Ten years ago Arsenal’s players celebrated together on the Old Trafford pitch having secured the Premier League title after a comfortable 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Just four days earlier they had won the FA Cup and now Arsene Wenger’s side had accomplished the double in the finest manner he could have imagined, becoming the best at the home of the previous champions.
On that Wednesday night in May of 2002 Arsenal fans chanted ‘there’s only one Arsene Wenger’ and who could blame them? After all, they’d completed an unbeaten away run all season, scoring in every game and secured the title by defeating the champions in a match without the injured Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.
A BBC poll, asking who was the most responsible for their title success, revealed just how respected Wenger was with him getting 46% of the votes, ahead of Thierry Henry at 31% and Freddie Ljungberg at 13%. Missing Adams, Bergkamp and Henry at Old Trafford that night, Wenger sent out this starting XI to get the job done: David Seaman, Lauren, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira, Edu, Kanu & Sylvain Wiltord.
Ten years on, Arsenal, fresh off selling their only world class player just weeks earlier to the aforementioned Manchester United, went into battle on Saturday with this XI: Vito Mannone, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Lukas Podolski & Olivier Giroud.
The performance they gave was only too familiar these days for Gunners fans as the side were once again left humbled at Old Trafford. Since that wonderful day in the history of Arsenal Football Club in 2002 they have won just one of eleven league meetings at Old Trafford and have now lost nine of their last 11 matches against Manchester United in all competitions. In the last ten years since that day they’ve won one Premier League trophy and two FA Cups. In that time, Manchester United have won five Premier League trophies, a Champions League, an FA Cup and three League Cups.
And yet the chants still continued on Saturday: “there’s only one Arsene Wenger.” Later followed by “we want our Arsenal back!”.
And in that lies the confusion. A mixed message sent by fans of the football club towards chief executive Ivan Gazidis and the board. It appears – and like I said it is far from clear – that the majority of Arsenal fans want Arsene Wenger and a team competitive enough to compete with Manchester United each season. There certainly no longer asking to win the double every year. However, if they want Wenger to continue at Arsenal then they cannot ask for a team anywhere remotely similar to that one a decade ago and must stop dreaming that they belong in the discussion as title contenders who can compete with teams such as United. Those who want Wenger gone can demand that and be frustrated that a man given the freedom to be the guardian of this great club has made significant mistakes that is now the reason for such a gap in quality between themselves and United.
The Transfer league website shows the signings for Manchester United and the signings for Arsenal in the last ten years and it is miserable reading for Arsenal fans. Running through the numbers gives the biggest reason why United are who they are in 2012 and why Arsenal are who they are.
Since the end of the 2001/02 season Manchester United have spent £396.3 million on transfer fees to acquire players. They have recouped £240.8 million on transfer fees for players, for a net total spend of £155.5m.
Since the end of 2001/02 season Arsenal have spent £256.8 million on transfer fees to acquire players. During the same time they have recouped £273.5 million on transfer fees for players, for a net total spend of MINUS £16.7m.
Both sides have made the Champions League every season in the last decade but only one talks about that being a significant achievement. The reality is Arsenal are a shadow of their former selves and under Wenger have a man in charge who is no longer what the fans require in the boardroom, the transfer market and on the sidelines.
Off the field, the Frenchman continues to show no signs of being someone who will hold the board accountable for the lack of money spent on players. Turning the Van Persie signing into a positive thing and simply not accepting that they should have kept him for a year and not made a profit was just the latest example of a club that has lost its way. On the field, he remains tactically inept sending out players who have not reached their potential for him in a rigid system that he rarely breaks from.
Wenger has had some low moments at Old Trafford in recent years, being banished to the stands and losing 8-2 last season, of course, but his player’s latest effort mirrored the characteristics of those running the club. A complete lack of ambition and quality.
Robin Van Persie dragged himself off the pitch after that 8-2 last season and those who watched his face knew his days at Arsenal were coming to an end. Saturday’s 2-1 loss sounded close but wasn’t and the next best Arsenal player wanted elsewhere will have stored that performance in his memory. The Gunners are no longer a club anywhere close to competing for the title and in a sport where players demand two things (money & trophies) they are no longer a side searching for a new identity. The jury is in, Arsenal fans. You are right, there is only one Arsene Wenger but you need to know this is your Arsenal.
Observations from the other games this weekend
- Penalty miss aside, Wayne Rooney was magnificent against Arsenal, particularly sitting deep on Mikel Arteta when Arsenal had the ball. Arsenal have struggled to create in the final third this season but United didn’t give them many opportunities, denying Arteta the freedom to start plays and dictate the game.
- According to Statszone, the number of passes Arteta has received in games this season prior to Saturday have been – 99, 58, 79, 77, 90, 52, 100, 89, 62 for an average of 78. The low numbers of 58 and 52 came against Stoke & Chelsea, Arsenal’s two worst performances this season heading into the weekend. Rooney kept Arteta to 50, a remarkably low number and 40 passes lower than he received at Manchester City in September.
- Manchester City’s travelling circus arrived at West Ham on Saturday and although the result was not one they were looking for they did show signs of improvement, much like at their last stop at West Brom. Samir Nasri’s role centrally got the best out of him and I’d like to see Mancini play a central three of Yaya Toure, a fit Javi Garcia and Samir Nasri through the middle away from home with two forward thinking wide men to the side of them.
- City, who were guilty of missing some poor chances on goal, were actually quite fortunate to get a point after Kevin Nolan’s goal was wrongfully given offside. And so poor decisions by referee assistants continues and it is not just ones that are not allowed, as Jordi Alba’s goal in Spain and Arturo Vidal’s in Italy showed. Decisions that could have been overturned in 30 seconds if a referee is allowed freedom to not be surrounded and get the right call from an extra official watching on a monitor in the stands.
- I’m not sure how Everton didn’t get three points at Fulham on Saturday. The Toffees were denied all three points by a 90th minute goal by Steve Sidwell but, despite going a goal down, they were by far the best side, terrorizing Fulham’s full backs and getting a brace from Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini’s second reminded me of something former Evertonian Duncan Ferguson would have done.
- Luis Suarez had a magnificent game against Newcastle on Sunday and fully deserved it to be highlighted by a breathtaking individual effort that levelled the score in the second half. However, the time is now for Ian Ayre and Brendan Rodgers to capitalise on this form and and start work on bringing a big name to play alongside him. The Uruguayan has such good movement that he can play deeper, slightly off a centre forward (not named Andy Carroll) and this will allow Liverpool a chance to get more goals in the team. Against most Premier League sides they will still be able to play two disciplined wide players and the two forwards inside a hybrid 4-3-3 and not get overrun in midfield, particularly if you can a midfielder such as Steven Gerrard on the right side who can tuck in and make up the numbers.
- Sunderland are in a mess, Martin O’Neill is finally feeling the pressure of the passionate home fans and it might be time for him to drop a couple of big names to the bench. Their biggest issue remains creating chances and the poor form of Stephane Sessegnon, asked by O’Neill to play just behind Steven Fletcher, is a major reason for it. Sessegnon has struggled this season connecting with the wide players who also have not been good enough, particularly Adam Johnson who remains a limited player with poor decision making.
- The seeds were sewn for Aston Villa’s victory at Sunderland on Saturday in their first away match at West Ham in August. On that day Villa passed better than they had done at any time under Alex McLeish (452 successful passes from 557 attempts) despite being behind for more than half the game. Saturday’s win may have been the first time they won (and even scored in the second half) on their travels since January but, the second half at Southampton aside, Villa have actually played confident away from home this season, keeping the ball down and passing extremely well in a 4-2-3-1. Christian Benteke’s led the line superbly on his own, holding the ball up well and causing Sunderland’s defenders no end of problems. However, the main reason for the assurance shown on the ball was the performances of two 22-year-old’s in central midfield. Ashley Westwood and Barry Bannan were very impressive, dictating the tempo of the game and combining for an 83% pass accuracy rate, an excellent level considering it was the first time they’ve played together at this level and the fact they had no traditional ‘ball-winning’ midfielder as Karim El Ahmadi was suspended. Without the Moroccan the pair combined to create and prevent, keeping it simple and more than matched the more experienced pair of Lee Cattermole and Craig Gardner.
Six Super Stats
- Tottenham failed to score in a PL match at White Hart Lane for the first time in 30 PL home matches.
- Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Swansea means they have conceded eight goals in their last five PL matches, having conceded only two in the opening five PL matches of the season.
- Van Persie has scored 14 PL goals with his right foot since the start of last season – only Sergio Aguero (22), Wayne Rooney (19) and Demba Ba (15) have more right-footed goals over the same period.
- Van Persie has now scored against all current 20 PL clubs. The only other player who has ever scored against all these 20 clubs in the division is Yakubu.
- Manchester City drew 0-0 in a PL match for the first time in 11 months – since at West Brom on Boxing Day 2011.
- Gabby Agbonlahor ended a run of 28 PL matches without a goal, netting his first since Villa’s 3-2 home win against Norwich on November 5, 2011.