After a tumultuous season for Arsenal reached a low-point this week when the Gunners were all but eliminated from the Champions League by Bayern Munich, talkSPORT's Mike Bovill decided to dispel five of the biggest myths attached to the club in recent years, ranging from the irreplaceable Arsene Wenger to Financial Fair Play as a leveller. It doesn't make pretty reading, but he may just have a point (or five). Check out Mike's thoughts below...
FINISHING IN A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLACE EVERY YEAR IS A SIGN OF SUCCESS
It has long been argued that finishing in the top four year after year is success in itself, but while Arsenal have been incredibly consistent in qualifying for the Champions League and then making it out of the group stage, they have rarely threatened to win the European Cup. One losing final appearance is not good enough.
In the League Cup, Arsene Wenger’s record of seeing his side reach the quarter-finals in each of the last 10 seasons is admirable, but ask fans of Birmingham, Middlesbrough or Liverpool, who have all collected the cup in that time, whether they would swap winning at Wembley for a place in the last eight every season, and we all know what the answer would be. Consistency does not equal success. I get out of bed every morning – but I don’t expect a medal for it.
BUILDING THE NEW STADIUM PREVENTED ARSENAL COMPETING FOR TROPHIES
It is clear that there were financial constraints placed upon Wenger and the Arsenal board as the club built their new home at the Emirates, but to use that as an excuse for not winning trophies is wrong. There may not have been the marquee arrivals seen at Stamford Bridge and Eastlands, but throughout the move from Highbury to the present day, Arsenal have consistently had one of the highest wage bills in England.
Yes, the best players have been sold off to balance the books, and yes, the likes of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata chose West London instead of North London because bigger wages were offered, but enough highly-priced players have arrived at the Emirates, and too many of them have under-performed.
Arsenal did not lose the 2006 Champions League final because the club was building a new ground. They did not lose to Chelsea or Birmingham in domestic finals because Arsene Wenger was not given money to spend. Nor did they fail to lift the title after challenging in 2008 or 2011 due to a lack of funds. They lost because of individual errors and mental weakness – the players and manager have to take responsibility for that.
ARSENE WENGER CONTINUALLY DEVELOPS GREAT TALENT
There is no doubt that Wenger has brought in and nurtured some outstanding players during his time at Arsenal. Thierry Henry played the best football of his career at the club; Vieira, Petit, Pires, Fabregas and many others greats have graced English football in an Arsenal shirt.
But the side that gave Wenger so much success in his early years in North London was already well established before he arrived. The Frenchman welded on some midfield flair and attacking talent to a defensive unit that was built by George Graham. Bergkamp, Parlour, Seaman, Adams, Keown and the rest were already in place and were just as important as Wenger’s later additions.
In terms of developing young players, Wenger has had as many misses as he has hits. Few of the kids who used to feature regularly in the League and FA Cup sides of recent years have gone on to be first team stars. Of the six British players who signed new contracts to huge fanfare earlier this season, only two – Jack Wilshere and Keiran Gibbs – have been developed since childhood by the club. Only one will go on to be a superstar.
IN WENGER WE TRUST
One of the enduring myths about Arsenal that frustrates me the most is the notion that nobody could replace Arsene Wenger as manager. The club have shown great loyalty to him, which in turn he has shown to them, but if Arsenal fans need an example of what happens when you hang on for too long to a man who has previously brought you success, you need only look at Liverpool.
The cup Treble of 2001 was a defining moment for Gerard Houllier and his side, but those trophies gave the Frenchman a licence to carry on for too long, masking Liverpool’s decline in the league. Strikingly, when Houllier left, Rafa Benitez came in and immediately lifted the European Cup. You could even argue that the Spaniard's shining moment also gave him the leverage to continue past his own sell-by date.
The same thing has happened at Arsenal, but on a much bigger scale. Sir Alex Ferguson has endured at Manchester United because he keeps on winning trophies. The Chelsea model of sacking the coach every few months is far from ideal, but, with four FA Cup wins in the last six seasons and the ultimate prize of the European Cup in the trophy cabinet, it has certainly been successful.
ARSENAL WILL THRIVE WHEN FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY COMES IN
The party line has always been that the move to the Emirates has secured Arsenal’s financial future and will allow to the club to compete with the top teams in Europe for decades to come. However, this is based on two key assumptions, both of which are flawed.
When Arsenal first looked at leaving Highbury, they were in the process of emerging under Wenger as the main contender to Manchester United. From 1998 to 2004, those two sides and occasionally Liverpool were the only teams with realistic title ambitions. Under those conditions, moving to a new home to strengthen Arsenal’s finances made perfect sense.
Roman’s roubles and the Abu Dhabi dollars in East Manchester have changed everything. Yes, bigger match-day revenues are generating much-welcomed profits for shareholders and a few extra million a year to spend on the team, but the difference now is that Chelsea and City can spend hundreds of millions in a way Arsenal simply cannot.
United’s position as the biggest commercial power in world football and arguably, world sport, also leaves them in a unique situation. Even if UEFA are successful in bringing in financial fair play - and that is far from certain- Arsenal are still a long way behind the buying power of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs along with the likes of Paris St Germain, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and others on the continent.
None of this gives me any pleasure to write. I have been an Arsenal fan since the mid-Eighties, hardly a glorious period in the club’s history, and I am not pushing an anti-Wenger agenda, but there is no point in labouring under false beliefs that things are not that bad and a return to the glory days are just around the corner. Everybody – the fans, the manager, the board and the media – needs to be realistic about the club that Arsenal have become. I am.
Arsenal fans, how can the club change their fortunes and begin to win trophies again? Let us know below...