As a relatively young Gooner , Wenger has been the only ever present in my years of supporting Arsenal Football Club. He has seen chairmen, players, sponsors, assistant managers, even stadiums come and go, and it is evident that he has been a huge influence in all of the changes, and has possibly done more for Arsenal football club than any other individual.
As far as a typical Wenger season goes, 2012/13 has already achieved two of the three “givens”. We have qualified for knock out stages of the Champion’s League for the 13th year in a row, while reaching the quarter finals of the league cup for the 10th year in a row. The only box left to tick is both the most important and arguably the hardest, qualifying for the Champion’s League. I am sure none of you will have heard, given how little the media have chosen to mention it, but this is actually Wenger’s worst start to a season. Up until Saturday I was entirely sure that we would finish fourth and qualify in August for the Champion’s League, while now I might have to downgrade “entirely” to “fairly”.
The start to last season was equally abysmal, something happened and we seemed to remember how to play football. As much as I hate the “winning mentality” cliché it seemed to happen. By December last year, we had already beaten teams like Norwich, Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland, as we should have done. All of these teams we have dropped points to this season. Something seems different this season. While it is easy to say that Van Persie is what is missing, it is more than that. On Match of the Day, Vincent Kompany said that Arsenal were the toughest team that City have faced all season. It was encouraging, not only because it made ‘arry look like more of an illiterate moron than he is, but it showed that when we click, we are nothing short of phenomenal. The games that we have played well, (Liverpool, City, Southampton and large chunks of the Spurs game amongst others) we have looked like one of the best Arsenal sides in years. However, that is not the Arsenal side that we see week in week out. What is the most depressing thought is that we have had very few injuries for the majority of our poor games. While you could say Diaby looked good in our first few games, being so reliant on a player who has been injury plagued for years is foolish. It is also very easy to overestimate Diaby’s ability when he is not on the pitch to prove you wrong.
It is hard to see where the consistency will come from. The midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla look incredibly deflated and overplayed. Ramsey has little to no confidence, Oxlade Chamberlain has not been at his best for most of this season, whether it is the overwhelming pressure of expectation or simple bad form it is hard to tell. It is far too early to genuinely look at starting either Coquelin or Eisfeld as replacements. Rosicky is the only ray of hope that the midfield can try to cling on to, making the main three fight for positions and bring a little creative ease to Cazorla.
Perhaps what made the Swansea game worse is that a win would have taken us 2 points behind Chelsea in third. Their managerial trouble, Spurs’ flop record and the fact that West Brom are only really their by accident (I know they have played well this season, but not even the most optimistic Albion fan is expecting them to be there at the end of the season), we could have been in a promising position. It is not just the 3 points dropped, but the way in which we don’t look like we have the potential to capitalise on our run of easy games. We should have had a genuine chance to be 3rd by Christmas, if the team eventually does pick up and perform. While neither Spurs nor Chelsea have a particularly difficult December either, it is hard to see them taking all of the available points. It is by no means too late to achieve qualification; we need to start performing.
We need a spark, something to create a run of form that will push power through and keep us fighting for Champions League qualification and possibly more. From previous seasons, I genuinely believe this will happen. Where it will come from is hard to tell, we can’t realistically expect a new signing for at least 6 weeks, if at all, only Diaby and Rosicky are coming back from injuries, and our next big match for the fans to encourage the players is probably City in mid-January. All games before this the team will expect to win, as we were this weekend against Swansea. We simply cannot afford any more games like that. It seems easier said than done to just say, “win the easy matches and the form will come”. Hopefully it will be Steve Bould’s rant at the players that will create an atmosphere that makes the players scared to lose. If not that then something will have to make us win our next few matches. We have to qualify for the Champion’s League, anything else would be a failure to what some people think are already too low expectations. That is what Arsenal do. It has to happen.
A small voice in my head keeps on popping up questioning it. “What about Liverpool and “the big four””, “Chelsea finished 6th last season” “this is Wenger’s worst start to a season” “if we can’t beat Swansea at home, who can we beat?” and other irritating truths I try not to listen to. This is where Wenger’s record comes into play. No matter how late or close he leaves it, he has always done it. Last season we did our best to cock it up at West Brom, but got there eventually. Admittedly this is probably the season at which he has looked most likely not to, but until Wenger gets to the point where we haven’t qualified, he deserves the faith and belief to think that he will do what he has always done.