Arsenal and the Dangers of Complacency

This year marked the first time a club not named Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City won England’s top division since 1994-1995. Not to take any credit away from the EPL champions, Leicester City, but their success was in no small part due to the serious underperformance of the league’s top tier. For a large majority of the season, the title race consisted of only Leicester City, Tottenham and the mid-season favorites Arsenal, who led on New Years Day. Although the Gunners finished in second place, for the most part, Arsenal did not play like England’s runner-ups. Despite a strong start to the season, Arsenal flat-lined halfway through the year, winning just 8 of 19 remaining Premier League games. League postion by result

For Arsenal fans, this season’s outcome has become an all too familiar story. For 20 years now, Arsenal has stayed faithful to legendary manager, Arsené Wenger — but after 13 years without a league title, it is no longer clear whether this trust is still warranted. Since Arsené Wenger’s arrival in 1996, the Gunners have won three league titles and finished in the EPL top four every single year, but lately these accomplishments seem to be the only thing keeping Wenger at The Emirates.

To many supporters’ agonizing dismay, the past 13 seasons have only granted 2 pieces of silverware—the 2014 and 2015 FA cup titles. Those are nice, yes, but everyone knows what the true prize in English football is, and it seemed at the midway point this season that Arsenal were well on their way to Wenger’s fourth title. But as Arsenal fans endured yet another disappointing blunder for the crown, Wenger’s job security has once again gone up for debate.  Currently, Wenger’s contract ends after the 2016-2017 season, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him leave during this offseason, but if results aren’t brought forth to Arsenal in the coming year, Wenger could soon be out of the job.

the invincibles
2003-2004 English Premier League Champions

One of the biggest concerns seen at Arsenal over the years has been the club’s inability to both gain and hold onto talent. In the past decade, Arsenal have seen starlets like Ashley Cole, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, and even Arsenal legend Theirry Henry leave the club in search of higher wages and fuller trophy cabinets. Though it must be noted that Arsené Wenger does not have full control over team spending and contract negotiations, he must still take some responsibility for the team’s annual frailty in the transfer window.

However, in recent years Wenger has made a significant effort to change Arsenal’s reputation as a “selling team.” In the last three seasons, the manager has succeeded in signing huge stars such as Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. But the ability to sign players is simply not enough, as Wenger is still yet to prove that he can hold onto and properly maintain his home grown stars.

No team has been more ravaged by injuries over the past three seasons than Arsenal. Once promising young stars such as Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott have seen their futures grow rotten under the hands of Wenger after series of reoccurring injuries. However, nothing sums up Arsenal’s tragic tale of bumps and bruises better than former midfielder Abou Diaby. In Diaby’s nine seasons at Arsenal, the french star recorded over 42 injuries. Reporters estimated that Diaby missed almost 4 & 1/2 years of his playing career due to injuries. In Diaby’s final four seasons, he only played in 22 games and competed in only 16 total minutes of play from 2013-2015. And yet, until 2015, Wenger kept the Frenchman at the club. At times, Wenger was known to use the news of Diaby coming back from injury as an excuse to not sign a new holding midfielder. But whether it’s Wenger holding on to players who are injury prone, or simply overplaying his talent to the point where they get hurt, it’s time for the man in charge to be held responsible for the team’s abysmal fitness record.

Abou Diaby
Midfielder Abou Diaby missed a total of 4 1/2 years due to injury

Injuries aside, the biggest issue Arsenal faced this season was its inability to produce at the striker position. With current striker Olivier Giroud failing to score a goal in 15 straight EPL appearances, it has become overwhelmingly apparent that the Gunners need a newer, better striker in the future if they have any aspirations of winning the EPL title.

The need for a new striker is not a new problem for Arsenal. Yet, year after year Wenger chooses to only acquire young, somewhat moldable talent like Yaya Sanogo and Danny Welbeck. While this strategy is clearly motivated by past successes like Theirry Henry and Robin Van Persie, it has been years since Wenger has struck gold. Arsenal needs to buy big for once–it’s not like they don’t have the money. If it all comes crashing down because Wenger got too aggressive, that’s at least better than watching Arsenal fall short once again.

Three titles and a European final appearance is nothing to overlook, but Wenger should no longer be able to ride the wave of past accomplishments. Finishing top four in the EPL can’t be good enough for Arsenal fans anymore, and if Wenger fails to produce results next season then he should be treated like any other manager in England.

Images Via Statto.com, Arsenal.com, Getty