Maybe this year? Don’t even think it! Ar­se­nal fan Mark Her­man dares to dream that The Gun­ners could fi­nally end their long wait for the English Pre­mier League ti­tle, but then de­cides this is a train-wreck of a movie he has seen too many times be­fore ...

Kick Off - - Feature -

If you saw Arsene Wenger’s face as Ar­se­nal cruised in the sec­ond half of a 4-1 win over Basel in the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League in early De­cem­ber, right af­ter a 5-1 vic­tory over West Ham in the Pre­mier League just days be­fore, you would not have seen the im­age of a man­ager ebbing with self-as­sur­ance. His team had just scored nine goals in two matches, fin­ished top of their Cham­pi­ons League group while re­main­ing un­beaten in the first six matches for the first time since the 2005/06 season when the Gun­ners went all the way to the fi­nal … yet Wenger’s fur­rowed brow re­mained fur­rowed as ever as he stu­diously watched Ar­se­nal bully a Euro­pean min­now from Switzer­land. Wenger knows, as all ‘Goon­ers’ know, this is not a new script. How many times have we seen Ar­se­nal look­ing might­ily im­pres­sive in the first half of a season, only to come un­done and be ex­posed for their weak­nesses in the sec­ond half? There is no news here. And be­cause this cy­cle re­peats it­self an­nu­ally, you’ll be hard­pressed to find an­other Gun­ners fan older than 20 who truly, truly be­lieves this might be the year we take the Pre­mier League back or lift the Cham­pi­ons League. Only the most naive of op­ti­mists would lure him or her­self into the trap of hope, or even worse, be­lief, that Ar­se­nal might be world-beat­ers this season be­cause deep down we know … not just a gut feel, but backed up by years of sta­tis­tics … this is what Ar­se­nal do. They tease you for a few months, al­low all the season ticket hold­ers at The Emi­rates to for­get an­other un­der­whelm­ing trans­fer season, play bril­liant foot­ball un­til the new year … and then the wheels in­evitably start fall­ing off one by one, start­ing in Fe­bru­ary. (You must be think­ing, this guy is not a true fan, he doesn’t be­lieve in his team. I like to think I just know my team too well.) I can’t say I’m not de­lighted with what Wenger has con­structed up front: the dy­namism of Alexis Sanchez, the pure un­selfish artistry and class of Me­sut Ozil, the fear­less rise of Nige­rian star Alex Iwobi, a Theo Wal­cott who de­liv­ers more of­ten … clearly, scor­ing goals is not a prob­lem. But that’s never been an is­sue, even af­ter club record scorer Thierry Henry and the French Holy Trin­ity left. Since 2005, the prob­lem has al­ways, al­ways, al­ways been in cen­tral de­fence and de­fen­sive mid­field, and Wenger has never ad­dressed it. Not once. And prob­a­bly not ever. The fact that youth prod­uct Fran­cis Co­quelin (a lit­tle bet­ter than Matthieu Flamini at best) and Aaron Ram­say (who just last season came of age as a Frank Lam­pard­type goalscor­ing mid­fielder af­ter years with­out a play­ing iden­tity) had been de­ployed in the deeper-ly­ing or de­fen­sivemid­field po­si­tions at the time of writ­ing ex­poses this point. If Ar­se­nal are go­ing to reach the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal this season, is the cur­rent de­fen­sive spine of the team go­ing to keep out the best play­ers in the world? I’ll leave them to prove me wrong … So the in­evitable de­bate re­peats it­self as of­ten as the sea­sonal in­jury pile-up at London Col­ney. You’ve al­ready seen the monotony of Neil An­drews and the rest in the Su­perS­port stu­dio spew­ing the pre­dictable, “Is this Ar­se­nal’s year?” No, it’s not Ar­se­nal’s year, for the same rea­sons it hasn’t been Ar­se­nal’s year since 2004. Don’t for­get that the real, in­vested Ar­se­nal fans – the ones who fork out for some of the most ex­pen­sive seats in Eng­land – have al­ready spo­ken. It’s time for Wenger to leave be­cause, for all the at­trac­tive teams and beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries he has pro­duced, he has for­got­ten how to win at the high­est level. Frus­trat­ingly, Wenger’s fu­ture is a fu­tile point be­cause as long as he keeps Ar­se­nal’s prof­its ris­ing – and there is no doubt that as the club’s ‘CFO’ he has been phenom­e­nal – he will only ever leave on his own ac­cord. (That said, the boy who saw The Pro­fes­sor de­liver Ar­se­nal’s best-ever teams ear­lier in his ten­ure still hopes, fool­ishly, that ‘Wenger still knows’.)

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