Critical issues pile up for Arsenal and Wenger
LONDON, England – Less than three months ago Arsenal were in sight of an unprecedented quadruple. Now that number – four – is again within sight but with an entirely different connotation. If Manchester City win at Bolton on Sunday they will finish third, even if Arsenal win, simultaneously, against Fulham.
A fourth-place finish in the Premier League could force a hasty reorganisation of pre-season plans. Instead of winding up to the new campaign in the Far East Arsenal will be confronting an awkward qualifying round for the right to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
Last weekend’s dismal 2-1 home defeat by a mediocre Aston Villa and City’s 3-0 victory over Stoke on Tuesday night angered fans already irritated by manager Arsene Wenger’s excuses and an imminent 6.5pc ticket price rise.
Arsenal have been called “the world’s most expensive club to watch.” The cheapest season ticket next term, at around £800, will be more costly than the most expensive at Manchester United. Yet the last accounts showed record profits of £56m and Wenger has barely touched his £45m transfer kitty.
If only Arsenal’s results on the pitch could match their financial results.
Since February Arsenal’s dramatic defeat to Birmingham City in the League Cup final was followed by Champions League elimination against Barcelona, an FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United and a Premier title collapse.
Arsenal have won only three times in all competitions since the end of March. Had it not been for their early-season form, which saw them top the table last November, they would not still be in the top four at all.
Wenger insists that the fade-out will not prompt an exodus of stars
such as Samir Nasri, captain Cesc Fabregas and top scorer Robin Persie whose consolation goal against Villa was his sixth goal in the last seven games and 21st in all competitions.
“We do not want to sell our players,” said Wenger. “They all have contracts and will stay here unless we decide otherwise. We have addressed this subject in 80 percent of press conferences and it is a
subject that has to stop.”
Similarly, new owner ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke has not suggested that he will press Wenger to spend some of the equity created by the
commercial success of Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium. But the manager appears virtually alone in not having seen the need for a top-class goalkeeper, a Vidic-like central defender and a Vieira-style midfield anchor.
Wenger said: “We always want to strengthen the team but if you look at the statistics you will see we created as many chances as anyone. We were also the team with most shots against the posts. I believe we have exceptional quality and that, this season, we were closer than ever to wining the league.”
The fans beg to differ. A ‘Black Scarf Movement’ protested last Sunday about the ticket price rise outside a ground in which more than 10,000 seats were empty – the largest display of deliberate absenteeism since Arsenal left Higbury in 2006.
“Six per cent – you’re having a laugh!” chanted the angry fans, some of whom will not return next season unless they see ‘their money’ being spent on players this summer rather than sitting in a bank.