Arsenal’s defeat to Stoke City on Saturday afternoon effectively rules out the prospect of the Gunners winning their first Premier League crown since 2004. Whilst there were a precious few highly optimistic Arsenal fans tipping their team for a title win this season, it would be churlish to suggest that this was not expected.
Watching Arsenal season after season is like listening to a severely broken record. Time and time again over the last ten years, Arsene Wenger’s side have enjoyed excellent starts causing the more hyperbolic members of the British press to proclaim them as early favourites for the title. Time and time again, the bottom has fallen out of their season at precisely this stage.
This is not meant to be a gloating piece. I am not glad that Arsenal are out of the title race. Indeed it would actually be rather refreshing if a team playing with such footballing panache were able to wrest the Premier League crown from the triumvirate superpowers of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. However, whilst there will be plenty of us who would love Arsenal to win the league, we’ve all got to admit to ourselves that this latest turn of events was predictable to the point of being tiresome.
It has reached the point at the Emirates where it seems that Wenger and his side have genuine psychological frailties when it comes to this time of the year. It’s as if March comes around and Wenger tells his charges, “Look lads, it’s March, it’s time for us to crash out of the Champions League and rule ourselves out of the title race”. Whilst no doubt this latest setback is maddeningly frustrating for Arsenal fans, in their heart of hearts, they knew it was coming.
There is, of course, a miniscule chance that Arsenal are not ‘out’ of the Champions League. If we’re blunt, though, the chances of Wenger’s side toppling the all-conquering Bayern Munich in a week’s time are slim to none.
With the Gunners effectively out of the Champions League and the title race, I believe that it’s time for Wenger to start thinking a bit more radically. It goes without saying that his side must qualify for the Champions League next season, and naturally this will be his priority over the coming weeks. However, I believe there is another competition that should be regarded as equally crucial, and that is the FA Cup.
It has been nine long years since Arsenal won a trophy, and it goes without saying that this is too long. With Manchester City the only other truly ‘big’ team left in the FA Cup, the Gunners have a fantastic opportunity to rid themselves of the ‘haven’t won a trophy in nine years’ shackle. Failure to win the FA Cup this year would result in Wenger’s side having gone over ten years without a trophy and for a club with aspirations like Arsenal, this is simply not acceptable.
An FA Cup victory would be a tremendous boost for the club, and given their likely departure from Europe as well as their drop off in league form, it is their only chance to prove that they still deserve to be dining at the top table. Whether Wenger will see it like that is an entirely different issue.