Free transfer: Legend <----------------------> Free transfer: Laggard
Arsene Wenger laments the changing expectations of fans.
" People want to see Lionel Messi. They don't want to see a promising guy. First of all the name gives hope. When a guy has no name people are already sceptical, so it's much more difficult for us. "
Who wouldn't want Leo Messi? But Arsenal fans are more realistic than that expecting the Barca whiz to come over to the Emirates after being at the top of the world. There was a time when this wasn't an issue because Wenger's risks at finding immensely successful bargains in all areas of the field established his legendary status. Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicholas Anelka, Roberto Pires, Kolo Toure, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Alex Song. They didn't just turn out exceptional, they also played as if they had earned the right to wear that jersey. But that record is seriously in jeopardy in recent years. With Cesc Fabregas's departure, the Wenger revolution officially ended after seven years of incubation and little silverware.
To be fair, Wenger is now a victim of his own success. After all, how can you top such signings? Which is why scouts are under increasing pressure to uncover hidden gems to carry on this tradition. Something that Wenger points out. However much of this has to do with the board turning to Wenger to drive sales of its top players for profit and then asking him to plug the gaps while a new generation has not shown such readiness. All the while shifting goalposts of success to placate an increasingly restless fanbase.
The present squad reflects that uneasy transition from ideology into something resembling a quixotic patchwork quilt. Arsenal have a decent first XI and it can deliver convincingly when it wants. It's right after that we see a steep cliff. The bench is a medley of players that showed initial promise but failed to deliver, and a steady creep towards older but not necessarily marquee names.
Denilson on loan, Nicklas Bendtner on loan. Park Chu-young on loan. On the bench sit players Wenger has lost complete faith in. Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, Sebastian Squillaci, Johan Djourou who have few to no appearances this season. Then there is Abou Diaby on the permanently crocked list. The players who get regularly called on like Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey fail to provide an impact. We have had a goalkeeper problem since Jens Lehmann left four years ago. It's to be brutally honest, quite a mess, and in terms of money spent on transfers and wages, a rather costly one.
The steady stream of top quality players nurtured by Arsene Wenger leaving the club without any heir apparent also adds to this sense of expediency. When a Cesc Fabregas or RVP leaves, one expects not unreasonably that there are worthy successors who will step into their shoes with little drop off in performance. However, that is not the case with a newly hybrid Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and the Ox still in development mode and a bench that has little depth. There is therefore tremendous pressure on the reinforcements that Wenger does bring to the side, for e.g., in Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud, all new to the EPL. Hitting the ground running becomes crucial. Add the absence of a recognized holding midfielder this whole season and you get a diminution in the possession game and vulnerability towards counterattacks. Mikel Arteta is a fine footballer but his role at Everton was very different from the one he now has at Arsenal and it shows in his failed tackles and difficulty organizing the backfield.
The late Tony Greig captained an English XI in the 70's famous for a long tail that rarely wagged. Which meant the top order had to be pretty damn perfect. That's Arsenal for you without Greig's inspiring personality to fall back on. We don't need Leo Messi. What we need is a change in emphasis defining success not only in economic terms but in sporting achievements. We can't keep forever hiding under that fig leaf because in the end the football business is a continuum. To neglect one for the other in the long term will prove disastrous.