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It Was Supposed to Be Different This Time For Arsene and Arsenal

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, this time it was going to be different, this time we were going to be back challenging for the real prizes; yet here we are again, we haven’t even reached the end of February and yet unless we somehow find a way to get past Bayern Munich and progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2010, all we will have to look forward to is our customary race for the top four and potentially another day out at Wembley, unless of course we encounter any of the other top 6 teams en route. Once again we ask ourselves is this enough as Arsenal fans?

In April last year I questioned whether the modern game had left Arsène Wenger behind-(, reaching the sad but inevitable conclusion that it probably had. As a hopefully rational supporter and follower of Arsenal Football Club, I have to date refused to be drawn into pinning my colours to the mast of either of the extreme camps that have been defined amongst Gooners (ie I am neither part of the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ nor necessarily think ‘ArsèneKnows Best’). Instead I prefer to see myself as someone who would love Arsène to return us to the very pinnacle of the domestic game and to establish ourselves amongst the European elite, but who is capable of being objectively critical about the performance of the manager and the squad.

After escaping the shackles of the stadium debt and getting to grips with the changed landscape of the modern football world; Arsène signing a new contract in 2014 was supposed to herald the start of a new dawn, yet familiar failings have led us to a position where we start to question not only whether Le Boss is the man to lead us back to the promised land, but whether we are actually starting to regress under his leadership?

Last season felt like an opportunity missed, the poor form of traditional challengers for the title left the race wide open and yet we choked under the pressure of expectation; from beating Leicester on Valentine’s Day we ended the season 10 points behind Claudio Ranieri’s surprise champions. Pipping that lot from the Lane to second place on the last day, as hilarious as it was, merely glossed over our late season collapse.

In the piece that I wrote last year I cited issues underpinning the underachievement of the manager and the team including: the fragile mentality of the team,  the types of players that are in it, the tactical set-up, attacking inefficiency and the lack of even the most basic defensive organisation. This time around it is hard to argue that these have been eradicated; instead it feels, if anything, we have gone backwards.

After the all-too-predictable defeat at Stamford Bridge last Saturday in which our ‘tactical plan’ of pushing our fullbacks high up the pitch and vacating the central midfield area served only to expose us to the counter attack; we can safely rule ourselves out of the championship race for another season. However in reality it is doubtful that we were ever really in it. If we take out the 3-0 win over Chelsea back in September, it is hard to point to any other performance or result that has demonstrated our title challenging credentials; instead we have lost to Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea, scraped a draw against Manchester United away and lost at home to Watford; hardly the basis for any conviction that we are moving in the right direction.

Looking forward, we would normally expect a decent run of results and the cementing of Champions League qualification now that the pressure is off; but with trips to Anfield and the Lane to come as well as visits by both Manchester clubs, this season maybe the season we finally miss out.

Out of loyalty and gratitude for his past achievements and the way in which he kept the club in the top four despite the financial restraints, Arsène’s proud legacy deserves to remain respected; it is however starting to feel as if it is time for him to walk away with that legacy intact and to leave it to a new man with fresh ideas. As Arsenal fans we are often told to be careful what we wish for in contemplating life without Arsène, with Manchester United’s tribulations given as a demonstration of how things can unravel if the succession is not handled effectively; my concern is that is exactly where we are headed if he stays.

Twitter @GazFootballNerd

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