It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing time and time again while expecting different results. Enter Arsenal.
It was an optimistic finish last year for Arsenal, finishing 2nd in the table after a dramatic last day where they leap-frogged bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspurs, but that was a year to be pretty much disregarded. Manchester United and Chelsea both finished outside of the top 4, so it has to go down as Arsenal missing out on their best opportunity to win the Premier League since the time they last won it in 2004.
At present, the Gunners have fallen to 5th place, losing their homely 4th place spot to Liverpool, who just beat them last weekend. They’ve also received one of the most embarrassing thumpings in Champions League history at the hands of Bayern Munich. This means that Arsenal have been knocked out in the Round of 16 for the 7th year in a row.
In some form of defence, they’ve faced brutal opposition in the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on these occasions at this stage, however these are teams Arsenal deem on their level, and it’s only showing the absence of growth, and the manner of their physical and mental capitulation against the German side can only be the result of poor mentality and unity in the dressing room.
It’s also worth noting that Arsenal have never beaten an English side in the Champions League in 6 times of asking.
Arsenal are in a stasis. Their inability to adapt or grow is a reflection of the tactics of their manager, Arsene Wenger, whose job is once again being questioned. Arsenal have finished inside of the top four consistently in Wenger’s 20 season long stint at Arsenal.
A Sky Sports study has predicted Arsenal to finish 6th this season, taking into account their form against teams they’ve play and have yet to play again. They’re projected a 72 point finish. Their record after Tuesday’s clash is five losses in seven games across all competitions.
Falling out of the top 4 would provide the most logical time to let Arsene go, with whatever dignity he has. The only issue is who to replace him with?
Arsenal have dug themselves into a noble hole of being loyal to their manager, and creating a well sustained empire, for want of a better word, by dedicating themselves to the Arsene Wenger Era.
If (and ultimately when) Wenger leaves, who would they bring in? The few names that come to my mind are Diego Simeone and Joachim Low. Two passionate and young managers who play a style of football not too dissimilar, while solidifying the foundations that Arsene Wenger has appeared to neglect, the back-four.
Both managers have created a defensive roster to be feared, accompanied by swift and clinical counter-attacking attacking unit. And most importantly, both have had success.
Germany are a machine under Low, and have won European and World titles back to back, while Simeone has shone brilliantly in a league with Atletico Madrid against Spanish super powers Real Madrid and Barcelona, winning the La Liga in 2014, the Europa League in 2012 and he’s even squeezed two runners-up medals in the Champions League, just losing out to mortal rivals Real Madrid.
However, that’s just putting the pieces together. If Wenger were to go, Arsenal are in danger of falling into a cycle of managerial disaster, akin to Manchester United after Sir Alex’s retirement. Three managers in three years from 2013 to 2016. In those three years, United won as many honours as Mourinho has in his young tenure.
This lifestyle would be a massive culture shock to Arsenal, as it was for United, except Arsenal lack the financial strength to dig themselves out of the hole with quality players and leadership. United had Rooney, and Carrick. To shine a light on how bad things are at Arsenal, their biggest leader on the pitch was just dropped in their last game for alleged off-the-pitch actions, Alexis Sanchez.
The situation surrounding Sanchez and Wenger just highlights the broader image of the fragility and spinelessness of the club, on and off the pitch. Wenger claims to have left him out of the squad for tactical reasons, but what manager drops their one shining star for tactical reasons, especially when he continues to play Ozil, the notorious ghost when he’s needed the most.
It screams of training ground bust-up, which has been speculated after the Liverpool performance. That just makes matters worse. If it were a bust-up, why only bench him? It’s a terrible move for team moral. If the manager deems a player a problem, they should remove them from the match squad, as Slaven Bilic did at West Ham with Payet before the January transfer window.
It’s well known that Arsene Wenger is far from adaptable in terms of his tactics. The one occasion he claims he’s thinking of a change in tactics, he immediately rescinds the idea, brings on the player he dropped for a bust-up, and he plays a key role in dragging his team back into the game. It’s very inconsistent, which is unlike Wenger and Arsenal, and could be a sign of his wilting as a manager.
It is obvious that things need to change at Arsenal. Year in year out it’s the same story. ‘They need a top striker’, ‘they need to sort out their defence’, ‘they need a big marquee signing’. These sentiments have been repeated consistently for years. Instead, they sign Granit Xhaka for a fee around £30 million, while Chelsea spent the same amount on N’Golo Kante.
The situation is the same with the tactics. They play great football, and can beat every team in the Premier League outside of the top six with ease and sheer quality of players, but have only won 3 games against the top six away from home since the 2012/13 season, they continue to fall short where it really matters. Wenger is the only manager in the top six tier of the Premier League whose tenure is older than three-years, and it’s probably about time this changed.