Written by Adam Sinclair Charles
At the beginning of every season, football fans across the country anticipate the highs and lows of the forthcoming months. For some fans, escaping a desperately fought relegation battle will be sufficient to keep them happy. For others, they have the luxury of dreaming about winning football’s most prestigious prizes, as their latest big money signings take center stage.
But for a team such as Arsenal this is not always the case. For the last 7 years it has become footballing folklore that Arsenal do not have the credentials to mount a serious title challenge. The Gunners are often cast aside, branded as a team who are not quite there yet. But at times it is difficult to see why.
Football pundits worldwide endorse the claim that “you can’t win anything with kids”, and perhaps rightly so. Aston Villa’s squad has an average age of 20, and having only won 1 of their last 5 matches they seem to support this claim.
But for a long time it has been thought that Arsenal themselves have a very young and inexperienced squad. Arsenè Wenger is heralded for his ability to nurture young players into footballing greats. Players such as Thierry Henry, Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere are testament to this. With one of the best youth systems in the world at Wenger’s disposal, it is not difficult to see why. In recent years however, Arsenè has opted for more experienced players.
In the 2011 summer transfer window Per Mertesacker (27) joined Arsenal. With 85 international caps for Germany, he has evident experience. In the same transfer window, Mikel Arteta (30) and Ande Santos (29) also joined the club. Having played across various countries in Europe including Spain and Turkey, it is also easy to see the wealth of experience they bring to the squad.
As well as these additions, players such as Sagna (29) and Abou Diaby (26) also have experience in abundance. The former, who to many is considered France’s first choice right back, and the latter who has been at the club for over half a decade.
Considering the apparent blend that Arsenal seem to have in experienced players, combined with promising young talent, it is difficult to see their “lack of experience” as the definitive reason as to why they are no longer challenging for the title.
Evidently, a glaring problem, regarded by many Arsenal fans as poor management, is the decision to let Arsenal’s best players leave to go to their rivals. Most notably Robin Van Persie to Manchester United, Fabregas to Barcelona, and Samir Nasri to Manchester City. Although Arsenal received a healthy combined total of £83 million for these players, it will always be difficult to mount a serious challenge for trophies if The Gunners sell their best players to teams that are challenging for the same domestic cups. With this in mind, it is hard to look past this as the main reason for Arsenal’s lack of silverware in recent seasons.
Undoubtedly, losing such monumental players has had an effect on the tactical set-up of Arsenal. No longer do they have the guile and flair of Nasri, the playmaking ability of Fabregas, or the natural goal scoring instinct of Van Persie up front.
But perhaps a subtler loss was that of Alex Song. The deep-lying playmaker assisted many of Van Persie’s goals in the 2011-2012 season. But he also provided some much-needed defensive stability with his strength and power.
Whether the reason for Arsenal’s decline is singular or a combination of many different factors, it must be addressed. With the increasing amount of spending power that more teams are able to tap into, Arsenal may be too far adrift before too long.