Arsenal- the best squad never to have won a title?

15th January 2011

Arsenal’s second-half capitulation to Tottenham at the Emirates earlier in the season is symptomatic of a psychological barrier that exists in the current Arsenal squad. It seems to me that every time they come close to achieving something, they implode. There is something within the group mentality that hits the self-destruct button, forcing Arsene Wenger’s team to start from scratch on yet another uphill struggle.

As an Arsenal fan (and this is not in any way affecting my judgement…) I expect this sort of thing from Arsenal. Ever since the now infamous “last trophy” of 2005, Arsenal have been plagued by a string of near misses and “if onlys”. Thirteen minutes away from being crowned champions of Europe in 2006; losing to Chelsea in the League Cup final of 2007 and even being top of the league at Christmas and ending up five points behind United in the 07/08 season, Arsenal’s list of unsuccessful conversions now seems longer than the list of Audley Harrison jokes.

Yes, the horrific injury to Eduardo and the Gallas episode at St. Andrews harmed the title challenge of 07/08, but the numerous other factors cannot hide the truth that Arsenal have been close but just not quite clinical enough. Being close is by no means a bad thing. Over the past decade, Arsenal have consistently qualified for the Champions League, sharing that honour exclusively with Real Madrid and Manchester United. They are comfortably one of the top eight seeds in the competition each year, and are always contenders. What Wenger has already achieved with this Arsenal side is incredible, it’s just that when you are challenging to be champions of the best league in the world, although incredible is great, only exceptional will do. Arsenal are just not quite there yet.

Wenger had the humour to describe this Arsenal squad as superior to his “Unbeatables”, a team that the title of exceptional should most definitely be bestowed upon. Now whilst some could argue that the way journalists tend to put questions to people is tantamount to putting words in their mouth, in this case however Wenger agreed completely with the sentiment.

Whilst on paper having names like Fabregas, Arshvavin, Nasri et al in the starting line-up as well as first team players like Van Persie and Walcott on the bench you can see where Wenger is coming from. But based on some performances this season, defensively at least, there is no way Wenger is permitted to compare this team to that of the unbeaten season.

On their day his current players are phenomenal, arguably unplayable. Nasri’s nomination for the Puskas award for his breath-taking dribble and finish against Porto in the Champions League last season is sufficient evidence in itself. However, the Arsenal of this generation are not on their day often enough to be considered serious contenders. Unless their first defeat at home to their North London rivals since 1993 can be the spur (pardon the pun) that drives them on to be truly consistent then I cannot see this Arsenal side winning the league.

This Premier League season looks to be the tightest in years, and if Arsenal can be more consistent than Manchester United and Chelsea then there is still time for them to win it, because their squad is good enough. I hope that Wenger’s team can do it- clearly, because I’m an Arsenal fan and any other suggestion would be ludicrous- and quite frankly if they do it will be one of the greatest achievements in the modern game. I say this despite arguing for the strength of their squad on paper, but a league title for a team who, in an ocean of financial lunacy, have stayed true to a policy of fiscal prudence when all around them are losing their heads (and some are only starting to regain them); would seal Arsene Wenger’s place as one of the greatest managers to have graced the English game.

Sir Alex Ferguson will undoubtedly retire with more medals in his cabinet than Wenger, that’s a given. But, when history looks back at the respective legacies of two greats of the modern game, if Arsenal can truly achieve “Victory through Harmony” then Wenger’s legacy of youth development, financial sensibility and aesthetic football will resonate through time far longer than the mountain of medals Ferguson has accrued in his uniquely excellent career.

From this juncture however, and with a humiliating defeat to our local rivals still fresh on the brain, that legacy could not seem further away.

Stephen Patrick Hankey