Murphya��s law states that if anything that can go wrong, it will go wrong. A�Well, for an Arsenal fan, one could be forgiven for thinking that the footballing Gods are using their club for proving it.

For Gooners, the last six months or so have been extremely disturbing, distressing, depressing and demoralising (and in that order). During this period, the team has lost the art of winning football matches. Somewhere, over the last six years or so, the club has forgotten the art and the desire of defending as well. The annual ritual of selling some of our best players for small fortunes has made the coffers heavy , but the team extremely light on the pitch.

A look back at the transition of the team from the days of being called a�?The Invinciblesa�? to the present bunch feels something like this – Once upon a time, there was a team which had pace and power; a team which could attack with precision and penetration and defend with both patience and passion. Slowly, as the years went by, the team made a gradual transition, Arsenal banked their game on the mantra of possession. Tippy-tappy, but rarely trigger happy, the team got obsessed with scoring the perfect goal.A� Passing the ball and sometimes passing the buck, somewhere it felt, that the Gunners got more obsessed about the means, rather than the end. It became more important to a�?play footballa�? rather than win matches. And now with, many of the best creative talents having left for greener, richer, more ambitious pastures, what is now left is a disjointed, rag tag, bunch of a team, struggling to find its feet and identity. It is a team which has lost its aura and belief.

The slow decline over the last six trophy less years just got accelerated in the last six months. Sure, the journey was not all downhill, but there were fewer ups than downs, but quite clearly the limit of the Arsenal’s ambitions for quite some time has been getting a Champions League spot. And all along, they have been also fighting philosophical wars, in a cut-throat-competitive environment.

Manchester United v Arsenal – The EPIC Rivalry

The global phenomenon, that is the EPL, was built on the pulsating, riveting rivalry of Manchester United and Arsenal. Let there be no mistake about it, but the advent of live football on satellite television in the late nineties coincided with this thrilling rivalry and made viewers hooked on to football and their respective clubs for life. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, Keane and Vieira, the British base of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and the Nevilles against the continental flavour of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Ljungberg…this was aA� rivalry for the ages. Most importantly, while the two teams did have contrasting styles a�� both were attack minded, which made it spectacular.

Somewhere, the economist in Wenger, realised that in order to compete with United in the long term, the club had to move away from its spiritual home of Highbury to a much larger stadium. A�A perfectly valid, well thought strategy! What he could not have predicted is that football was about to be changed forever, with the influx of oil money. Roman Abrahamovic and his millions came in at Chelsea and took the scene by storm. So, faced with a constrained budget at home and seeing the competitors having almost unlimited pockets, the club took to scouting talented youngsters and getting them in early at the club.A� But when, you are relying on youth, you are taking a gamble as you cannot be sure of how a player will eventually turn out to be! Will he blossom into a Fabregas or regress into a Denilson? Would Diaby become the new Vieira or not ? And quite clearly, very few of the many youth talents, picked up at bargain prices have actually gone on to become world class players.

The Big Issues at the Club

So, clearly handicapped financially and working on a risky strategy of trusting on young players, the club has been further handicapped by the salary structure that they designed. Wengera��s ideas of equitable pay have meant that:

  1. The club cannot attract the biggest names.
  2. No big differentials in pay between the better players and the mediocre ones at the club a�� possibly leading to frustration for the good players and a false sense of comfort for the not so good ones.
  3. Difficulty in transferring out the unwanted players, who are earning more than they deserve at the club because no one else will pay them that much.

And so while Abrahamovic and Chelsea, pushed Arsenal down to 3rd, Abu Dhabia��s Sheikh and Manchester City have now become the new galacticos and Arsenal today are struggling to be even 4th in the rate race. City, in the process have also become a favourite place for Arsenal players to move on to a�� with some of the best 1st team players in the last 5 years being transferred there.A� Arsenal, also face stiff competition from two other old rivals a�� Liverpool and Tottenham, who while not quite having the matching finances of City and Chelsea, quite easily outspend the Gunners.

The most worrying aspect of all is – The club, even after all its budgetary constraints, has been turning in handsome profits! The club also charges the most from its fans, with very high priced tickets at the new stadium. Deficiencies in the squad over the last few seasons have been fairly obvious; the cluba��s refusal to address them has been disappointing. No one wants the team to go down the Leeds United path, but the lack of some experienced figures to bring together and solidify a team of youngsters has been acutely felt, time and again.

Perennial Injury Crisis and a thin Squad

Then we come to the matters of injury. This interesting blog, tells us as to how many injuries Arsenal had to contend with last season. The club has suffered three horrific injuries a�� Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey in the last few seasons.A� A counter argument that can be made is that other big clubs suffer almost the same as well and injuries cannot be used as an excuse. The thing is that Arsenala��s core group of players a�� who can keep the team competitive in the league is much smaller than their rivals a�� the lack of strength and depth in the squad is exposed with injuries. To look at it another way, Chelsea or United a�� missing 6 or 7 starters can still put out a very competitive team, but not Arsenal.

Where is the fighting spirit?

 

To come to matters on the pitch and it is sad that the description of Arsenal as a football club have got limited to a few damning stereotypes and clichA�s.

Arsenal play nice football but have no end product.

Arsenal cana��t break down teams who defend deep.

Arsenal cana��t defend a lead.

Arsenal cana��t defend from set pieces.

Arsenal cana��t defend against the counter attack.

Arsenal cana��t deal with a�?the physical sidea�? of the game.

Arsenal cana��t do it on a wet, night at Stoke.

One can go on and on, but it is not necessary, because you can visualise each and every one of these stereotype and remember plenty of moments, when Arsenal validated them. The thing is that, while Arsenal has struggled against the top teams such as United and Chelsea, they could be forgiven for not having the personnel to match up with them. But the narrative has too often also been of Wenger and Arsenal at war with the likes of Bolton, Blackburn and Stoke. These are teams that play football in a different manner and offer a contrast to the Gunners’ method. Their more aerial, more physical, more robust, and perhaps more English game has roughed up, distracted and defeated Arsenal far too often. And what has frustrated a Gooner has been Arsenal’s refusal to improvise, their reluctance to get on with things. It would appear that, throughout the club, there appears to be a sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness about the way football is played. Unfortunately, that does not entitle anyone to victories and points. Arsenal has too often let their focus get distracted by players who can wind up the opposition, and rather than allow their technical superiority to take over the game, they have either wallowed in self misery or got themselves embroiled in petty conflicts and skirmishes. None of this works, what does is – putting a few past the opposition and going home with the three points.

Arsene Wenger – The One Constant

The one constant in these tumultuous times has been Arsene Wenger. So much of Arsenala��s modern history is down to the contribution of this one man. The club owes him a lot for the glory days of the 98′ double winners and a�?The Invinciblesa�?. He has given the club an identity, global recognition, some wonderful, wonderful football on the pitch. He had the courage and conviction to take a leap of faith and build a new stadium a�� something that will serve the club well for the next 50 years. However, the last few months have seen the club go backwards, unable to hold on to its most prized assets, possibly unable to attract the best talents any more. A passionate and committed football man, there have been times when ardent Arsenal fans have actually felt concerned about his health and well being. How much can a man take? – To see his players repeatedly let him down, Make the same mistakes again and again! It must be difficult to see his players not believing in his a�?projecta�? anymore.

Have the players let him down?

 

Most Gooners have been a believer in a�?IN ARSENE, WE TRUSTa�?. However, that does not mean that he is beyond criticism or always right. Many disagree with his wage policies and have found his refusal to sign some experienced campaigners in the last three to four years quite baffling. Arsenal was much closer to United or Chelsea then and a few more experienced campaigners might just have seen us get over the line. A�A combination of circumstances has meant that the squad (even after the deadline day signings) is far weaker than it has ever been under Wenger. Quite a few Gooners are circumspect about whether the man is capable of turning around a squad, which is defensively so shambolic at the moment, that it does not take much to turn up and score against them. As someone said the other day a�� there are no transfer windows for coaches a�� and one does believe that coaching room needs new voices and ideas.

There is one last thing about Wenger, which is quite staggering and that is his steadfast refusal to criticise his players in public. This is an almost unbelievable, noble quality in todaya��s day and age.A� As an employee, if one had a manager like that, he would be extremely lucky. And yet, has it always been in Arsenal Football Cluba��s interest that he has been so protective of his players ? It is quite debatable if public criticism would have actually fired up some players, but it remains one of the most remarkable characteristics of this manager.

You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain a�� The Dark Knight.

One would wonder if Arsene Wenger thinks along these lines!

Unrest among Fans – Living in Hope

For Arsenal, things have gone quite topsy-turvy. From injuries to bad signings, to facing rivals with unlimited coffers, it has been an uphill struggle. But Arsenal have never finished outside the Top 4 during Wengera��s tenure. Arsenal have qualified for the main stages of the Champions League for 14 consecutive seasons. These are staggering achievements. When you combine that with building a new stadium during the same period, the achievements become incredible. However, right now, the team is in a bad shape. From competing in four tournaments in March to relegation-like-form this season, the fortunes have changed dramatically. A�There is plenty of rage and fury going around in the fan base. It only shows that people do really care about the club and that it means a lot to them.

It is important that the club comes out and tells the fans a�� the true state of the club’s finances.A�Come out and set realistic expectations, clear the air and get back to playing football! They could be in a mid table scrap! They could be in a relegation battle! Who knows ? The Gooners will sincerely hope that it is only a once in a lifetime experience, but they have to back the team. The Club. The Arsenal. There is no other way!

Six years is not that long a barren stretch. Who knows, the next Michael Thomas moment might be just around the corner.

Fan 1: What about last season?A�
Fan 2: What about it?
Fan 1: They were rubbish. They were fucking rubbish.
Fan 2: They weren’t that bad.
Fan 1: They were fucking rubbish last year. And they were fucking rubbish the year before. And I don’t care if they are top of the League, they’ll be fucking rubbish this year, too. And next year. And the year after that. I’m not joking.
Fan 2: I don’t know why you come, Frank. Honest I don’t.
Fan 1: Well, you live in hope, don’t you?

-A�Fever Pitch

Hope!

The article is written by Guest Author Abhishek Paul. Follow him on twitter @abhility

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