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The new year promises a new dawn for many, but with Arsenal’s FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest it proved to be the same old agony for Gunners fans.
It was the first time Arsenal had lost in the third round during Wenger’s reign and it compounded a general feeling of misery based on a variety of factors including: Arsenal are not competing in the Champions League for the first time Wenger took over. Equally, they do not look likely to secure a top 4 spot this season, currently sitting in 6th.
Last season, again for the first time under Wenger, Spurs finished above the Gunners, signalling a shift of power in North London. Furthermore, this January the curse of Van Persie struck again with Arsenal’s best player leaving to join a direct rival.
But on the bright side, January has seen Arsenal make two impressive signings, securing Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United as part of the Sanchez deal, and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund for around £56m.
Here’s the thing though. There is something about Arsenal football club that makes it all too easy to delude yourself that things are about to change for the better.
The club is certainly one of optimists, which is great. But at the same time, do you know what the definition of insanity is? The definition of insanity is, ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the outcome to change’.
So, with that in mind let me explain why signing Aubameyang, or indeed Mkhitaryan, will not make a blind bit of difference to Arsenal, thus proving that I at least, am not insane.
A history of underwhelming signings
Remember that guy who used to play for Lyon? The one who scored all those goals? More than Zlatan than one season? The one who was just about to go to Atletico, right before they got their transfer ban? Yeah, he plays for Arsenal now, although you could be forgiven for assuming he was someone else.
After his club record £52m move, Alexandre Lacazette has unquestionably failed in becoming the ‘world class striker’ that everyone knew was holding Arsenal back from winning the League.
Oddly left on the bench for much of the season, Lacazette has scored 11 goals this season in 1707 minutes of action. By contrast, Chelsea ‘flop’ Michy Batshuayi has 12 goals in just 521 minutes.
And what about Shkodran Mustafi, the £35m World Cup winning centre back who was going to become the top-quality defender that everyone knew was holding Arsenal back from winning the League? Well he ended the summer transfer window trying to get a move to Inter Milan, which is one thing.
The other is that Arsenal’s defence has seemingly improved a grand total of zero since his arrival. Sure, there are times when he looks decent, but for all the money spent on him, in addition to all the ridiculous goals that Arsenal still concede, they may as well have resigned Philippe Senderos and spent the difference on Snapchat stickers for the lads.
And how about Granit Xhaka? The big money man from Borussia Monchengladbach? The man whose actual name is Granit, the strong midfield force that Arsenal had been missing since Vieira, the one thing holding them back from winning the League?
Well despite it being inarguable that Xhaka looks good in an Arsenal shirt, it has come to pass that he is in fact, not a central defensive midfielder at all. He regularly goes walkies, whether his side is 1-0 down or 4-3, it just don’t matter to ol’ Granit.
His penchant for wonder goals gets him some bonus points and he does rack up the passes, but as Gary Neville mused, perhaps he has the most touches because he can’t control the ball.
The future doesn’t bode well for the latest recruits
Now in fairness, every top side has some misses when it comes to transfers and Sanchez and Ozil have been successful in their respective careers at the Emirates.
However, three players signed to sure up long recognised frailties in Arsenal’s side have failed to make a blind bit of difference, failing to live up to their billing. And why should we expect that to change with Arsenal’s newest recruits?
In Mkhitaryan Arsenal are already taking on a player who has failed to live up to his sterling reputation (although if Wenger can get the best out of the Armenian, they will have a superb player perfectly suited for Arsenal), while Aubameyang’s addition raises questions about Lacazette’s role in the team, as neither will be content doing a shift on the left-hand side.
Both are top quality players, but in Arsenal’s recent history no top quality, high profile signing has succeeded in elevating the club. Even while Sanchez ran riot, the club still continued to lose ground on City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool and even Spurs, falling to its current position which sees them outside of Europe’s elite and the Chilean jumping ship.
The main issues lie with Wenger and the board
The reason is of course simple. The problem is systemic and it lies with the manager, and with the board.
First up the manager: Arsene Wenger, who for years, over a decade in fact, has turned out teams who play with an indiscipline that makes a mockery of the club’s aspirations to finish in the top four, let alone achieve anything more.
The way in which his side have repeatedly failed to correct the errors which are abundantly clear to anyone with eyes, let alone football knowledge, leads to the conclusion that mediocrity, a trait chastised at elite clubs, is condoned at Arsenal.
Similarly, Wenger has failed to develop young English talent in the form of Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Chambers and more. In fact, young English players spending a couple of seasons at Arsenal look worse than when they arrived! As such, Arsenal’s squad depth is lacklustre at best.
But just as Wenger deserves his medicine, so too does the Arsenal board, the board which has allowed a conveyor belt of Arsenal’s best players to join direct rivals, making them better and Arsenal weaker.
These include Adebayor, Toure, Clichy, Sagna, Nasri (Manchester City), Van Persie, Sanchez (Manchester United), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool). Incidentally, all of those clubs are above Arsenal in the table, while both of United’s acquisitions were the result of Arsenal failing to tie down their best players to new contracts.
In addition to their bolstering of opponent’s title changes via their lackadaisical approach to contracting their best players (thankfully Ozil has just signed an extension), the Arsenal board has been responsible for some truly embarrassing transfer pursuits in the past few years. In particular that of Luis Suarez (£50m and a pound) and Thomas Lemar (£90m deadline day bid).
Arsenal’s misfortunes are difficult to comprehend
At times, it is hard not to laugh at Arsenal, but in truth it is a case of choosing to laugh rather than to cry.
A club that brings so much to the game in terms of style, elegance and beauty has for so long been a victim to approaching the same problem with the same remedies and expecting different outcomes.
Of course, we can sit around and convince ourselves that with one more world class striker Arsenal will be fixed, and we can likewise sit around and convince ourselves that Wenger is the perfect man to get the best out of Mkhitaryan.
But deep down we also know that in 3, 6, 12 months’ time we’ll be back again having the exact same conversations, just that they’ll be about different players.
Why? Because the problem isn’t the players, it is the manager, and the board and the acceptance of mediocrity that has permeated the club over the past decade. Sooner or later something has to change, otherwise we’re all going to go insane, if we haven’t already.
Written by Scott Pope
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