With Chelsea marching inexorably towards the Premier League title already, questions are understandably being asked about their major rivals. Their London neighbours Arsenal have failed to consolidate on their fourth place last season and there is a very real chance that Arsene Wenger’s side won’t even make the Champions League places this time around.
It is still early in the season, of course, but only a completely blinkered Gooner could fail to notice the overall drop in form. On paper, the squad looks as good as any Arsenal squads over the past six or seven years, but something fundamental definitely appears to be missing. Dropping points on a regular basis has kept the Gunners in what is basically nothing more than a mid-table position.
However, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason, because there are several contributing factors which come into the equation. The loss of Theo Walcott for the first dozen games hasn’t helped, because the speedy winger tends to play a role in a great many Arsenal goals these days. Now that he is close to a return it is to be hoped that his influence will spark a recovery.
Several key players have suffered a noticeable loss of form along the way, too. Chief among them has been Aaron Ramsey, who was such an important figure last season. There’s no doubting the Welsh midfielder’s work-rate, of course, but his magical touch and his eye for goal are currently lacking. When his form returns, perhaps the club’s performances will improve as well.
World Cup winner Mesut Ozil hasn’t been a roaring success since joining Arsenal, and any potential return to his glory days has been scuppered by injury. So far, he has failed to show class for any prolonged period in the Premier League, and his confidence levels before his injury didn’t appear to be particularly high. Per Mertesacker, usually a rock of a defender, hasn’t been playing well either.
The acquisition of Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez has been one of the few bright spots at the Emirates this season, but Arsenal need to be far more than a one-man side in order to reach the heights of previous seasons. It may be that Wenger will look to bring in a new face or two in January, but by that time they could be miles behind the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.
There have been increasingly loud murmurs of disapproval among some Arsenal fans in regard to Wenger’s position, and while this is the case every season or two, this time around the voices are getting louder. One of the most consistent criticisms is the fact that he simply doesn’t spend enough when transfer windows are open, and it has to be said that in the summer he and the board baffled many.
While the purchase of Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and the highly promising Calum Chambers brought in some extra personnel, the failure to sign at least one central defender seems incomprehensible. The squad was down to the bare bones at times last season, so the casual observer may have seen the centre-back role as the one that should have been at the top of the shopping list, especially once the club agreed to sell Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona.
Laurent Koscielny, an excellent defender and something of a talisman at the Emirates in recent times, has been injured for several weeks now, and it is easy to get the impression that his return can’t come quickly enough for Wenger. Nacho Monreal is a fairly good left-back, but playing him in the middle is not an ideal situation for a side that rarely copes well when defending set pieces.
It should be pointed out that Wenger’s men have played well in many games and haven’t achieved the results their efforts might have deserved. Their recent loss to Manchester United was a particularly bitter blow, because the London side dominated for most of the game and eventually went behind to what can only be described as a freakishly lucky goal.
Amid all the doom and gloom, it needs to be remembered that Arsenal won the FA Cup just a few months ago, and if anything the squad now is better than it was then. In order for things to get better, several players need to find their form once again, especially in front of goal, and those who are injured need to come back soon. Debuchy is fit now, so he will come back on the right of defence while Chambers switches to the middle.
As every season goes by, it is easy to start to wonder if this will be the last one in the hot seat for Wenger. Whether an Arsenal fan or not, it has to be admitted that the man’s influence on the club and the game itself in England has been huge. Let’s hope when he finally bids farewell to the tracksuit he does so under his own steam, and not as a result of a season of failure. The gods of fate surely owe him that.