A combination of ownership, management, and players missing game time has led Arsenal to be effectively out of Premier League and Champions League
You may feel like you have read this story before, not just once, but every season for over a decade. Old problems have once again reared their ugly head, and have made sure that Arsenal is effectively no longer competing for either the Premier League or the Champions League, and it is only February. Arsenal spent over £70 million pounds this summer to address their problem areas on the pitch, yet it seems that they have regressed this season. So what went wrong?
We will start from the top: majority owner Stan Kroenke.
For American readers, this is the same Stan Kroenke that moved the Rams from St. Louis to L.A. in January of last year. Given how little sympathy he showed for the American fans of his NFL team, one can only imagine how Kroenke feels about Arsenal’s supporters. Unlike other top clubs with wealthy owners who spend indiscriminately, Kroenke believes that Arsenal should self-finance, with the club spending only what the club makes.
He once stated in an interview that “If you want to win championships then you would never get involved.” Kroenke has no intention of ever spending the type of money that Manchester City, United, or Chelsea spend now. This helps explain why during the years that Arsenal were building the new Emirates Stadium, the Gunners would sell their best players to rival clubs, like Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, and Emmanuel Adebayor.
When Arsenal decided to build the stadium, the largest source of revenue for football clubs was matchday income, and they decided to tailor the stadium to this. Now, matchday income pales in comparison to the money garnered by TV deals. At the end of the 2016 season, Arsenal had made £204 million pounds from their commercial and broadcasting revenues, and only £100 million from matchday. This essentially means Arsenal shot themselves in the foot for a decade, all to provide a now-outdated source of income. While the video below claims that they had no way of knowing this was going to happen, a forward-thinking business should consider how technology can change the future.
An in-depth look at Arsenal’s finances from uMAXit
Surely since TV deals are only becoming more lucrative, one would imagine that Arsenal would lower their ticket prices. Not quite. In fact, at £1,014 pounds, Arsenal have the most expensive base season ticket price in the Premier League. To put this into perspective: Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool’s most expensive season tickets are less than Arsenal’s cheapest season tickets. This means that the Emirates on matchday has become more of tourist attraction than a real fan’s football pitch. This causes the fan enthusiasm in the stadium to be sub-par, as not enough people are as invested in the game, or even know the standard supporter tunes, making it far too quiet.
Kroenke sees Arsenal purely in business terms: a cash cow that he tries to squeeze every last drop out of. Only using money from the club to improve the club drastically reduces the wage structure, and it has caused them to miss out on important, maybe title-winning signings. Wenger revealed that he tried to sign now-Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante from Leicester last summer. Given that Arsenal signed Granit Xhaka for £30 million pounds, the same amount that Chelsea paid for Kante, one can surmise that Arsenal did not offer enough in terms of wages. Unless Kroenke loosens the club’s purse strings, it is unlikely Arsenal will have the resources to pay for the top players in the game.
Since Arsenal is in good financial condition, Kroenke has never called for a change in manager. This is another reason why the club is stagnating. Arsene Wenger deserves all the respect in the world for what has been able to achieve at Arsenal. His tactics and health regimen were revolutionary when he took over the helm in 1996, and his ability to keep Arsenal in the top-four despite selling his best players every year was truly commendable. But the question stands: now that Arsenal is able to spend money, why have they not improved?
Wenger’s once-revolutionary coaching techniques are now stale. There is no denying that at some point Arsenal played the best-looking football in the Premier League. However, his absolute reliance on the 4-2-3-1 formation is appalling given the variety of players at his disposal. His tactics have barely changed in the 20 years he has been at the club, and other teams are figuring them out. Arsenal rely on moments of magic from star players rather than a solid system of play for their goals now.
Wenger has long demonstrated fierce loyalty and commitment to his players, always believing that a player will eventually return to their best or reach their fabled potential. This is why, despite the fact that the midfielder has done nothing of merit for Arsenal recently, Wenger will inevitably play Aaron Ramsey if he is healthy.
In the past two and a half years, Ramsey has only scored 11 goals, only one better than his tally for the 2013-14 season. This is not an isolated case. In Alex Iwobi’s 2,076 minutes played, he has scored four goals and created five assists. Lucas Perez has played only 889 minutes, but has eight goals and five assists. Iwobi will be a fantastic player in a few years time, and has shown plenty of potential, but at the moment he does not deserve to start every game and have his form go unquestioned.
Lucas opens the scoring for Arsenal, 1-0 pic.twitter.com/tlxryjGQxv— Terje (@TerjeAFCx) February 20, 2017
Many fans point to David Moyes’ horrible tenure at Manchester United after taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson as a reason why Wenger should stay. Ferguson’s last title-winning team was far less talented than the group that Arsenal have now, and relied almost solely on good defense and goals from Robin Van Persie to win the league. Moyes inherited a group of players that were mostly past their prime and in decline. While Moyes was stuck with the sixth-oldest squad (average age 27 years and 119 days), currently Arsenal has the fifth-youngest squad (average age 25 years and 270 days).
What fans should look at instead is the case of current league-leaders Chelsea. Chelsea fired their greatest manager in club history, Jose Mourinho, only a few months after winning the league. Chelsea brought in Antonio Conte for this season, and he has taken a team that finished 10th last season, added a few key players in Kante and Marcos Alonso, and is now storming towards a title win. This shows the effect a new manager can have on the squad.
Wenger has not shown the necessary open-mindedness lately to pick the right team or get them sufficiently motivated to play in big matches. In the last 22 away games against the current top six teams in the Premier League, Arsenal have not won a single match, drawing seven and losing 15 of those games. Arsenal have not shown up in any of these big games, and until they start doing so, there will be no title celebration parades in Highbury.
A new manager may just be what Arsenal need. Mark Phillipson goes into more detail about that.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal is known as the most injury-prone side in the Premier League for a reason. This has been a relatively good year for Arsenal in terms of injuries, yet they still have the fourth-most injury days of the teams in England.
Without a doubt the most important injury miss for Arsenal this season has been Santi Cazorla. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season Arsenal have won 36 of 55 (65.5%) games with Cazorla starting, but only 21 of 48 (43.75%) without him. That is a staggering difference, but anyone who watches Arsenal understands why. Cazorla in the defensive midfield links the defense to the attack far better than anyone else in the squad. It is not just his finding of the right pass forward, but the speed at which he does it that allows Arsenal to get on the offensive more quickly.
Other injuries and suspensions at key times have been debilitating for the squad. Theo Walcott was in one of the best runs of his form in his career, scoring eight goals in 16 matches before getting injured. Since getting hurt, he has yet to score in the Premier League. When Laurent Koscielny went down injured against Bayern Munich, Arsenal went from defending well in a one-one draw, to getting thrashed 5-1 and ruling out any chance of a comeback in the second leg.
With Santi Cazorla injured, Mohamed Elneny at AFCON, and Jack Wilshere on an non-recallable loan at Bournemouth, Arsenal only had three healthy central midfielders to in the squad to play against Watford. Granit Xhaka receiving his second red card of the season meant that Arsenal were forced to play Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey together, a truly dismal partnership. With neither of them seemingly able to pick a pass forward, Arsenal were on the back foot from the off. Xhaka’s replacement, Ramsey, was at fault for both goals in the 2-1 defeat.
Even with the addition of Xhaka this season, the center of midfield for Arsenal is still a problem area. Without Cazorla wriggling out of tight spaces and picking the perfect pass forward, Arsenal are forced into a slow, methodical, and predictable build up. Given that Cazorla is on the wrong side of 30 and Jack Wilshere is not reliable enough due to his consistent injury problems, Arsenal will need to sign another deep-lying playmaker this summer. Naby Keïta of RB Leipzig and Bernardo Silva of Monaco seem like the most suitable replacements, save perhaps Real Madrid’s Isco or PSG’s Marco Verratti, both of whom Arsenal do not have the faintest chance of signing.
In terms of ownership and management, it seems quite obvious that, after failing to capitalize on the weak-field Premier League last year won by Leicester City, the Wenger-Kroenke duo will never bring a title to the Emirates. Especially with the inflation that comes from the lucrative TV deals, only the clubs with the deep-pocketed owners will be able to bring the biggest names, and subsequent titles, to the club. Kroenke has no real ambition to win the Premier League, and Arsenal will continue to miss out on big players while he is in charge.
For Wenger, it’s hard for me to say since he has literally been in charge of Arsenal all my life, but I do think he needs to leave the club. It is almost unbelievable that with selling their best players after each season and bringing in no-name kids, Arsene was able to play better football with them than he is with this impressively talented squad now.
A new manager with this squad could win the Premier League. Arsenal’s best chance for success is to bring in Massimo Allegri from Juventus or Diego Simeone from Atletico Madrid, both of whom are rumored to be leaving their respective clubs this summer. Allegri would fit Arsenal’s pass-and-move style better than Simeone, but would also implement the necessary stability in defense that Arsenal are so obviously lacking.
Arsenal is quite possibly the most frustrating team in all of sports to be a fan of. To be so close to achieving greatness without actually doing it due to fixable problems that occur year after year is maddening. Major changes will need to happen to the ownership, managers, and players if Arsenal are to ever lift the Premier League trophy again.
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