Let’s look back to the 2003/04 Premier League season – the season in which we experienced the full power of Arsenal, a team full of confidence, maturity, ideas, and a high level of technical skills. This was the team that became known as the ‘Invincibles’ after becoming only the second team to win the Premier League title having not lost a game.
This was the team skippered by Patrick Vieira, with Gilberto Silva solid at the middle of the park, Dutch magician Dennis Bergkamp creating chances and goals, and Thierry Henry scoring left and right. This was one of the best teams in the world of football, and when weekends arrived, you just wanted to sit down in front of your TV and enjoy watching Arsenal play. The Gunners were playing beautiful football in those days, and for spectators like me, it was nothing but joy to watch.
When speaking about Arsenal’s unbeaten season, Arsène Wenger came out with one of his most famous quotes:
“A football team is like a beautiful woman. When you do not tell her, she forgets she is beautiful.”
Wenger looked a genius at the time, and even one of the most famous and successful coaches in the history of English football, Sir Alex Ferguson, sat down and took note. It was an incredible achievement, given that Wenger maintained his style of playing beautiful football, a style that is admired more in Spain than in England.
Fast-forward to the 2014/15 season: Arsenal has managed to win only one major trophy in 10 years, last year’s FA Cup. If you have been following Arsène Wenger’s press conferences for the last 10 years, you will know that he has been constantly asking fans for patience. At this point, it’s hard to argue that there are any fans more patient than Arsenal fans. The “In Wenger We Trust” banner is often seen in the Emirates Stadium, and this is a reminder of how much Arsenal fans believe in their French philosopher.
But how does Wenger explain the lack of major trophies for 10 years? There were financial issues – in particular, the large amount of funds that were used to build the new stadium, which was a major accomplishment that everyone could easily see. So finally Arsenal has a new stadium, it’s financially stable, and it has a major American shareholder. If you listen to Arsène Wenger, he says Arsenal can now compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, due to its financial stability. It’s true that for the last 10 years Wenger has been operating with a low budget and was not able to pay players higher wages. This is understandable. But when you see low-budget teams like Borussia Dortmund and Atlético Madrid reaching the Champions League final, then you start to realize that in football there is much more than money and buying expensive players.
It seems like every season there is something missing in the Arsenal line-up, and this season is no different. On their good days, Arsenal is entertaining – you can’t disagree with that – but those days don’t come very often. Pundits point to the lack of defenders and a strong defensive midfielder, but honestly I believe confidence and hunger are missing, and this is something that cannot be fixed by big money signings. Wenger is failing to give enough confidence to these players and demand more from them. You can see when Arsenal is playing against the big boys of England, like Chelsea, that the players don’t have confidence. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe Arsenal is anywhere close to winning the Premier League or Champions League. However, the Top 4 is achievable for them, as usual, and this is where Arsenal fans get frustrated year after year. They know the team has talent, but to see them perform at a higher level week-in week-out is something that has been missing for a decade now.
You look at the Arsenal team these days, and there are more questions than answers. Mesut Özil is the big money signing and a talented player, but he doesn’t seem to put as much effort in for Arsenal as he did for Germany or under Mourinho at Real Madrid. When Arsenal is not playing well, you look at the bench to see who can come and change the game, and you see Yaya Sanogo and an unmotivated Podolski, and you wonder why these good players are not performing well under Wenger. And if players like Sanogo are not good enough, then why are they wearing the Arsenal shirt? Why are promising players like Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott not developing at the pace they should?
Arsène Wenger is the club’s longest-serving manager and the most successful in terms of major titles won. Everyone associated with English football gives Wenger credit for his contributions to revolutionizing football in England in the late 1990s, for example, through the introduction of changes in the training and diet of players. These are wonderful achievements, but it’s hard not to think that he is running out of ideas and changes are needed. Sir Alex Ferguson is not at Manchester United anymore, and the team will go through rough times, because you don’t replace managers like Ferguson without suffering – but in the end Manchester United will become a good team and a reckoning force again. It’s the same for Arsenal. The team simply needs new and fresh ideas, and in my opinion Arsène Wenger needs to retire with honour and respect from all the Arsenal fans.