It’s all Wenger’s fault.
It’s all Kroenke’s fault.
Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, like everything in life, where you currently stand is never the by-product of one singular decision, but a number of decisions – both big and small.
This is an examination of where and how Arsenal have gotten to where they are today. The road, needless to say, hasn’t been pretty.
May 17, 2006 – Barcelona 2 Arsenal 1
I won’t forget where I was this day – working my student job as a butcher – and asking every customer for an update on the game.
It was a gutting loss, and I’ll never forget the rumors beginning immediately – Henry and Cesc both leaving to join the Catalans. I didn’t want to believe it – did anyone? There was still hope. There was optimism. From the official Arsenal website: “Fortunately, this young team will come again and every Arsenal fan can be proud of their team this evening.”
As for how it’s affected the team, here’s Wenger himself, on losing the final: “Unfortunately, in the career, maybe the Champions League final that we lost. We were 13 minutes away from winning the final.”
June 25, 2007 – Henry Joins Barcelona
One of the top players to ever wear the Arsenal kit leaves. Yes, there were rumors even then of Wenger leaving, but Henry seemed relieved. As Henry mentioned during his introduction: “It has been a long chase, but I am finally here.”
We capitulated to a football giant and it was an indication that we were not willing to build, but rather develop and sell. I’ll be honest, this is a moment that still hurts.
We also lost Freddie Ljungberg but gained Sagna and Eduardo and Adebayor was ready to take the reigns as the lead number 9.
February 23, 2008 – Eduardo Breaks His Leg
The 2 -2 tie to Birmingham during this game, began a string of four straight successive draws and moved Arsenal out of the top spot in the Premiership. Regardless of your opinion of Eduardo as a player, he was beginning to feel comfortable in the league and this injury was a catalyst that slowed the momentum of the team down. It was horrifying and easily ranks as one of the worst football injuries in history.
We also saw some pretty big losses
- 5 – 1 loss to Tottenham (League Cup)
- 4 – 0 loss to ManU (FA Cup)
- 5 – 3 Aggregate loss to Liverpool (Champions League)
July 18, 2009 – Adebayor transferred to Manchester City
Regardless of what your opinion of Adebayor is today, as an Arsenal player he was a player of quality, and his partnership with van Persie up-front provided us with an attacking combination that was an adequate replacement for Henry (from a production viewpoint) and, I remember, relishing what the future would hold.
However, it was a transfer to Premiership rival that was a further indication that we were now beginning to enter a stage of developing and selling players. It is one thing to lose your best players to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid – it was another to lose them to upstarts (at the time) like Manchester City – a troubling trend emerged and one I’d argue we never escaped from.
But at least we brought in Thomas Vermaelen – so that was … something! Oh yes, we sold Kolo Toure too to Manchester City
The Fabregas Saga – Seemingly Felt Like Forever
We all know the story of Cesc Fabregas. Wanted to play for the Catalans. Joined their youth team, Arsene Wenger came in and provided him with an opportunity to play (always with a buy-back clause), Fabregas excelled and when he did, Barcelona came calling back. It began an off-again, on-again, will he or won’t he situation. He did leave it just took two years.
April 11, 2011 – The Day of Infamy, Stan Kroenke Increase his Shareholding
Here’s what the Kroenke had to say:
“We are excited about the opportunity to increase our involvement with and commitment to Arsenal. Arsenal is a fantastic club with a special history and tradition and a wonderful manager in Arsène Wenger. We intend to build on this rich heritage and take the club to new success.”
Here’s what Wenger had to say:
“I have worked with Stan Kroenke at board meetings over the past couple of years and I believe he has the best interests of Arsenal at heart. He understands the club’s heritage and traditions and our ambition to run the club in a way which protects our long-term future.”
Here’s what Peter Hill-Wood had to say:
“The board of directors and I consider it a key responsibility to protect the ethos and spirit of the club. Mr Kroenke, although relatively new to Arsenal, has shown himself to be a man who values and respects the history and traditions of this very special club that we cherish. We are confident that he will be a safe custodian of its future.”
August/September 2011 – A Sad Moment of Realization
This entire saga will be part of another article, because looking back, what a mess that was, but here’s a quick bullet point explanation of what happened:
- Fabregas leaves for £30 million
- Clichy leaves to join Manchester City
- Nasri transferred to Manchester City
The only additions we made (until the last few moments prior to the window closing) were:
- Carl Jenkinson
Oh and then we decided to, without any seeming strategy, agree on transfers for:
- Park Chu-young
- Andre Santos
- Per Mertesacker
- Mikel Arteta
- Yossi Benayoun
Oh and let’s not forget that 8-2 thumping Manchester United provided. No strategy. No synergy.
July 4, 2012 – the van Persie Saga
What happened? Oh nothing, just that van Persie said he was no longer going to play for the club. Arsenal in fact knew this was the case (hence the Giroud transfer). At least the money was put to good use bringing in Santi, but where did van Persie go to again? Looking back, how brilliants was the transfer of Alex Song as well?
March 15, 2015 – The Monaco Draw
The definition of a missed opportunity. Our team was quality. Alexis, Ozil, Giroud had remarkable chemistry. Falcao was loaned away. They led their attack with Berbatov. We had avoided Bavaria entirely.
What happened? A 3 – 1 loss at Emirates. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. It ended our Champions League campaign and it still hurts and shocks me to think about it.
January 17, 2016, Arsenal were leading the Premier league. Even though we would be Leicester late in the season, what I will argue was our best opportunity to win, simply drifted away and we finished 10 points back, never really threatening to finish top.
What became evident was, psychologically, it seemed we couldn’t handle the chase to win the league, and instead a group comprised of many current Arsenal players, simply can’t win the league. This was further compounded by the 5 -1 aggregate defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League.
All of this leads to where we are today. Yes, last season we finished out of the top 4 and had to endure another saga, let’s label it the Wenger saga and add it to the list, but this has been an eleven year process.
No club is perfect. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United etc. have all experienced ups and downs, yet all have made attempts to be better clubs. To build towards winning a league, silverware etc. Yet, what can we say about Arsenal. We have spent money in the transfer market without any long or short-term strategy. We seem to be in a continuous crisis with our top players and seem to be comfortable with it.
Eleven years ago we lost the Champions League final. That loss both represents the apex of Arsenal and its gradual decline to where we are today. We’re still looking to beat that Barcelona team.