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Arsenal FC: A Football Club In Decline?
Arsenal fans coming away from the first league game of the season against Aston Villa last week would tell you that it is a club in turmoil. Arsene Wenger has become disillusioned with the goals of the club and is damaging their once great reputation as one of the best teams in European Football. In the past 16 years Arsenal have not once been out of the Champions League places. Had it not been for extensive investment into Manchester City and Chelsea and they would most likely be Manchester United's closest rivals for a title challenge throughout this period. Arsenal are one of the best run clubs in football, but this can leave fans frustrated and in question of the direction of their team. Whilst Arsenal still play attractive football and qualify for Europe's stellar competition year on year, many fans have called for the resignation of both Manager Arsene Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis. Therefore a question arises; are Arsenal a football club in decline?
The frustration of Arsenal fans over recent seasons has been more than obvious. After one of the most fruitful periods in their history during the 2000's, Arsenal have not won a trophy for around eight years. Champions League qualification has been a constant throughout Arsene Wenger's reign, but seemingly it is not enough to both keep their best players at the club and to attract further world class reinforcements. For the first summer in recent memory, Arsenal have not sold their best player to a domestic or European rival. However, they are also yet to spend any of the rumored multi million pound war chest at Arsene Wenger's disposal (excluding a £387,000 compensation deal with Yaya Sanogo). Much was thought to lie on the fact that Arsenal were yet to have fully qualified for The Champions League proper, but this was quickly dispelled after coming through their two leg tie against Fenerbache unscathed. Since their last trophy success, Arsenal fans have waved goodbye to Thierry Henry (Barcelona: £16 million), Alexander Hleb (Barcelona: £11.9 million), Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City: £25 million), Kolo Toure (Manchester City: £16 million), Gael Clichy (Manchester City: £7 million), Samir Nasri (Manchester City: £25 million), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona: £30 million), Alex Song (Barcelona: £14.9 million) and finally Robin Van Persie (Manchester United: £24 million). Although Arsenal have reinvested in the past, they have spent just paltry amounts in comparison to rebuild the squad and mount a serious title challenge once more.
This generation of Arsenal fans are used to success. Across the 2003/2004 season the club went 49 league games without defeat; an English record in the top flight. However, a team that included club legends such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg, Patrick Viera and Sol Campbell is but a distant memory. The current crop is still an extremely good side capable of playing attractive football, but they lack star quality. Players such as Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and the ever-improving Olivier Giroud will sustain Arsenal as a team in contention for a European place this season. The problem remains though that Arsenal fans have been spoilt. During that famous season they saw arguably the greatest player in their history in Thierry Henry in full flight. Add to that the mercurial talents of the previously mentioned 'unbeatables' and you can begin to understand the fans current displeasure.
The word on many fans lips is ambition. Arsenal fans pay one of the highest prices in the world for their season tickets, but are yet to see a return on their own investment. Last season Arsenal enjoyed a late run of form that saw them pip North London rivals Tottenham to fourth place by a single point. At this stage, all Arsenal fans see is the fact that the teams above them (bar Manchester United) have become stronger, whilst their closest rivals have spent vast amounts in the transfer window whilst showing no signs of slowing down. Yes, Tottenham are losing Gareth Bale but they are building an extremely strong squad with the proceeds in Soldado, Capoue, Lamela, Paulinho, Chadli and now Chiriches and Erikesen. Many believed that following the 1-3 home loss to Aston Villa, Arsenal would be sent into a storm of panic buying, not unlike the period two seasons ago following an 8-2 mauling by Manchester United at Old Trafford where Arsenal bought Per Mertesacker, Michael Arteta and André Santos on deadline day. A similar spree, (although not ideal) would go some way to appease their fans this season.
Following a 1-3 win away at Fulham on Saturday, and subsequent qualification for the Champions League proper, the transfer rumour mill has slowed. As a Tottenham fan, I am pleased they won these games for two reasons. Firstly, had they not qualified for Champions league football then they would be playing far less games this season and their main focus would become the Premier League. Secondly, the away win at Fulham has dropped the emphasis on buying players, and Wenger is one win away from being a 'genius' once more. Winning reduces the pressure on Wenger to buy, but as the season wears on the gaps in Arsenals squad will be plain for all to see. Arsenal have an extremely strong starting 11, of that there is no question. But one sending off on the opening day and an injury to left back Kieran Gibbs immediately threw the team into difficulties. The defeat to Aston Villa highlighted the fact that Arsenals squad lacks depth. If they are unable to attract players in the remaining days of the window, this problem will only get worse. An over reliance on players such as the injury prone Jack Wilshere will arise and it will not be long before the fans are calling for Wengers head once more. Before the game against Aston Villa last weekend, many fans seem to have forgotten that they were in the same position this time last year. Numerous fans called for Wenger's resignation, and it looked as if his 16 years at Arsenal could be at and end. However, after once again guiding Arsenal to a Champions League berth, all was seemingly forgotten. The fact that Arsenal celebrated that day as if they had won a trophy showcased not just relief, but emphasized their position in English football.
Arsenal have somehow managed to qualify year on year for the Champions league and you must pay testament to that. I cannot deny that Arsene Wenger is a great coach that is without question. However, Arsenal have not changed with the times. With the emergence of teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City as a result of wealthy backers and continued dominance by Manchester United, Arsenal face being left behind. Tottenham and Daniel Levy are doing everything they can this season to finally bridge the gap in a period that could see their spending pass the £100 million mark. Yes, Arsenal have had a stadium to pay for in recent seasons which has limited their spending, but a lack of ambition will filter to the players. In the same way Manchester United have struggled to acquire the right players this season due to uncertainties surrounding David Moyes, Arsenal could find themselves in the same position. Yes, they have now qualified for the Champions League but many players would rather sign for a club such as Chelsea, Manchester City, or Real Madrid because they have an actual chance of winning these competitions rather than just taking part. Higuain moved to Napoli, Julio Cesar looks likely to move to Benfica and Gustavo even chose Wolfsburg over Arsenal.10 years ago, these same players would have jumped at the opportunity to play under arsene Wenger and alongside Thierry Henry or Patrick Viera. Unfortunately, this is now no longer the case for Arsenal fans. Arsene Wenger has stated on numerous occasions that it is extremely difficult to get the right players for the right prices. However, when you see the activity of some of the so-called 'lesser teams' in the league, it doesn't quite add up. Players such as Bony, Lovren, Van Wolfswinkel, Osvaldo, Mignolet, Wanyama, Amorebieta, Fer and Arouna Kone have all signed for such teams, and would undoubtedly have improved Arsenal's squad.
At this moment in time, it feels as if something must change drastically if Arsenal are to stake their claim at the top of English football once more. This season could signal the first time that they do not qualify for the Blue ribbon football event of the Champions League in 16 years, and it is a slippery slope from that point on. Liverpool are in the midst of such a decline and rebuilding period under Brendan Rogers following their last qualification in 2009. Should Arsenal do the same this season, their continued period of relative success could well and truly be over.
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