As no shortage of you will know, I’m an Arsenal supporter. However, I'm definitely not the type that will say 'I didn't see it'.
The current state the Gunners team is the most dire I have seen. Please note that I refer to team rather than club. Afterall, in 2017 Deloitte ranked Arsenal the 6th richest football club worth an estimated $597.1 million however, having missed the Champions League in 2017 and most likely to miss again in 2018, that status will inevitably drop.
More concerning though is the fact that the squad no longer plays the most attractive football in the Premier League, have no identity as a team and are completely one dimensional.
While watching the North London derby, I remembered back to how previous Arsenal squads containing the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Thomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas et al would obliterate the Lilywhites at every opportunity. There was such a gulf in class between the footballing side of the clubs that Arsenal supporters coined St. Totteringham Day the occasion on which Arsenal could no longer be caught in the standings by their lesser rival. A celebration too many perhaps.
Well my friends, times have changed. Arsenal were outplayed from start to finish in the most recent derby and were it not for the heroics of Petr Cech, the result could have been much worse than the flattering 1-0 it finished. Spurs were rampant with Mousa Dembele pulling the strings allowing Delle Alli, Harry Kane and the formidable Christian Erikson to penetrate the abysmal Arsenal back-line at will. The towering defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez is one of the best in the league and shut-out any opportunity for speedy Arsenal frontman, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang to get a sniff. Heung-Min Son was everlasting as he imposed his relentless energy on the suffering Arsenal squad. The management and tactical astuteness of manager Mauricio Pochettino to expose the Reds frailties was admirable - a reason he is one of the most sought-after in Europe.
To the contrary, Arsenal looked like a pick up side of 11 skillful but individual players. Besides Jack Wilshere, not one player looked like an International and the play was one-dimensional. They absorbed pressure but seemed to have no plan on the counter-attack but to run with the wind. The only approach that seemed to work was playing a long ball over the Spurs back line to Aubameyang, adverse to styles historically applied, but they only deployed the tactic three times in 90 minutes. Substitutions were predictable in their nature and the time they were made. Bring on some attacking flair, similar to that on the pitch, at 65-70 minutes with the intention of nicking a last minute equaliser. The dugout looked no different in style than what was on the pitch – no plan B! Arsenal deciding to sell their only solid target man in Olivier Giroud to local rival Chelsea in the January was tragic mismanagement. Not only because Giroud offers a different competency but also because Aubameyang is not eligible to play in the Europa League leaving Arsenal with one recognized striker in Alexandre Lacazette. The Europa League is Arsenal’s only chance of qualifying for the Champions League next year.
I cannot speak to the back-office dealings of Arsenal as a football club but can speak to what I have witnessed as an ardent supporter. I have the utmost respect for Arsene Wenger but have seen him sell Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri to Manchester City; Robin Van Persie and Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United; Giroud to Chelsea while opting out of Fabregas’s buy-back clause with Barcelona thus allowing him to also join the Blues. In their prime, which was at roughly the same time, those nine players would get into most Premier League sides – a couple as impact substitutes. It begs the question to whether Wenger has become a scout for the rest of the Premier League’s big guns? Bring in players from foreign leagues, let them cut their teeth at the Emirates and then sell them onto the highest bidder, most likely a team vying for the same top-four position Arsenal is. The aforementioned players offer a diversity of talent and skill-sets and could be put together as a multi-dimensional squad with the right leadership and management. Unfortunately, Wenger has replaced them with talented but frighteningly similar players. The current crop is one of the simplest to play against for all teams in the division as they’re so predictable. In possession, the ball moves east to west rather than north and without possession, there is no presence to intimidate and no organisation to harry opponents into submission of the ball.
Worryingly, this Arsenal squad will slightly tarnish a great man’s legacy. A coach that could spot talent from a continent away and develop the status quo into superstar has been overtaken. A manager that had the respect of everyone in football now has his own self-respect to save. I sadly state that the thoroughbred known as the Le Professeur, who will be forever remembered in Arsenal folklore, has unfortunately run his course.
Thank you and goodbye Arsene.