Arsenal the under-achievers

Arsene Wenger needs to change his tune and revive Arsenal as a force to be reckoned with in the quest for elusive silverware

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 3:05am

Arsene Wenger hopes to rejuvenate ailing Arsenal with a quick-fix cure in the shape of a £30 million (HK$368 million) bid for Napoli striker Edinson Cavani.

The north London club have endured their worst start to the EPL season in 44 years and Wenger is under unprecedented pressure from fans and shareholders to end the eight-year wait for a trophy.

Given the Gunners' plight, you'd like to think the board would be signing blank cheques and any prescriptions to aid the patient. The team are lame and concussed, and 11 points adrift in the title race - a dire predicament underscored by the throw-away, maniacal 3-3 draw against Fulham last weekend.

Obvious to all is that a replacement for Robin van Persie can't come soon enough. But will the likes of Cavan and others on Wenger's January wish-list prove to be a cure-all, that's if the deal comes off in the New Year transfer window?

"I am a doctor, so trust me," is the implied assurance by the legendary manager. Trust is one thing. Of more pressing concern is the speedy eviction of the Jekyll and Hyde persona stalking the Emirates.

Last weekend's game at Fulham, during which Arsenal surrendered a 2-0 lead, is seen as the catalyst for the fans and shareholders to talk openly and loudly of the beginning of the end of the French helmsman.

Mutterings about the demise of Wenger have swirled before, but never has the price of loyalty plummeted so quickly among the faithful, with many demanding a swift change to the dressing-room culture.

Two weeks ago, denial of the deepening crisis was widespread. The unquestioned belief in the wisdom of their manager was seemingly unshakable. They too believed, like Wenger, the team remained strong title contenders. But the stark, obvious truth has revealed itself with alarming speed, first in the Champions League and then against Fulham.

If today's dust-up with vexatious neighbours Tottenham goes the way of Fulham and results in another schizophrenic performance, the first responders in white coats waiting at Wenger's office door might start to rattle the handle in earnest.

You want to believe there is logic in the Frenchman's new under- achieving philosophy - that which argues finishing fourth is as good as a trophy. He has a crude and perverse knack of convincing his audience that losing is the new winning. Such delusion has its charm, but it doesn't wash for long on the gritty streets of Highbury.

Wenger's flawed mentality corrodes the pillars of the institution that is Arsenal. It goes against the ethos of this eminent club. It not only sullies his revered status and reputation but also underscores the crises in which Arsenal are fast becoming stuck.

Cash, or the lack thereof, should not be seen as the cause of the decay.

Arsenal fans pay for the most expensive season tickets in the land and help make the club a massive money spinner. There are 40,000 more on the waiting list. And the new record-breaking domestic TV deal is another cash-rich cloudburst from the EPL's heavenly coffers.

Many are also pointing at the whacky wage structure as an example of the creeping Emirates' madness.

Andrei Arshavin is the club's top earner on £80,000 a week, despite being patently surplus to requirements. Marouane Chamakh, Sébastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou are in the £50,000 to £60,0000 bracket, yet contribute little.

Theo Walcott is on £60,000 a week and his contract saga is likely to see an increase to £75,000 a week in a new five-year deal.

Arshavin earns three times what Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain banks. Jack Wilshere takes home half Arshavin's salary, yet the youngster has double the desire, offers twice the will to win and displays twice the urgency.

Arsenal supporters are now so desperate they are looking to the past years of glory for comparisons. Indeed, many reminisce joyously about titles and cups past - and the way they were won. They declare the current squad is Wenger's worst, lacking balance, quality and the aura of the "invincibles".

The dressing room is hardly devoid of technical merit, however. From keeper to defence, through the midfield to attack, Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson, and the when fit Kieran Gibbs, Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Lukas Podolski are busting with talent.

It is the cornerstones that define Arsenal - defiance, competitiveness and an unsuitable hunger for silverware and glory - that are being eroded by the new end-of-season bottom line, a fourth-place finish. It seems Wenger has forgotten his justification for existing in the soccer world, his raison d'être. The game has been, and always will be, about winning and collecting trophies.

Looking back in nostalgia is the last refuge of underachievers. And Arsenal fans know it.

It's up to Wenger and the board to shake the team out of its stupor and administer to themselves a healthy dose of realism - and the old-fashioned naked desire to ruthlessly claim a crown.