The Arsenal Express: A Train To Nowhere

  on

"A train to nowhere that we are riding.                   
We're riding over and over again.            
A train to nowhere.        

And we are gliding.      
A way that never may happen again.            
A train to nowhere".

These lyrics of the catchy tune 'Train to nowhere' by Bad Boys Blue are reminiscent of Arsenal football club.

It has now been seven long years since an Arsenal Captain lifted a trophy. To be precise there has been no trophy in Arsenal's cabinet since 21st May 2005.

So where is the problem? Maybe we can get an idea from the line up of the team that played that sunny day at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and compare it to the team that played on the last day of this past season when Arsenal barely crossed the finish line against a determined West Brom team at the Hawthornes.

At Cardiff the Master Jens Lehmann was in goal. His back four were Lauren, Kolo Toure, Phillipe Senderos and Ashley Cole. Midfield was spearheaded by Patrick Vieira ably supported by Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva, Robert Pires. Reyes and Bergkamp headed the attack.

Thierry Henry was unfortunately injured so Wenger played a 4-5-1 with Bergkamp as the lone striker.

Now that is a class team.

Fast forward to the 13th of May 2012.

The team that played at the Hawthornes consisted of Szczesny, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Andre Santos, Rosicky, Song, Coquelin, Benayoun, Gervinho, Van Persie.

With respect, no comparison.

The 2005 team consisted of a blend of die hard players mixed with supreme talent and class and peppered with grit and determination. Arsenal then were in a class of their own. All the elements required of a title winning team. That is why they came to be known as "The Untouchables".

The class of 2012 I am afraid to say fails to meet the threshold of a title winning team. Why do I say this? This is why. I will call it as I see it.

1. Attitude problem

The current crop of the Gunners never seriously look like they want to win a title. Pretty football is good enough but ultimately you are judged by the number of trophies that you place in your trophy Cabinet at the end of a season and not beautiful football. Ask the Barcelona squad of 2011-2012.

My good friend Barrack Otieno a staunch Arsenal fan domiciled in Nairobi, Kenya epitomized this when he sent me an email during a discussion on football matters. In that email he said:

"This are just signs of disaster, a manager whose team is almost in relegation zone, what he can deliver at most is that Mickey Mouse cup they won apart from that sioni (I can't see) anything better he will do".

Barrack was referring to Liverpool's attempts to sign Martinez from Wigan as their next coach. The Mickey Mouse cup that he was referring to is the Carling Cup.

Unfortunately Barrack's reasoning seems to be the fodder at Arsenal. There is no real drive to win the cup competitions and Arsenal as a unit is in my view not cut out to win the Premier league at this point in time.

Wenger was quoted last season as saying that he 'wouldn't mind finishing third season after season'. Well maybe that is the pinnacle of his ambitions which he seems to have perfected to an art but a great club such as Arsenal should not be shackled in this manner.

Maybe the fact that their London neighbours beat them to the Champions league title will be a wake-up call.

2. The sale of key players

Of the victorious starting 11 who played in that FA final none remains at Arsenal.

Save for Senderos who at best is an average defender the rest of the team consisted of top notch players. It is only common sense that when you sell key players you replace them with quality additions to keep the momentum and continuity going.

Last season saw the departure of two key members- Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. The two were the engine that propelled Arsenal's attack and their absence really dealt a killer blow to Arsenal's chances to effectively compete for any trophy. There were no quality replacements and the results clearly showed the effect of that decision.

 3. Over reliance on some players

Even a newcomer to the world of football would have noticed the sterling performance by Van Persie this past season.

He was no doubt the class act of Arsenal's otherwise blunt attack and scored a majority of the team's goals including many crucial winning goals giving him the enviable title of top scorer of the EPL.

One wonders how long he can carry the team. The Premiership is unfortunately rarely a one man event.

Szczesny also stood out. He is definitely a goalkeeper who possesses raw talent but still requires a few seasons to mature into a top notch goalkeeper.

He however made a few eye catching contributions to Arsenal's final points tally though was guilty on occasion of horrendous mistakes. One that easily comes to mind is the howler at the Emirates when Hoolahan's tame effort somehow made it into the net. One doesn't need reminding that Norwich made it from the Emirates with a point after a 3-3 draw in a game that the Gunners ought to have won.

Song was credited with some brilliant through balls to Van Persie that led to some crucial goals. He was however guilty on some occasions of show boating and forgetting his primary role which was to provide defensive cover for his goalkeeper.

The rest of the team practically just made up the numbers. The Gunners need to create a system of play that results in formations where certain players are given more room to express themselves.

One need not go far for comparison purposes. Arshavin's season at the Emirates was dire but his performances at the Euro were sparkling proving that if he is given an opportunity to play to his potential he will the lethal threat that he used to be. And that statement is reminiscent of many players at the club.

4. Arsene Wenger

Much of the blame for Arsenal's trophy-less run must lie at the door of Arsene Wenger.

Over the years he has been credited with evolving an eye catching brand of beautiful football. The basics have however been thrown out of the window.

The defence remains a mess. Wenger's team selection and substitutions are many times questionable. He has for instance played players like Benayoun off position thus not getting the best from them. His positioning has at times un-balanced the team leading to disappointing results.

Players like Andriy Arshavin and Maroune Chamakh have no business being in the Gunners payroll. Take Chamakh for example-1 goal, 7starts and 12 substitute appearances. Surely he doesn't deserve his pay.

Wenger kept insisting on playing Aaron Ramsey this past season for reasons that continue to confound many. Maybe Wenger knows something that we don't, but on the balance of Ramsey's performance this season he would not have merited a place on the bench of Manchester City, Manchester United or even Chelsea.

Wenger's theatrics on the pitch especially when Arsenal concede a goal or he feels a tackle has been made un-fairly are negative and de-motivating.

Wenger needs to be more positive with purchases, team selection, attitude and desire. For example Lukas Podolski is a bargain buy but whether he will be used to his strengths is well, a mystery.

It is rumored that Arsenal shied away from buying Yann M'Vila due to his 22m pound price tag. If that is true it would be very disappointing because M'Vila would add the steel and grit required at the centre of the park. In this world of techno football you must spend to succeed. Case in point? Manchester City.

THE HARD TRUTH

Many Arsenal fans will not like to hear this but the truth must be said. After the joy of finishing third dissipates the hard facts are that Arsenal were lucky to end up in the Champions League places. Their fans need value for their money considering that the tickets at the Emirates are some of the most expensive in the Premier League.

The Gunners will find it much harder to secure a Champions League place next season. No, wait, maybe they will WIN the Champions League. After all if Chelsea could win it, why not Arsenal?

Until then Arsenal Express is really a train to nowhere.

And oh Barrack, if I were you will take the 'Mickey Mouse' trophy over a trophy-less season anytime. Remember half a loaf is better than none!!