After a blip that saw not only Arsenal’s title challenge come to an end, but also left them out of the Champions League places – culminating in that horrific 3-0 defeat to their nearest challengers Everton – The Gunners’ hopes of a 17th consecutive campaign in Europe’s elite competition have been fulfilled having won their last four league games, coupled with the Evertonians losing to Crystal Palace, Southampton and Manchester City in recent games.
But from what looked like being their best performing season in years (they have topped the table for the most weeks out of anyone this campaign), it could easily have turned out to be Arsene Wenger’s worst since he took over the club in 1996 should they have dropped points in their last three fixtures and finished below the top four then lost the FA Cup final to Hull City.
When their coveted fourth place was severely under threat from Roberto Martinez’s Everton side, Wenger resorted to sound bites that appeared to try and deflect attention away from his side’s own shortcomings; criticising the loan system that has proved so fruitful for The Toffees; then saying how television companies favour other sides in Europe when it comes to the amount of rest each respective team gets.
First of all, Arsenal have been exploiting the loan system since its origins – although ‘exploiting’ is probably the wrong word to use in this case – notably bringing Thierry Henry back to the club from New York Red Bulls, playing four games including an FA Cup Third Round tie against Leeds United in which he scored the winning goal during a pretty fruitless second spell with the club. Might Leeds have grievances with that turn of events?
It seems most, if not all, managers that complain about the loan system only do so when a player entwined in the set-up has a major influence, whether it be in one match or the overall campaign. If one has a player on loan doing the business for them, you won’t hear them spouting off about how unjust the whole situation is, even if they do feel that way.
Wenger brought in Emilano Viviano and an already injured Kim Källström on loan, so he is applying the same methods as the clubs he criticises, just not as successfully. But whose fault is that? Certainly not Martinez’s; whose side have borne the riches to be had from the arguably dubious system in acquiring the services of Gerard Deulofeu, Gareth Barry, Romelu Lukaku and Lacina Traoré.
Despite them not fighting for the Premier League title for nigh on a decade, Arsenal were unlikely to grab Lukaku on loan from Chelsea as they are traditionally closer challengers to the Stamford Bridge outfit than Everton. If they had got him in, or someone of equal measure, then they would have entered the final weeks of the season with the title still in their sights. But as usual, their ‘principles’ have got in the way.
Wenger says he would happily spend some of the vast amount of money he has at his disposal if the right players were known and/or available to him. Manchester City and Chelsea seem to find them – Sergio Aguero and Juan Mata to name but a load from the past three years – so maybe Arsenal need to overhaul their scouting system in order to unearth the quality players needed for them to compete for the league championship again.
Virtually everyone – experts and others alike – that has an opinion on football opined that Arsenal’s lack of activity in both transfer windows would cost them. And they have been proved right once again, unless of course, fourth place is the be all and end all of their ambitions. If the manic celebrations at St. James’ Park on the final day of last season, and the constant stream of ‘selfies’, are anything to go by, then that would appear to be the case.
An FA Cup on top of their usual Champions League place would make it their best season since the 2004-05 campaign, but it could have been far more successful had their scouting system been better prepared. Because that is ultimately what it is down to if, as stated last summer, they finally have the funds available to spend big. And though it’s unlikely, it could still be their worst under Wenger should one or two results don’t go their way. We’ve seen that before haven’t we?
What do you think of Arsene’s excuses? And what has cost them the title this season?