Arsenal is a deeply unhappy club at the moment.
Anyone who was at the Emirates just over a week ago for the Baggies match would have sensed it. It wasn't just the thousands of empty seats (despite an idiotic announcement that attendance was over 59,000). It was the completely flat, almost sullen atmosphere that existed for most of the first half. No cheering, no chanting, not even a desultory "stand up if you hate Tottenham." It didn't feel like a football match.
In recent weeks, we have seen banners raised at away games urging Arsene Wenger to step down and after the 2-1 home loss to Watford in the FA Cup, rival Arsenal fans were brawling with each other on the concourse outside the ground. A demonstration also took place against Norwich more recently.
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How has it come to this? Wenger loyalists will point to a stable, well run club and a team that always manages to qualify for the Champions League and plays football that is easy on the eye. What's to complain about?
The "Wenger out" faction come out with phrases like "same old, same old," and "groundhog day," to describe the repetitive cycle of events that befall the club every season. The defensive lapses, the failure to see out close matches, the over intricate passing in the final third and a reluctance to enter the market and acquire outstanding players in key positions are some of the gripes regularly laid at the manager's door.
Discontent has been simmering for years but has reached a tipping point in recent weeks. This was supposed to be the year that Arsenal ended their 12-year title drought.
For different reasons, Chelsea, the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool were having indifferent seasons. Arsenal were in great shape early in the year before (and not for the first time) imploding on the home straight when the pressure increased. Instead, Leicester have pulled off a jaw-dropping title win and worse still, Tottenham, under impressive manager, Mauricio Pochettino, are set to finish above Arsenal for the first time in Premier League history.
A comparison between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger gives a clue to the present Arsenal unrest. Ferguson continually reinvented both himself and the club during his 26 years at the helm. He brought in a succession of different assistants over the years. Experienced coaches like Carlos Queiroz, Rene Meulensteen, Mike Phelan and even Steve McClaren (who, despite his struggles, was an astute, forward-looking coach and helped United achieve the treble in 1999) brought fresh ideas and training methods to the club.
What about Arsenal? Since Wenger's arrival it's been it's been a virtually unchanged management team. Alongside Wenger, there has been Boro Pimorac as first team coach and originally Pat Rice before Steve Bould took over as assistant manager. Both Rice and Bould were iconic Arsenal defenders but neither had any coaching experience outside the club.
You question Bould's input after watching Andy Carroll help himself to the buffet table that was Arsenal's defence in the recent game against West Ham. Essentially it's been the same coaching staff for 20 years, with one man calling the shots. No new blood, no fresh ideas. If this isn't a recipe for staleness and stagnation then what is?
As in a fractured marriage, boredom and frustration are curdling into bitter resentment on the part of an ever-growing swathe of supporters. However, it's probably not a great idea to air this disaffection with their spot in the top four not yet secure.
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