There are three things in this world that can drive me to the brink of insanity: my 8 A.M. philosophy lectures, people at the gym who do curls in the squat racks, and Arsenal F.C.
On any given Saturday or Sunday, the Gunners seem to find extraordinary and unique ways to ruin my day. Sunday, November 9th was no exception, as I sat at the student guard desk for my morning shift and awaited the opening kickoff of Arsenal’s contest against Swansea City. Sporting my navy Arsenal jacket and waited for the clock to strike 11, I couldn’t help but anticipate my eventual dissatisfaction with the game’s result.
As people walked by and saw the red emblem on my chest and the computer screen sitting in front of me, many asked, “Who is Arsenal playing today?” When I replied that we were playing Swansea City, they would sneer and say something like “Oh, this is going to be an easy win!”
If you have watched Arsenal play in the BPL in the last five years, however, you know there is rarely ever an “easy” win for the Gunners.
This day was no different than many other Sundays, as Arsenal started slow and had trouble finding their attacking rhythm early on. They were dominated in the possession battle in the first half, yet still managed to enter the half tied with the Swans 0-0.
In the 63rd minute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found Santi Cazorla, who played a through ball to Danny Welbeck. Welbeck darted down the right wing and into the penalty area before cutting the ball back onto his left foot. He raised his head and slotted a beautiful pass to the trailing Alexis Sanchez, who found the back of the net with a clinical finish.
As the Gunners celebrated on the pitch, I crossed my fingers with the hope that, for once, there wouldn’t be a dramatic surprise or collapse in the game’s final 25 minutes. The Gunners seemingly lost focus after the goal, however, and Swansea City scored twice in a three-minute span en route to a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
I spent many years convinced that the next season would be Arsenal’s time to ascend the Premier League prominence and take back the league title for the first time since their undefeated 2003-04 campaign. In the last five years, I’ve seen many of my favorite star players— namely Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie— leave the club and chase championship hardware elsewhere and I have watched as new talent has emerged and developed within the Gunners’ system. Arsenal have arguably the best young talent in the Premier League, with Sanchez, Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott all 26 years old or younger. Despite all of their young stars, however, the team has failed to find consistency.
Every year, Arsenal are active while the transfer window is open, but skipper Arsene Wenger always seems to have a difficult time making all of the Gunners’ pieces fit into a solid starting 11. To this day, Wenger is arguably the BPL’s most respected manager, but he has not found a way to motivate the young and talented Gunners within the last decade. Though the team has showed flashes of brilliance, they often look uninspired on the pitch and lose focus in critical moments.
Arsenal’s struggles in domestic competitions and the UEFA Champions League have been well-documented and have been the source of great hilarity within the footballing community. The team hasn’t won a league title for 11 seasons. Before Arsenal won the 2014 FA Cup, the team had a trophy-less drought of almost nine years. On Twitter, the hashtag #SinceArsenalLastWonATrophy trended worldwide as a website called sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk used a clock to count up every year, month, day, hour, minute and second since…well, you probably get where I’m going with this.
On offense, Wenger has taught Arsenal to make the extra pass and to score beautiful goals, which is often quite a sight to see. Jack Wilshere’s goal last season against Norwich City was one of the most impressive build-up moments in the BPL season, but so many opportunities are wasted because the Gunners’ system is far too unselfish. Also, because Arsenal is such a young group, the team often looks erratic and inexperienced when playing on big stages— namely Champions League games and derbies against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. On so many occasions, the Gunners are able to build leads but then take their feet off the ignition, allowing the opposition to possess the ball and create more chances at the ends of games.
Wenger helped Arsenal put together one of the most dominant streaks in the history of the BPL (49 consecutive unbeaten games in 2003-04), but after an 11-year league title drought, the team needs change. At a certain point, Wenger’s reputation should not be so much reinforced by what he did more than a decade ago. The best teams are those that have talented players as well as a system and management that the players can rally around.
Though Arsene Wenger is the most decorated manager in Arsenal history and recently signed an extension through 2017, Arsenal’s board cannot be satisfied with so many consecutive seasons of underachievement. Let me tell you, Arsenal’s fan base isn’t pleased. The team is the fifth most valuable in the world, and it’s time that it started performing like a top-5 team. Arsenal fans, including myself, have spent too long sitting on the cusp of greatness.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons