If Arsenal fans in 2003/04 could have been given a glimpse of the future, they would never have believed the state of their club in 2013.
Arsene Wenger joined the club in the 1996/97 season and Arsenal finished either first or second in the Premier League in eight of the first 11 seasons of the Frenchman's reign.
The team of 2003/04 is certainly Arsenal’s best team ever – they went an entire Premier League season without being beaten and the undefeated side was fittingly dubbed the "Invincibles".
Manchester United were considered Arsenal’s biggest rivals and it was always a fierce battle when the sides met.
What happened? In 2013, Arsenal fans will be happy if their side finish in the top four to be afforded a chance to compete in the Champions League. Metaphorically speaking, Arsenal are nowhere near being in the same league as Manchester United anymore. The 8-2 defeat they suffered at the hands of United last season and the 24-point gap between the two in this season’s table depict how Arsenal have fallen from grace.
In the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, Arsenal travelled to the Allianz Arena after having lost the first leg 3-1. They fought admirably to come away with a 2-0 victory in the second leg but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to advance to the next round. Arsenal fans, myself included, applauded the valiant effort and even felt somewhat content with the ‘conciliatory’ victory.
We have become complacent in our mediocrity. Arsenal should be challenging for the league title and every other club honour there is to be had. They shouldn’t be fighting Tottenham and Everton for the scraps.
Granted, since the Invincibles season, the league has seen some changes and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City have emerged as top teams with financial backing that Arsenal can’t compete with. The move to the Emirates Stadium also placed strain on Wenger’s budget and tied his hands to a certain extent.
However, to lose a League Cup final against a side like Birmingham City when your club hasn’t tasted silverware for seven years is inexcusable. To be knocked out of the League and FA Cups by lower-tier teams such as Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City is almost unpardonable for a top-flight manager.
Wenger once had a good eye for players in the transfer market and a knack to mould and groom them into world-class players, but he seems to have lost that ability somewhere along the line. Apart from Santi Cazorla, who is an absolute star in the current team, Wenger’s signings have been fairly ordinary and certainly not inexpensive. £11m for a player like Gervinho just doesn’t cut it.
Also, last season Wenger had the funds at his disposal but, despite desperate cries from fans to spend it, he didn’t and the club felt the consequences yet again.
Letting go of key players such as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Alex Song and perhaps most notably Robin van Persie, also doesn’t help the club’s situation.
Personally, I don’t blame Van Persie for leaving. I remember almost foaming at the mouth when the Dutchman decided to make the move to greener pastures at United, but looking back, how can I blame him? He, like every other player, seeks silverware, and after seven years Van Persie decided he probably wasn’t going to get it at Arsenal before he hangs up his boots. And with the state of things, he probably isn’t wrong.
If the Gunners fail to qualify for the Champions League, they can’t expect to lure top players to the Emirates. In fact, the current stars might also opt to leave to play in Europe’s most elite competition.
Arsenal need to crawl out of the rut they’re in and stop being satisfied with mediocre performances and results. Finishing in the top four is vital this season but, in future, the club’s priorities need to shift from a top-four place to competing for the title and every other piece of silverware up for grabs.
With the current crop, and perhaps one or two additions to tighten up the defence and strengthen attacking options, there isn’t any excuse not to.
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