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Half Empty or Half Full: A Look At Arsenal’s 2008-09 Season

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.

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    May 19, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    If Arsene Wenger would remain as arsenal manager in the coming season,he should go back to the drawing board and start from where he missed it.He is indeed a great manager of a great club but he should also know that trophies are won with great and experienced players

  2. JLEAU

    May 17, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    The answer to the financial situation is key to assessing the season. If Arsenal are out of money, then Wenger has done a tremendous job. One could question if the current style is best suited to a team with limited means. Most resource limited teams build from the back. But overall, how could the expectations be much higher if the team can’t buy?

    However, if the money is there then Wenger has made some glaring mistakes. This team has been defensively challenged for several years. I can’t express how tired I am of seeing them concede goals on set pieces because we are so weak in the air. Why was no effort made to adequately replace Flamini? Why did they wait until January to go after Arshavin and why was it such a fiasco? A full year of his services would have made a big difference. Not too mention, the situation in January was so bad, how did Arsenal believe they could risk arguing over small dollars compared to what was at stake?

    Based on the meeting with the shareholders, I feel that Wenger is questioning his continued commitment to the club and would not be surprised if we start the new season with a new manager.

  3. Gillyo

    May 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I, for instance, would like to know what is Arsenal’s real financial situation.
    You read in the papers that they are the 2nd richest club and at the same time Wenger says they can’t compete with Man U.
    Secondly, United and Ferguson had the vision years ago to see they needed an infusion of capital to compete with Chelsea and other big teams. That’s why Malcom Glazer was allowed in. Dein had that vision, but was kicked out and now Arsenal faces this dilema, are they going to be an A or B team.

  4. Bishopville Red

    May 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I have a serious gut feeling that Wenger leaves this summer. his repaired relationship with Fergie, his compliments lavished on his opponents… very uncharacteristic of him. Feels like someone who is saying his goodbyes.

  5. tyduffy

    May 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    It’s “unacceptable” to lose to Fulham – the same Fulham that is only three spots below them in the table?

    If you look at the talent disparity in their respective squad list, yes.

    And the semifinals of the Champions League is the “minimum expected”? Really?

    I don’t think you go into the season expecting to make the Champions League semi-finals. But, if your first two matchups are Roma and Villarreal, I don’t think it is as big of an accomplishment as Chelsea going through Juventus and Liverpool, for instance.

  6. Nick

    May 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    As an Arsenal fan I was disappointed with the season, but to be honest, I expected it last summer with the departures of Flamini and Hleb. I was upset that Wenger’s only major summer signing was Nasri.

    Saying that, I think people are a little too quick to jump on Arsenal’s back. Before mid-season, Arsenal beat Manchester Utd and Chelsea. They later drew Liverpool 4-4, a team that beat Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford. I’m not trying to justify Arsenal’s terrible performances in the Champions League semi-finals and return leg against Chelsea, but it seems every team in the Big Four have had their ups and downs.

    With Wenger set to make one or two new signings, Rosicky and Eduardo returning, and Arshavin qualified to play in the Champions League, next season’s Arsenal is not a club I would write-off as a “B” team.

  7. Mike K

    May 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Arsenal fans won’t accept being a “B” team though for the simple fact that Wenger has done better with the team before. He’s won things in the past, they won’t allow it when their team can’t go on to achieve success like before. Being a “B” side just isn’t good enough when you’ve got the resources, manager and potential of a club like Arsenal. Especially when the club apparently has money to spend but Arsene refuses to spend it so he doesn’t “kill” some of his players.

  8. Gillyo

    May 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    One word: ambition.
    If your ambition is to be the best B club in the world, Arsenal were very successful. They are, at the moment, exactly that, the best B team in the world.
    And the job of great B teams in the grand scheme of football is to discover young talents, develop them and sell them for a big profit to the big teams. That’s what happened to Brazilian football.
    So, Arsenal fans should resign themselves to more of the same for the future to come.

  9. Charles

    May 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    It’s “unacceptable” to lose to Fulham – the same Fulham that is only three spots below them in the table?

    And the semifinals of the Champions League is the “minimum expected”? Really?

    In my mind, the problem with Arsenal this year is that unfortunately spread out their successes across a number of fields. If they had lost in the round of 16 in the Champions League but won the FA Cup, it might be more impressive. Or if they had dropped out of the cups early but been a more serious challenger in the Premier League, same thing.

    Losing in the semifinals is not bad at all. But if you do it a bunch of times, your supporters are likely to feel a lot more irritated than if you have a season with more peaks and valleys.

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