By James Okoli
For many people, the New Year brings hope, optimism and a chance at redemption. Resolutions are made and broken in quick succession. Often, we conclude that the month of January is a trial run- February is the official start of the New Year. For Arsenal fans, however, every February over the last decade has marked The Inevitable Collapse (of their season).
Shellshocked at Forest- Arsenal stars look crestfallen
Well, this year The Inevitable Collapse has come unsurprisingly early. With Arsenal emerging from the frantic Christmas period in lowly sixth position, the return to the competition that in recent years has provided a get-out-of-jail-free card for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, seemed like a great way to distract the detractors. A fixture away at manager-less, struggling for form Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup was more than ideal. So why did the game finish 4-2 to Nottingham Forest? Why have Arsenal been so poor of late? I think there are three main reasons:
1. Wenger underestimated Forest and the FA Cup as a competition. Whilst Wenger can point to the fact that 1) Arsenal had a congested fixture list (although it was the least congested compared to every other Premier League team), 2) Arsenal under his tenure had never gone out in the 3rd round of the FA Cup and that finally 3) Arsenal had won the competition in three of the last four seasons, his squad selection was hugely irresponsible. Someone with Wenger’s experience should know that going to the ground of a lower league team in the FA Cup would galvanise their fans and that the “spirit of the Cup” would be well and truly alive. Form is almost irrelevant for the underdog in these affairs, and that was proved once again.
2. Wenger overestimated his squad. On a weekend where Liverpool had signed Virgil Van Dijk and were making plans to replace the Barcelona-bound Coutinho, and Chelsea had signed 24-year-old England international Ross Barkley, Wenger’s faith in his fragile squad looks all the more outrageous. Not a single senior player was on the bench which highlights his inability to consider the possibility that his players could fail him. Playing the talented, but inexperienced, trio of Willock, Maitland-Niles and Nelson is to be commended. But playing them with the out-of-form back three and timid Walcott and Welbeck, underlines the (recurrent) naivety of Wenger. By choosing to keep deadwood like Walcott, Elneny and Debuchy, Wenger has shown he is no longer able to assemble a squad that can challenge for the major honours. A massive overhaul is required if Arsenal are going to challenge or even keep up with their Premier League rivals; Wenger clearly isn’t the person to oversee that.
3. Contract sagas.
Will these shirts be in the Arsenal dressing room next season?
Though this may not be directly linked to the Nottingham Forest defeat, it has been an issue that has hovered in the foreground of Arsenal’s season. There is just no sense of stability when the two most talented players in the club – Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil – are running their contracts down. The revitalised Jack Wilshere is also yet to put pen to paper. All this makes the Emirates a sinking ship. The captain of the ship must take responsibility.
So, what next for Arsene and Arsenal? The competition that has so often been the safety net for Arsenal in recent years, has now been taken away. The Premier League is long gone and the race for the top 4 is an uphill battle. Growing up, most of us thought Arsenal was named after Arsene Wenger; he was almost synonymous with everything the club had grown to stand for. There is no doubt, what he initially achieved at Arsenal was remarkable.
However, the chance to rectify the long-term damage at Arsenal has long passed for Arsene Wenger. With just one year left on his contract, it is the beginning of the end.
Even Donald Trump knows that Wenger’s days are limited
In the short-term, Arsenal’s first leg fixture away to Chelsea in the Carabao cup semi-final on Wednesday, is a chance for temporary redemption. Lose that, and only the Europa League can salvage Arsenal’s season as it did for Manchester United (could not resist that dig) ArsenalFanTv will probably crash, and possibly the remains of Wenger’s legacy too.
Then again, it’s only January.
James Okoli is a contributor for the TCS Network. Currently studying Theology, Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Manchester, you will find James writing on a variety of faith and ethical issues within local and globalised society. James is also a sports and television aficionado so expect raving reviews on television masterpieces or raging rants on football results.