Arsenal Football Club is in the midst of a particularly turbulent period at the moment. The declining status of the team has been well documented, and inevitably the key fact presented by critics is the ever-increasing number of years without a trophy win.
This has increased from five years to six, seven, eight, until the point where Arsenal supporters no longer expect the side to challenge for the league title each season. Finishing in the top four and perhaps winning the FA Cup is the pragmatic aspiration, and probably closer to the truth.
That there has been a decline in the strength of Arsenal as a footballing force is undeniable. In 2004 they were the Invincibles, having assembled one of the finest sides Europe has produced. A series of failed title attempts followed the next generation with the slow break-up of the young team developed to succeed that pinnacle reached in 2004.
The change in circumstances has generated questions over the ability of Wenger to lead the club into the future, and led some to call for his dismissal. As might be expected it takes some adjustment to move from winning titles to simply scraping into Europe each season, though this is now a reality.
However, it should be noted that the current side is one in transition as Wenger continues the reconstruction process. Arsenal do not possess the team they once did, but Wenger has ensured that there are the building blocks of a much improved side in place.
Not only has he ensured that, but when the constraints Wenger has been working within over recent years are analysed it could be argued that Arsenal have performed better than should be expected.
Furthermore, it is regularly forgotten that the team built around Fabregas was challenging for the title until the final run-in over three seasons, 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2010-11.
In Mid-April 2011 Arsenal sat in second place, six points behind Man Utd but with a game in hand with seven to go. With seven games remaining in 2010 Arsenal were two points behind leaders Man Utd, and with eight to go in 2008 they were only three points behind Utd.
The key point is that though the final league standing has been third or fourth, Arsenal have still challenged for silverware over a number of years, whilst maintaining a place in the Champions League and running at considerably lower cost than rivals who have grown in the era of billionaire owners since 2003.
When viewed in the context of other contenders, very few are as consistent: Liverpool have dropped further and further off the pace after challenging for the title in 2009 and are now regulars in the Europa League. Tottenham have so far failed to build on one season in the Champions League, though they are improved this season. Football post-2003 and Abramovich is a different world and the increased amounts of money make maintaining consistency considerably more challenging when not competing on that unsustainable front.
Arsenal may have seriously struggled the past two seasons, but when placed in context Wenger has performed a minor miracle in pulling together this side and ensuring that Champions League football is still played at the Emirates. Even after a disappointing season Arsenal still now sit within two points of Chelsea in fourth and four of Tottenham in third.
Clearly, fifth place is not desirable, the loss to Bayern was disappointing, and that to Blackburn in the FA Cup was unacceptable, but it could be worse. This is where the glass half-full, half-empty idiom has relevance.
Arsenal’s performances have worsened over the past two seasons, and this is part of a longer term trend, which ultimately led to the break-up of a highly talented side that never fulfilled its potential. However, Wenger still has the team in touching distance of fourth place, even after the difficulties faced over the previous years. Few clubs have managed this and in the meantime the foundation of the next generation of players has been lain in the form of Wilshere, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Calls for Wenger’s dismissal are misguided, the club have taken the right position in backing the manager and stating that they are willing to finance a wholesale improvement of the squad.
Wenger is one of a select few managers who has been able to ensure European competition and therefore, not just income but a selling point for top quality players, and this will also be true for the coming summer.
Even if Wenger failed to bring Arsenal to a fourth place finish, what other manager would be available to take up the helm with the gravitas to bring in top players without Champions League football to offer?
Arsenal are clearly at a turning point, a pivotal moment, where the downward spiral of previous seasons can be arrested or will move further from control, retaining the right to play in the Champions League will be crucial in deciding this.
Strangely, Gary Neville’s well rounded opinion in Tweets with Piers Morgan best sums this up. His extended conversation provided some excellent insight, and think what you like of him as a player, but when providing comment Mr. Neville is positively cultured in comparison with the tabloid-type rubbish from Piers Morgan.
@piersmorgan you’re depressing me and I don’t support Ars! Be thankful you support a club with morals and history!It’s just a moment in time
— G.Neville (@GNev2) February 19, 2013
Gary’s later exchange highlighted some very salient points and he is completely correct when he refers to cycles:
“You will look back in twenty years time and state it was the most important 8 years in Arsenal’s history by doing the stadium..and making sure they were set up and haven’t stood still like some. United did their stadium over a period of many decades! Arsenal are sustainable, make profit, have cash and have gone about their business well. Step back slightly to move fwds (sic)!
it’s not perfect but its cycles! Arsenal are set up and in a world of bust clubs/banks etc. they have done the right thing…Others that look good now will have suffered in that time! Trust me!”
Indeed, Arsenal now stand at the beginning of a new cycle and though there have been several tough years it could be worse. There may be no prospect of silverware this season, but the potential to provide upward momentum is there.
After the result against Tottenham in the coming derby there will be much more clarity about the chance to provide the base for this new cycle to blossom. The glass might be more half-full than half-empty, no?