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What do Arsenal fans have to cry about?

What do Arsenal fans have to cry about?
Tuesday,March 6,2018

Arsenal fans have been in tears on radio phone-ins this week as the stark reality of the current state of their team, and the direction they continue to slide, hit home with the meek surrender of three points at Brighton.


After back-to-back footballing lessons at the hands of mighty Manchester City, beating up a relegation threatened, newly promoted outfit like Brighton should have been just what the Gunners ordered, but not this current line-up.


Defeat made it official - Arsenal can no longer win the Premier League this season.


But - all joking aside - it’s hard to remember a time when Arsenal have looked further away from winning the title and even the most ardent defenders of Arsene Wenger are now conceding it’s time for him to go.


Are Arsenal fans right to be upset by their current plight, or is it time for them to recalibrate their expectations and come down to earth with a bump?


Fans are yearning for the good old days, and still holding their team accountable to the kind of standards upheld by Arsenal teams of the past. But in reality, this current Arsenal team aren’t fit to lace their predecessors’ boots.


While simply not good enough in too many key positions anyway, the players have realised that when they play well they get the plaudits, and when they underperform as they have done far too many times this season, the Wenger Out banners fly with renewed gusto.


Title success is mathematically gone, but with it so is any realistic hope for a top 4 finish and Champions League football next season.


Maybe they can do what Manchester United did last year, and get in through the back door by winning the Europa League, but with a tough draw against AC Milan in the last 16, that looks far from easy.


Under Wenger, Arsenal have won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups. He is the club’s longest-serving manager, having been in place nearly 22 years, and most successful overall.


Within two years the Wenger revolution had delivered a League and FA Cup Double, and four years later they repeated the trick.


In 2003/04 Wenger led the Gunners to a third Premier League title, earning the distinction of becoming just the second ever team to go through a whole top tier season unbeaten.


But since ‘The Invincibles’ season, Arsenal have been on the decline.


For most clubs, four FA Cups and four Community Shields in the 14 years since that season wouldn’t be seen as success starved, but after becoming accustomed to either winning or at least challenging for all the major honours, the fact Arsenal have slipped and continue to fall further behind their rivals means enough is enough.


Wenger took over an Arsenal team that hadn’t tasted League success in five years, since George Graham led the Gunners to the 1990/91 title, succeeding Bruce Rioch, who was sacked just before the start of the 1995/96 season having endured an up and down year as he tried to turn Graham’s workmanlike team into a footballing side, culminating in fallouts with the board, star player Ian Wright and ultimately the Gunners faithful.


The Frenchman enjoyed unprecedented success, but the patience of the many has now run out, and looking at the Arsenal squad, it’s easy to see why.


In goal, Petr Cech was undoubtedly an excellent keeper, but he’s never quite been the same since taking a kick to the head while playing for Arsenal against Reading in 2006. He was deemed surplus to requirements by London rivals Chelsea, who quite rightly decided Thibaut Courtois was a better bet, and while Arsenal fans just about accepted finding their new number one in the reserve team of a rival, Cech’s mistakes have become more pronounced as the years catch up. Having seen the ruthless way Pep Guardiola has gone through goalkeepers at Manchester City, it’s hard to imagine Cech displacing the number ones at any of the other top teams, except maybe Liverpool.


Arsenal’s back four, once the foundation for their attacking flair, setting the standards for others, is a mess. Where once there was Dixon, Winterburn, Adams and Bould, there’s a pacey, half decent right-back in Hector Bellerin, along with a mish mash of foreign imports with no leadership skills who are simply not good enough.


It’s not easy to find decent defenders these days, with many recent rule changes aimed at helping attacking play, and while Laurent Koscielny has been an okay servant and could probably do a job with a top class central defensive partner, the likes of Mustafi, Mertesacker and Kolasinac don’t look good enough. Nacho Monreal looks better on the left of a three as oppose to as a traditional left-back, a shape that his colleagues rarely look comfortable in, and English youngster Rob Holding and Calum Chambers are at best unproved, and at worst destined for Championship level careers.


Wenger has never really filled the hole in the middle of his team left when two all-time greats, Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit, packed their bags, but his insistence on playing Granit Xhaka in the holding role, which he blatantly doesn’t find natural and basically cannot do, is baffling. How many times do you need to see the Swiss watch an opposition midfield runner go past him while he’s caught on his heels to realise the back four needs some proper protection.


Jack Wilshere has been back in the reckoning this season, having last year been farmed out on loan to Bournemouth, where he struggled to make an impact. While he shows flashes of brilliance, too often he’s found out as weak and one-paced, not to mention the obvious question marks about how many games you can count on having him around before the injury woes come again.


Mesut Ozil is an enigma who seems to play in waves. He has spells of looking like the world class player we all know he can be, with goals and assists every week….then goes missing for a series of games.


And in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wenger probably did well to get anything back for wantaway Alexis Sanchez, but like Cech, it’s hardly a dream signing when you’re picking up the castoffs of your rivals (we can file Danny Welbeck here too). Whoever let so many Arsenal stars get into the last years of their contracts, especially at the same time, deserves a p45 even quicker than Arsene.


Talking of which Aaron Ramsey, who looked like he might be getting back to his very best before another injury, is approaching the final year of his contract and will be in no hurry to sign another.


Players like Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny make up the numbers in the Arsenal squad, and again are players you can’t imagine the other top sides coveting at any time.


Up front Wenger has not been shy about spending money, but who his preferred option(s) is is not clear.


Having spend nearly £46.5million on Alexandre Lacazette in the summer, the Frenchman was benched when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined in January for a club record £60million.


Whether the idea is to play the two costly forwards together is not clear, as Lacazette is now injured. If it is, they don’t look ideal strike partners. If it’s not, £46.5million is a lot to pay for a striker who isn’t first choice, while less than half a season is not a great deal of time for him to establish himself in English football before being consigned to the reserves.


If you were to make a combined team from all the top six teams, it’s difficult to see an Arsenal player getting into it. In fact, if you made a combined team from just two clubs, Arsenal and any one of Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs, it’s hard to envisage many Gunners in any of those teams; they’d be outnumbered at the very least. And that’s the crux of the problem.


Not only are Arsenal not challenging for the Premier League title any more, they are clearly the sixth best team in England and the slide doesn’t look like arresting.


After rolling over at lowly Brighton, Arsenal find themselves as close to Burnley and Leicester in 7th and 8th as they do Chelsea in 5th.


Gunner fans could take periods of transition - and they may well have to endure one once Wenger does depart - but at the moment they’re just on the slide with no end in sight.


Fans of other clubs can unstandably quip they wish they were suffering as much as the Gunners, who seem to win the FA Cup every other year, enjoy European football and have only gone 15 years without winning the title, but this generation of Arsenal fans have become spoilt by success, and while it’s Wenger that was the catalyst of that, he’s become a victim of it and the only option now is for him to go and let someone else try and inspire a revival.


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