It would be easy to kick a team when they are down and Arsenal’s defensive shenanigans which handed Porto a 2-1 Champions League victory last night have already provided miles of column inches for the tabloids.
But it’s Arsenal’s recent losses at the hands of Chelsea and Man Utd – more so than last night’s defeat at Porto – that have provided the clearest yet indications yet that the Gunners are slowly slipping into decline.
* Beauty over substance
There are few neutrals that don’t enjoy watching Arsenal in full flight. The Gunners’ one-touch football is a joy to behold when played at full pelt. Arsene Wenger has rarely strayed from his pure footballing philosophy and it brought him handsome rewards in his early years at Highbury with his ‘Invincibles’ going unbeaten for a whole season.
His current charges play in the same style but lack the in-depth quality of that historic squad which was blessed with the mercurial talents of Henry, Pires and Vieira.
Chelsea and Man United have swept Arsenal aside this season playing a more aggressive, effective style than the all-passing, all-dancing Gunners.
Unlike the North London club the current top two in England have managed to dominate domestically and at the same excel in Europe. How long more can Arsenal justify playing their pretty style of football which only yields Champions League qualification every season while their main title rivals rack up the trophies?
Bottom Line: when a more robust approach is required, Arsenal struggle to adapt to a more direct method of playing other than their quick, one-touch passing game.
* Nothing under the hood
If last night’s performance in Porto proved anything it is that Arsenal don’t possess a squad strong enough to lift a trophy when three or four of the first team regulars are absent.
The same criticism cannot be levelled at title rivals Chelsea or United who have gradually integrated more effective fringe players over the years rather than just blooding new talent in the Carling and FA Cups like Arsene Wenger has.
If Wenger is unwilling (or unable) to spend big on proven internationals whose wage demands may break the club’s ceiling then Arsenal fans will have to content themselves with the likes of Sol Campbell making more regular appearances in the coming seasons.
Bottom Line: Rightly or wrongly, Manchester United and Chelsea continue to spend big to maintain their positions at the top of the Premier League and in Europe. Will it take the likes of moneybags Manchester City overtaking the Gunners in the standings before Arsenal finally loosen the purse strings to strengthen their squad?
* The Wenger Factor
It’s difficult to criticise a manager who has brought so much to the English game but Wenger’s philosophy may yet prove his eventual undoing. The increased spending of his main title rivals has seen Chelsea and Man Utd surge ahead in winning titles. Wenger remains true to his football ideals and prefers to buy younger and cheaper players then slowly bring them through his system at the Emirates. Wenger’s method takes time but it is a virtue Arsenal fans are slowly losing patience with.
Another long-term danger for Arsenal’s board will be failure to adequately replace the Frenchman. Any new top-rated manager will require an adequate budget to help him at least compete with the other top ranked clubs in the league. Will Arsenal offer that to Wenger’s eventual replacement?
Bottom Line: Barcelona is a club Arsene Wenger’s side are often compared to because of the similarity of their style of play and penchant for bringing young players through their ranks. But Barca spent â‚¬67 million on Ibrahimovic in the close season. Would Wenger spend even half of that total on a similar type player?
Ger McCarthy is author of the book Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.