Back from holidays, back to business.
It felt rather strange not to watch the FA Cup final against Chelsea as I was travelling, I tried not to think about it but I knew it was mission impossible, so I nervously waited for a fellow Gooner’s phone call to find out that we actually won it – and with some style!
I’m not scared to admit that I was surprised by the result, I genuinely thought Chelsea were out of our reach – so the joy was twice as big.
Once the euphoria and adrenaline went down, however, I couldn’t help asking myself one question: is it 2014 again?
Aaron Ramsey wins us the FA Cup, Arsène Wenger pens a new contract, talks of a “new” Arsenal being built circulate…that makes a lot of similarities.
Unfortunately, it is not.
We’re in 2017, the squad didn’t make any tangible progress in the past three years and stagnation is the first word that springs to my mind, when I think of our Club.
Back then, the laborious win against Steve Bruce’s men was meant to be the beginning of a new era of success, that FA Cup trophy being the imaginary border between the years of budgetary restrictions and a new Arsenal, who could compete with any big Club in Europe.
Arsène Wenger’s renewal looked perfectly justified and logical, the man who kept us near the top despite limited resources surely deserved a chance to build a team to compete – which he did, or at least thought he did.
He made some big-money signings over the years but the team was nowhere near the title, nor could have a proper run in Europe; on paper, the arrivals of Alexis Sánchez, Petr Čech, Mathieu Débuchy (it made a lot of sense, at the time), Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were meant to take the team one level above but we ended up facing the usual difficulties and repeating the same errors – season after season.
Is it a mentality problem? Is it a coaching issue? Is it plain arrogance and naivety?
It could be all of them or none.
The performances at Wembley against Manchester City and Chelsea showed that this group of player is capable of great things; those against Bournemouth, West Brom and Watford showed that the same players can simply not show up for a game.
Why can’t we replicate the intensity of our finest outings? Why can’t these players keep the focus as they did recently?
The answers to those questions aren’t as simple as they might look, surely Arsène Wenger plays a big part in our unresolved issues but the board, players and coaching staff also share some responsibilities.
The Arsenal are a mess at the moment and it reflects on anyone involved with the Club, with a stronger emphasis on the coaches and players – as well as to the outside football world.
The lack of clarity is detrimental to the image of the Club, who is no longer attractive to top players and cannot sell any technical project anymore; we’re slowly slipping into anonymity and could soon experience what Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham endured in recent years.
Back in 2014, Arsène Wenger and the Club failed to pick up a magnificent chance to make Arsenal a European superpower – preferring to sit on the thin laurels of an FA Cup, the first trophy in nine years; instead of building on a success that finally lifted a big burden from everyone’s shoulders, they kept the status quo and trusted players who just reached their maximum potential.
For the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo and Jack Wilshere – to name only a few – that FA Cup trophy represented the pinnacle of their Arsenal careers, not the beginning of something.
Fast forward three years and three of them are still on our books, which is another proof of our inability to cut the ties and move forward – for the good of every part involved.
I’m completely in favour of stability and continuity within a team but competition is also vital and we cruelly lack it.
Do you remember Gary Neville analysis on Sky Sports at the end of 2013/2014 season? I do and I thought he was spot on, I thought we were really going places and finally reap the rewards of long-term planning but, as said before, we passed on that fantastic opportunity.
It’s often said that such opportunities don’t come twice but football is a universe apart and we now have a second chance, in what look like the exact same circumstances, funnily enough.
Arsène Wenger has been given another two years to build on an unexpected success and has the huge responsibility to make the Arsenal an appealing team for players whose contracts are expiring and also for top talents across the major European leagues.
Tactically speaking, the new 3-1-3-3 setup has provided a much needed breath of fresh air and given us a new identity – more modern and in line with the football being played across Europe; we’re no longer the same old Arsenal who would always play the 4-2-3-1 formation, regardless of opponents and circumstances.
The emergence of Rob Holding, Hector Bellerín and Granit Xhaka shows that this Club has a future that could be bright, while the arrival of Sead Kolašinac from Schalke 04 is a proof of ambition.
The conditions are there to take that belated step forward and shrug off the danger of fading into mediocrity, the key is to make sure that the Club is perceived as a strong and determined unit, both on the pitch and in the transfers market – which is not today.
There’s a long way for Arsène Wenger and the board to regain the trust of the fan base, or at least a part of it, and a busy, efficient summer is vital to turn away some of the toxicity that surrounds the Emirates Stadium.
Some supporters are waiting for each hesitation, mistake or each bad result to turn to the manager and make the air irrespirable once again, all but ruining our chances to succeed.
Next season has already begun for Arsène Wenger and could be over in two months’ time already, unless the manager and the board start acting like the big Club they pretend we still are.