Arsenal fans dream of winning the Premier League again. It’s been 11 years since Arsene Wenger has gotten his hands on the famous trophy, and it looks like it could be a few more yet before a Gunners boss raises it aloft. Many people believe that their real aim should be a genuine run at the Champions League.
They’re arguably a side better suited to the style of play in Europe. The less physical nature of games mean that that their slight, creative players can thrive and create more chances, while the likes of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla are afforded more time on the ball.
However, just a quick glance at Arsenal’s recent record in the Champions League shows that they have been ousted at the round of 16 stage for the last five seasons in a row. They always seem to come unstuck when faced with any sort of challenge, they are not a side who can go away from home and grab a result, nor are they a team who can go and hit teams with pace and drive on the break.
The French manager has only led the club to the final once. A defeat to Barcelona in 2006 was a bitter pill to swallow after Jens Lehmann’s red card robbed the north London club of their real chance to be crowned kings of the continent. However, since then there has been just one semi-final and a pair of quarter-finals.
Moving to the Emirates was constantly used as an excuse for the lack of investment in top class players, but nine years on from the opening of the ground that excuse wears thin. This is the season that Wenger must start to deliver on some of the promise in his squad, if not in the Premier League then at least in Europe.
They now have elite players amongst their ranks. Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are the two that stand out, but you can add to that also the name of Petr Cech and, at a push, Santi Cazorla. It is a settled squad, only Cech was added in the summer so the line about players needing to bond and learn to play together will not wash. It is time the board and the supporters demand progress in European competition.
However, with Wenger in charge that progress looks unlikely. Be it through stubbornness or an obsession with value, Wenger has not added enough to the mix. Yes, Cech was a great signing, a no brainer. But he represented a fairly small outlay, something the Frenchman is familiar with. The signings of Ozil and Sanchez were not ones officially sanctioned by Wenger. He had to be forced into bringing them to the club. It’s not that he didn’t want them, it’s that he didn’t want to pay such extortionate prices for them.
Wenger’s moral are admirable, but that does not win trophies. He is a chivalrous old knight in an era of gun-slinging cut-throat yuppies. He spoke of how the £36m fee Manchester United paid for Anthony Martial was ridiculous, commenting on how the top quality player were not available. The France striker is a player that Wenger would undoubtedly have been keeping tabs on, but his price would have seen the Arsenal boss balk. Ironically he is a player that would suit Wenger’s style much more than he does Louis van Gaal’s.
The bloody mindedness of the man not to go and sign a centre-forward will cost Arsenal dear this term, you could argue it already is. The fact he has gone into a campaign with just Mathieu Flamini as understudy to the wildly inexperienced Francis Coquellin also looks a little naïve. Defensively there are also questions. Laurent Koscielny is a fantastic defender but he need a commanding presence alongside him, neither Per Mertesacker nor Gabriel have yet to prove they can provide that on a consistent basis.
He will say there were no players good enough available, but plenty of players moved this summer who would have improved Wenger’s squad. The aforementioned Martial is one, Nicolas Otamendi and Morgan Schneiderlin are both players they could have made moves for, but instead Wenger opted to sit on his hands.
Arsenal are a club forever linked with excellent footballers, but as soon as they are wanted elsewhere they are easily bullied out of deals thanks to their manager’s wariness.
The Premier League already looks beyond their grasp, and for Wenger to prove that his plan is still working, he must make it to the last-eight of the Champions League at the very least. Anything else would be a failure and it would surely be one failure too many for the former Monaco boss.