It is hard to believe that the final leg of another season nears and almost the exact same critique that is so consistently blasted at Arsenal will resound once again.
Throw it back to October 2015 and Arsenal were level with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, trailing only on goal difference. Going into the New Year, they had overturned this deficit and topped the league rankings, sparking wild optimism amongst the Gunners faithful that finally, finally “this may be our year”.
And indeed, they had good reason to be hopeful. In the midst of the frequent failings of their usual title rivals, this season has presented the best opportunity for Arsenal to break their 12-year league trophy drought. But – and with an air of hilarious predictability – Arsenal are seemingly going to bottle it, again.
It is perhaps the inevitability of it all that bears the most pain for Arsenal fans. Time after time the lack of a ‘world class’ striker is mentioned as a stumbling block, the lack of top quality replacements in central midfield in the case of injuries is flagged, and the lack of a bullish ‘Tony Adams-esque’ leader is questioned. Yet year on year none of these issues are addressed by their manager. The season will start with a lot of promise and buzz and then, as if someone flicked a switch, February arrives and all of the good work unravels as swiftly as an old shoelace.
Having said all of that, though, Arsenal could still win the league this year. Leicester City lead the way with Arsenal 8 points off with a possible 27 up for grabs, it is not impossible. But ask any Arsenal fan if they even have a sniff of the title this year and before you can even finish the question they will cut you off with a resounding “no!” Although it is clearly very possible, entertaining talk of winning the league hurts so much because it is the probability, not the possibility, of winning it the fans have absolutely no belief in. The painful repetition of mediocre start, gather momentum, near the top at Christmas, drastic slump in February/March, 4th place in May is becoming like that terrible film you’ve seen before – you know what’s going to happen, but you watch it anyway just in case you might like it this time, but don’t. Arsenal fans have seen their team crumble under pressure too many times to warrant having any belief that this time could, in any conceivable way, turn out to be different.
If they do mount a late charge and clawback Leicester to become Premier League champions, however, it would be a magnificent feat and will perhaps serve as redemption for boss Arsene Wenger, who has come under as much criticism as at any stage of his Arsenal tenure this season. This though is what Arsenal fans should fear the most.
Wenger believes in his players more so than anyone, which is perhaps both his greatest strength and weakness. As previously mentioned, the lack of a 25/30 goal a season striker is something that anyone with a vested interest in Arsenal identifies as a problem. Yet Wenger refuses to address this issue, citing the lack of world class strikers at sensible prices as a reason. Well sorry Arsene, but you are not shopping in DfS where deals are present all year round. Bang average players are being bought and sold for in excess of £20 million these days and Wenger simply refuses to adapt to the changing market.
Should Arsenal win the Premier League then, instead of Wenger to wipe the sweat off his brow and think, “Phew! That was harder work than it should have been! Let’s make sure we strengthen to make it more comfortable next time” it is infinitely more likely that he will think, “See! I was right as I said all along, we don’t need to spend millions on players, we’re good enough as we are”. Cue the next decade-long dry spell of league trophies.
That sort of stubbornness is likely to drive the Emirates faithful to the brink of a breakdown; another transfer window surely cannot pass with speculation linking Arsenal to Benzema to fill every back page only for the window to close having signed no outfield players at all. Not winning the league this time round, having had multiple opportunities to do so could be the catalyst to spring the owners and manager into the sort of action fans have been calling for years.
Insanity is often described as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome. Whilst I will not go as far as to label Arsene Wenger insane, change is needed it Arsenal. The distinct lack of trophies in Arsenal’s recent history is something fans are frequently reminded of by rival supporters, and given the future problems a League title could bring perhaps one more barren season may not be such a bad thing.