7th April 2016. By Greg Lea.
After Arsenal's 4-0 thrashing of Watford at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it was difficult to work out whether to be impressed or disappointed by the Gunners. While their performance was excellent and the result kept alive their slim hopes of winning the Premier League title, it was almost impossible not to be frustrated at Arsenal's inability to turn in a similar sort of display when they were in a far healthier position a few weeks ago.
If they fail to finish on top of the pile and with surprise leaders Leicester City now 11 points clear of them at the summit, that looks likely it will be 13 seasons since Arsenal last claimed the championship crown. It would be unfair to assert that they should have been winning the league for much of that stretch, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City all able to spend far more for much of the last decade as Arsenal's funds were split between the playing staff and the relocation from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, but it is nevertheless a lengthy barren run that would have been unthinkable when the Invincibles scooped the leading domestic prize without losing a single match in 2003/04.
While Arsene Wenger could legitimately point to financial disparity as a reason for his side's failure to add another league title to the trophy cabinet between 2004 and 2013, that excuse has not really been usable in recent years. Arsenal spent big on Mesut Ozil three summers ago and Alexis Sanchez in 2014, while the squad at Wenger's disposal this season is probably the strongest in the division with the exception of Manchester City.
The fact that it is Leicester, who were heavily tipped for relegation this term after only surviving in 2014/15 thanks to a miraculous last-gasp escape act, leading the way has not done anything to help the perception that this year should have seen ArsenalÂ step up and take the title. The north Londoners led the way up until the middle of January, but a four-match winless run that featured draws with Liverpool, Stoke City and Southampton and a defeat to Chelsea meant they had dropped down to fourth by the start of February. Losses to Manchester United and Swansea and a draw with Tottenham Hotspur in the weeks that followed meant Arsenal suffered a negative 10-point swing they led the way by two and then trailed by eight in the space of nine games.
It is for that reason that Saturday's superb showing against Watford was not received with unanimous positivity by Arsenal supporters, who were understandably wondering why their side were unable to perform in a similar manner when the heat was really on in the last couple of months. The weekend's thumping win proved that Arsenal are not lacking in quality, but this season looks like going down as a huge missed opportunity unless Leicester completely collapse and the Gunners win all of their remaining seven matches.
The club's fans appear to be divided on the key question of whether Wenger should remain in charge next term, even if the Frenchman's power at Arsenal dictates that he alone will make that decision. The terrific success he enjoyed in the early part of his 20-year tenure and the incredible consistency of finishing in the top four campaign after campaign ever since means Wenger should at least be allowed to fulfil the final 12 months of his contract, but there can be no denying that Arsenal really should have done better in the Premier League this season, a point that was perfectly illustrated by their 4-0 dismissal of Watford.
A Bittersweet Win for Arsenal Against Watford
7th April 2016. By Greg Lea.