The past few seasons have seen rivals make a mockery of Arsenal, but can they prevail to have the last laugh?
Contact Rebel: Robin Van Persie is the next riddle Arsene Wenger has to solve on his way to creating a solid core to build around which has lacked since 2005.
As all long suffering Arsenal fans will understand, six trophyless years has brought incomprehensible amounts of frustration to their footballing lives. London rivals Chelsea completed a double of the FA Cup and Champions League this last season, whilst Manchester United and City bask in their respective glories of old and new.
To add to the new found depression amongst fans, the announcement - formally from Arsenal’s official website - that Robin Van Persie, Arsenal’s captain and talismanic striker, has opted against signing a new contract has caused major worry and concern.
Van Persie’s 30 goals last season contributed massively to Arsenal’s third place finish domestically and amounted 27 points to Arsenal’s final tally. The news that he is not to sign on again has led to the debate as to whether Arsenal cash in on him with a large number of top European clubs including Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester City lining up in the queue of interest, or whether to hold on to him and let him leave on a free transfer next year.
Arsenal fans frustration extends further than the lack of material success recently though, with transfer dealings over the past few seasons being minimal, and of those that have been completed, few have been of notable success bar the surprising performance of Mikel Arteta.
Once again, it looks to be like another fruitless summer for Arsenal in the transfer market, Yann M’Vila’s impending transfer has been looming for too long and now with Barcelona’s Seydou Keita leaving, the Catalan side are now affirming their interest as Arsenal ponder in a transfer market which simply does not allow such hesitation.
Arsene Wenger’s belief and philosophy has been maintained for over 15 years now as he becomes the second longest serving manager in the Premier League behind Sir Alex Ferguson and it looks unlikely that he is set to change it. After all, who knew of Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri before Wenger worked his magic and made Arsenal a generous profit from the sell on fee?
The latest crop of talent have an ever increasing problem though. As Wenger sticks to his philosophical morals, his rivals; Manchester City and United, Chelsea and Tottenham are all splashing out vast sums of money to secure the services of the finest players on the planet.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frances Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson amongst others are now contending with the pressure of not only performing well at the highest level of an age where they could still be in the education system, but they have the added expectancy to be maintaining pace with the footballing geniuses like David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and Rafael Van Der Vaart in rival sides. The acquisition of Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud are both positives and once again reflect Arsene Wenger’s shrewd dealings in the transfer markets as he refuses to be lured into paying over exaggerative sums of money for players in their mid to late twenties (Podolski, 27 and Giroud, 25) but they are signings that do not meet the expectations of the Arsenal fans. Podolski is an experienced player with more that 100 caps for Germany and Giroud is fresh from winning Ligue 1 with Montpellier, but they will not only be aiming to fill the void likely to be left by Robin van Persie, they will also have to contend with spearing the charge for long awaited glory in the form of a trophy, domestic or European.
Why will Arsenal have the last laugh and prevail? As you will be aware, the Financial Fair Play rules are becoming an ever increasing presence in the consciousness of Premier League teams and their boards, limiting them to a maximum loss of £36 million per financial year. Manchester City are facing large problems because of the scale of their squad, with many players looking to be sold at knockdown prices, most notably Emmanuel Adebayor for around £5million to Tottenham. Wayne Bridge and various other members of Mark Hughes’ first wave of purchases will look to be shipped out. Chelsea have released Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba as they look to slash their wage bill. At Old Trafford, Paul Pogba has departed to Turin whilst Michael Owen and Tomas Kuszczak have both been released. This shows that, though Arsenal’s footballing frustrations on the field have been highly visible, they remain in a strong financial position and are not under pressure to cut costs by releasing players because of a sustainable wage structure that neither the club’s hierarchy nor Arsene Wenger want to tamper with.
Too many fans appear to forget that football is a business, truthfully it is an entertainment business, but ultimately, like any type of sustainable, successful business, it exists to make profit and have a good reputation. It is understandable that the club may not be living up to the supporter’s expectation from an entertainment point of view, but from a business and reputation perspective, despite the lack of trophies in recent years, it has a respectable business reputation and a great history. The only problem is that in the money and accolade driven modern footballing world, a lack of trophies means the biggest players will not wish to join the club.
Central: Oxlade Chamberlain will be central to the core Wenger will look to build in the aftermath of van Persie's eventual departure
The frustration from the echelons of the Emirates is understandable though. This appears a team that is constantly building for the future, and never being re-built around a solid core of loyal players unlike the great teams such as Barcelona who are phasing in new players after celebrated success of those in the twilight phases of their accolade filled careers.
Of course, players are brought through the ranks at Arsenal into the first team, but never for the right reasons. Many have been fast-tracked because of the departures of players like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and previously Emmanuel Adebayor. This therefore doesn’t allow Wenger to build a youthful team using the talents around him because the ‘core’ that he wishes to build around is constantly departing.
With the announcement that van Persie is not to renew his contract, one year on from the Fab-srigate (Fabregas and Nasri saga) it doesn’t bode well or appear rosy for Wenger, who has made previous successes from such a strategy.
Fortunately, the new crop certainly appear loyal to the cause largely more so than many other more mature players in the modern football world where loyalty is considered a rarity rather than a standard expectation. Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey are all from the home nations and appear to be a strong core that the team will hopefully be built around in years to come. Wojciech Szczesny is another, who, at 22, has his whole career in front of him and is likely to spend a large part of it at Arsenal. Current players like Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta will be the experienced heads come next season. The former has been dogged with injuries, another reason why Wenger’s plan has yet to fully prosper. Injury to Ramsey and Wilshere of late have halted their progression. Abou Diaby is another midfielder who has struggled recently and over the last few seasons, Robin van Persie has been blighted too.
So Arsenal will have the last laugh and prevail from this dark period because of their sustainable financial model, which will allow them to overlook their opponents in the long term. Unsustainable spending has already claimed many victims across Europe in almost every league. Glasgow Rangers, Scotland’s most successful footballing team has already crumbled due to unsustainable spending decades ago which was pushed over the edge by the latest takeover. It is not an impossibility that such a thing could happen to a big team in the Premier League; Manchester United are bathed in almost £1 billion of debt and fellow sides Chelsea and Manchester City are almost entirely dependant upon their exuberant owners. Arsenal are weathering the storm of a trophy drought in hope of making up for it in the long term.
In Arsene, We Trust.