Facing the sobering reality of a fourth season without a major trophy, Arsenal fans have been disappointed. The disenchantment has created a culture of negativity around the club, which Arsene Wenger lashed out at on Friday.
“When you look at people assessing the situations of the clubs, it has become ridiculous,” Wenger said.
“You sit here, you are in the last four in Europe, and every day, you feel you have killed someone. If you do not take a distance with it, you think what kind of world do you live in?
“We lost against United who have 10 times more resources, they are the best in the world. In sport, you have to accept that. It is like they are ashamed to be fair.
“There is no shame to say, ‘Yes you are the best.’ We were in the last four with a very young team – that is the reality.
“We have to keep a little bit of commonsense. Our average age in midfield is 22 – normally you play not to go down in the Premier League with a team like that.”
Wenger has a point. Arsenal played well for portions of the second half of the season to maintain their Champions League place. They competed in both the Champions League and the FA Cup, and with a bit of luck or a better draw could have played in the finals of both competitions. For a young squad, that is not a bad performance.
The club supporters, however, have a point as well.
Arsenal sputtered the first half of the league season. They lost five of their first 14 matches. Three of the losses were unacceptable against Fulham, Stoke, and Hull.
The club did have an injury crisis, but that crisis was self-imposed. Wenger had time to account for injuries to Eduardo and Rosicky. They had a frail first team, talented but green teenagers and zero squad players. With nearly every player playing internationally as well, injuries are to be expected. Arsenal suffered because they were not deep enough.
Arsenal’s cup performances look deceptively impressive. The Gunners made the semifinals of the FA Cup. To get there, they beat lower league sides Plymouth Argyle, Cardiff City and Burnley. They faced Hull City in the quarterfinal. The first time Arsenal was challenged facing Chelsea, they lost. Arsenal’s FA Cup magic was really the minimum expected.
Arsenal made the semifinals of the Champions League. They qualified from the group stages, the minimum expectation in a system designed to ensure the big clubs go through. They scraped by on penalties against Roma. They outclassed Villarreal, an inferior team. Facing their first stern test against Manchester United, they were trounced. Again, it was the minimum expected.
The season can be considered both positively and negatively, depending on Arsenal’s finances. Supporters see one of the five wealthiest clubs in the world. They see a sold-out stadium of fans paying the highest ticket prices in English football. They see massive turnover, yet a team profiting in the transfer window.
The club’s fiscal picture inside may be bleak, but the Arsenal public front insists that there is money to spend. Arsene Wenger heroically may have kept the club as competitive as it is has been the past four years, but, with no transparency, how are Arsenal fans to know that?
Supporters can understand the lack of resources, what they cannot accept is the seeming lack of effort. On nearly every occasion, the 2008-09 Arsenal squad cowered in the face of adversity.
Arsenal are a team professing trophies as their goal. For the manager to throw up his hands after a defeat and say something to the effect of “It’s Man United, what do you expect?” is unacceptable.