Just what has gone wrong for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side?

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After more than a decade of being part of the elite ‘Big Four’, Arsenal’s stock has fallen swiftly within the course of a very tough six months

One of the more memorable images from last season’s Premiership campaign was a shot of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger crouched to his knees on the touchline at the Emirates Stadium. The Frenchman cut a forlorn figure, as he watched Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt score a 98th-minute equaliser against his side which all but dented their title hopes. The picture was an encapsulation of everything that had gone wrong for the Gunners towards the end of the 2010-2011 season.

Fast-forward six months and it seems that Wenger bemoaning his team’s ineptitude and ill-fortune is a more commonplace sight than ever before in British football. Following their League Cup Final defeat to Birmingham City at the end of February last season, Arsenal suffered a huge dip in form which saw them pick up only two wins from their final 11 league games, consequently leaving them facing preliminary entry into the Champions League for the following campaign.

The task facing the Gunners at the start of the 2011-2012 season was made all the more difficult by the departure of two household names. Cesc Fabregas ended a long-winded transfer saga, departing for his beloved Barcelona midway through August. His exit was swiftly followed by a trip up the M6 via the M1 for Samir Nasri and a defection to big-spenders Manchester City. Losing two inspirational players such as these has been a bitter pill to swallow for Wenger and one which has failed to inspire a reaction from his players as they currently sit in the bottom half of the Premier League after losing four of their first seven league games.

The Frenchman has tried to redress the balance by bringing in playmaker Mikel Arteta, defender Per Mertesacker and Premiership journey-man Yossi Benayoun. Mertesacker is the type of efficient German defender drafted in to shore up a leaky defence and the latter two have been recruited hoping to inject some creativity into a midfield which has lost two of the best talents to have graced the Premier League.

Something, though, is still missing from this Arsenal team. Witness the tame 2-1 defeat to Tottenham in the recent North London derby or the second half capitulation in their 4-3 defeat to Blackburn Rovers a few weeks back. Lest we forget, the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford – the biggest defeat, by some distance, under Wenger’s tutelage. The Gunners lack a leader – a Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira type to rouse the team and pull them from the slumber. These types of characters would have grabbed the bull by the horns and dragged the young Gunners of today kicking and screaming towards victory.

Nobody can deny the club its merits. It has a fantastic infrastructure, superb stadium and a youth system which has produced bright, young talents such as Jack Wilshere – an England star in the making. Then there’s the manager; Arsene Wenger is an articulate and intelligent man whose coaching and dietary methods have revolutionised the game since we first clapped eyes on him back in November 1996.

It’s just that one small factor that is stopping Arsenal from being great again – the lack of genuine leadership on the pitch. Van Persie is a class act and has one of the best left foots seen in the Premiership but does he fit the mould of ‘Captain Marvel’ a la Robson, Gerrard or Vieira? It very much remains to be seen.

It’ll be sad to see a team such as Arsenal’s fall away from the Premiership’s elite. After all, Wenger has provided us with the Invincibles – the team of 2003-2004, which encompassed everything that is great about the beautiful game with their passing and movement.

January’s transfer window could be very interesting indeed for all concerned Gunners.

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  • Adam says:

    Great article. Still unsure about V. Persie as captain, not sure if he’s a natural leader, although he’s definitely the most experienced player in the side. I think the severe number of injuries suffered since the start of this campaign haven’t helped things either. Discipline (or lack of it) is another massive issue as well. Still confident we can pick things up though.

  • Dave Highbury says:

    No leadership?
    Here’s a list of some leaders…
    Van the man
    The Ox
    and I’ve missed about four international captains
    and a bucket load of experience. After Xmas, you’re gunna sound like a right plum

  • jeremy says:

    Wenger has lost it tactically. That’s the reason the gunners find it hard to win. The epl has moved on since 2004 heady days.Most sides know how the gunners play ie concede possession and hit on the break . With a porous defence,is it any wonder the gunners can’t hold on to leads and and can give goals at the death.
    Wenger has got to do a rethink. He cannot just rely on his gunners to enjoy their football.There must a defensive cohesion otherwise it will mark the end of his tenure.

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