I thought it would be interesting to see what people thought about Arsenal next season, and what their targets and expectations would be.
Since 2005 when we won the FA Cup against Manchester United, we have won nothing but consistently finished in the Top 4, giving us Champions League football (via a playoff).
But what are our expectations next season?
Another Top 4 finish?
Or will next season by different?
After we narrowly pinched 4th spot on the last day of the season, Gary Neville said the following about Arsenal:
“They have built a football stadium, they’re paying off their debt and they’re nearly there.
“If they move up now it will look like one of the most magnificent managerial performances if you look back in history.
“Half the Arsenal fans are annoyed because they think they should be doing more and should be doing better, but of all the madness and debt that surrounds football, what they have done is absolutely the right thing.
“What they need to do now, having nearly paid off their debt, is they need to go now. I think he knows, Arsène Wenger, that moment is now.”
So is he right?
With Gary Neville now a respected pundit for Sky Sports, his views make a lot of sense. We have suffered 8 seasons without winning anything and it’s no secret that sections of the Arsenal faithful are getting frustrated.
Personally, I sit in the middle. There is no doubt that Arsene Wenger has revolutionised Arsenal Football Club, on and off the pitch. He changed the face of English football with his methods and partly helped the Premier League what it is today. He has moved Arsenal from Highbury, a 38,000 seater stadium into The Emirates Stadium which holds over 60,000 supporters every other week. On a shoestring (and well reported £9 million net spend) he has managed to give us Champions League football season after season. Something other “big” club such as Liverpool, Tottenham and others would love to achieve. Yet, there is something missing.
Over the last few seasons, we have consistently sold our best players. Love them or hate them, we have seen Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry and Gael Clichy all leave for pastures new. Has the squad got gradually worse? Yes it has. Which perversely, adds to Arsene’s reputation as he has somehow managed to pip Tottenham to 4th despite having arguably the worse Arsenal squad he’s had since he joined in 1996, and Tottenham having arguably the best squad they’ve had in that time.
The big questions that Arsene doubters are asking are the following:
- Will we spend the required money to create a squad that can really compete at the top level?
- Are the expectations for next season to finish in the Top Four again? (even if this isn’t Arsenal’s “public” stance)
- Is it possible to get the “winning mentality back” after so long settling for Champions League football?
- Will we take the domestic cup competitions seriously?
- Is Arsene Wenger the man to take Arsenal to that next level?
Below, I attempt to answer the questions the best I can:
Will we spend the required money to create a squad that can really compete at the top level?
It’s a little to early to say, but the signs aren’t overly positive. There has only been one bid which has been made public, and that was the £18.5 million bid for Lars Bender which was turned down. At this stage, no-one knows if we’re going to follow that up. We’ve been linked with Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Gonzalo Higuain, Gareth Barry, Cesc Fabregas and other big names but despite having been “linked” with them for weeks, nothing has materialised. The Higuain “deal” seems the most worrying as “apparently” discussions have been going on for a matter of weeks. So it either hasn’t been concluded because Arsenal are haggling over the price or it was never on the table in the first place.
Are the expectations for next season to finish in the Top Four again? (even if this isn’t Arsenal’s “public” stance)
Publicly Arsenal will tell everyone that they will “do everything they can” to mount a real title challenge next year but realistically that won’t happen. Even if Arsenal do spend big on the 4/5 top class players they would need to compete, Arsene has created a culture of failure. It will be a massive challenge for Arsene to suddenly change the mentality in the changing room and create a squad full of winners. Fabergas and Van Persie left because they knew we couldn’t really challenge at the very top and honours would be best achieved elsewhere.
Is it possible to get the “winning mentality back” after so long settling for Champions League football?
I don’t know. Arsene is an extremely intelligent man and done phenomenal things at Arsenal, but is it too late into his career to be suddenly winning the top prizes again? The biggest problem is while we’re clearing the dead wood from the squad, the quality that’s left isn’t good enough. In seasons gone by, we had top players like Cesc, Van Persie, Henry, etc. that you knew were good enough but now we have players (and no disrespect to them) who aren’t in the same league. Giroud, Podolski, Gervinho et al are not Premier League winning class. We only have a handful of players (Wilshere, Gibbs, Sagna, Arteta and Mertesacker) who I truly believe would be good enough to get into the other Top Four clubs starting elevens.
Will we take the domestic cup competitions seriously?
As the quality of the squad has gradually got worse, Arsene has found himself playing stronger sides in the cup competitions. The sides that lost against Bradford and Blackburn last season on paper were more than good enough to comfortably win those games. I believe that he is taking the cups more seriously but after so long “disrespecting” the cups, do the players believe that they are important anymore?
Is Arsene Wenger the man to take Arsenal to that next level?
And that is the million dollar question. Is Arsene the man?
The two key issues here are does he have the same skill in the transfer market to recruit real quality, and can he lead a successful side once again after 8 seasons finishing empty-handed.
On the first point, it doesn’t look good. He may have only spent £9 million net over the last few seasons but some of the purchases have been questionable. Marouane Chamakh was free but put on stupid wages and has contributed very little to the club. Andrei Arshavin was unbelievable for a year then totally useless for the remaining years. Gervinho is a player that I still don’t understand why he was brought to the club. We’ve also had Sebastien Squillaci who was useless – we’ve had too many players that have been brought in to “strengthen” the squad and ended up being pretty much useless. Either way, it is Arsene’s responsibility to get the best out of the players, or failing that, not bring players to Arsenal that aren’t up to the standard. The manager has to take the blame for the poor players at the club.
Koscielny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Arteta and Cazorla have been excellent signings, while Podolski and Giroud have been moderate successes. Not a massive disaster overall, but definitely room for improvement. Arsene needs to make sure only top quality is added to the squad now and no mercenaries who do f*ck all and pick up their pay cheque.
The the other issue is whether he is capable of leading another title winning side again.
This one is down to whether you think he has been operating with his “hands tied” and therefore hasn’t had the chance to create a trophy-winning team, or whether you think Arsene doesn’t have the tactical knowhow any more to create a consistent team.
A common complaint in recent seasons was the defensive naivety of the team. But, somehow for the last 10 games of last season we seemed to have cracked it. We won 8 games and drew the other 2. We scored 19 goals and only conceded 5 goals, and in those games we kept an impressive 5 clean sheets and in the other 5 games, we only conceded a solitary goal. So whatever Arsene did to turn it around, it seems to have worked.
If we can add some real firepower to the new-found defensive stability, then we could have something special to build on. However, if we return to our old ways next season then it will be very much of the same once again.
With an apparent “war chest” at his disposal, the excuses next season will be few and far between if we end up trophy less yet again.
In a way, in terms of pressure and the expectation to deliver trophies, this could be Arsene’s biggest season yet.