad. Wenger's net spend for the 04/05 season was £1,600,000, only really bringing in Eboue and Flamini for nominal fees as well as Almunia as back up keeper. As a result the side finished 12 points behind Chelsea and finished with 7 points fewer than they had in the 03/04 season.

This has to be partially down to a naivety about Wenger's transfer policy in the summer in which his side finished titles. Sir Alex Ferguson always speaks about needing to adapt and strengthen ones side, regardless of what the team wins. This might be why Wenger has never won back to back league titles with Arsenal, which is regarded by Ferguson as the hallmark of any great side. 

Wenger did address this and spent £36 million on players in the 05/06 season, but his side finished 24 points off Chelsea and languished in fourth. In fact his side have not been competitive since the 03/04 season, other than a very brief flirtation with the top of the league. The rise of Liverpool under Benitez led to the title race being a relative four horse race, rather than the two horse race it was prior to Abramovich buying Chelsea. This increased the level of competitiveness to new heights in the Premier League.

From 05/06 to 08/09 Liverpool finished above Arsenal three out of the four seasons, demonstrating the decline at Arsenal who were relegated to the status of England's fourth best club, which having won the title in such convincing and historic fashion in 03/04 is an unbelievable decline. The arrivals of Benitez and Mourinho, who turned Liverpool and Chelsea into more competitive sides was a huge contributory factor. Ferguson though was able to adapt his side and continue to grow his team, he was not afraid to spend money (sometimes unsuccessfully) and was always ready to rise to the challenge of a new foe, be it, Ancelotti, Benitez or Jose Mourinho. Wenger on the other hand simply failed to adapt and as such saw his 03/04 side dismantled and not go on to achieve what it should have.

Conclusion

Wenger is very, very unlikely to be sacked by Arsenal and he is certainly owed a debt of gratitude by the club for all he has achieved with Arsenal. He has undeniably taken the club to new heights, taking them from a relatively inconsistent side to a team that has not once (yet) failed to qualify for the Champions League. He has also overseen a period of great financial stability.

However, on his huge wage, reported at £7.5 million per year, he must be scrutinised and his record in the past eight years is poor. He essentially had a side that looked destined for a long period of dominance and within two seasons had them 24 points off first place and in fourth. The onset of a more competitive era in the league, due to money and the arrivals of Benitez and Mourinho were factors that led Ferguson to improve Manchester United, but Wenger did not act accordingly. In 04/05 he should have strengthened his side further but he did not, perhaps out of naivety at how good Mourinho was.

After that, the club have just fallen and fallen away from the top.

 

 

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