After another campaign without the Gunners winning a single trophy, few of Arsene Wenger's team can expect to be a certain starter at the beginning of next season
By Wayne Veysey at Britannia Stadium
Arsene Wenger was quiet, almost numb, as he reflected on another setback for his spluttering Arsenal team against their nemesis Stoke City.
There were no attacks on officialdom or anti-football, only an acceptance that Stoke had been more competitive and deserved to have prevailed.
The burning question about whether Le Boss still had complete faith in his under-achieving players was flat-batted away. “This is not the best moment to analyse after a disappointing game,” he said.
True enough, but the ineptness of the visitors stood out as prominently as the Britannia Stadium amid the car show rooms and chain restaurants of this purpose-built area of Stoke-on-Trent.
There are only two more matches before Arsenal’s wheezing season comes to a merciful end. Supporters are almost beyond anger and hurt as they watch the same mistakes being made and the same deficiencies not being rectified.
Wenger threw some mild criticism in the general direction of his defenders for the game-changing first goal, when Kenwyne Jones was able to bundle the ball over the line without even having to jump to win it, despite being surrounded by yellow shirts. But his claim that “the team has done well overall this season” will prompt more hairs to be pulled out in disgust.
Reputations have taken a pounding at Arsenal during a dreadful couple of months that have been perhaps the most morale-shattering of Wenger’s proud, 15-year reign.
The experiment in youth has conclusively failed. With a sixth barren season about to be completed, a whole philosophy is being questioned like never before.
Yet Wenger can point towards what will be a 15th consecutive top-four spot and his peerless ability at attaining Champions League football on a shoestring. Who, on the budget he was given during the finance-draining switch from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, could reasonably have done any better?
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Nevertheless, with the cash registers ringing like never before, the calls for change are becoming deafening. In playing, coaching and boardroom personnel. Even in the content of Wenger’s meticulously planned training sessions.
With a £45 million summer transfer kitty available, there will be uproar on the terraces, where fans are already smarting from a 6.5 per cent season ticket rise, if a chunk is left untouched for a rainy day. The view of many supporters, especially those too young to remember the first half of the 1980s, is that the heavens have already opened above the Emirates Stadium.
Inevitably, thoughts are already turning to incomings and outgoings. Few players are presenting a persuasive case that they should be wearing a red-and-white shirt on the opening day of next season.
Only Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny and Robin van Persie are ending the season with a consistently high level of performance although even the brilliant young goalkeeper has shown enough rawness in an encouraging debut campaign to suggest he is not yet ready for the demands of a 60-match season for an elite club.
Bacary Sagna, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri, who has agreed but not yet signed a new contract, have all enhanced their reputations this season, as has Johan Djourou. The Swiss has been Arsenal’s most reliable defender but he was torn to ribbons by the directness of Stoke and his carelessness had a hand in each of the hosts’ three goals.
How Wenger’s team are crying out for a raw-boned centre-back who treats the conceding of goals as an affront to his honour.
Thomas Vermaelen and Aaron Ramsey have started barely a handful of games between them and will be given time to fulfil their promise but there are plenty who believe the others have reached the end of their Arsenal shelf life.
Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy and Nicklas Bendtner all have one foot in the exit door while, if Barcelona stump up the £45m that Arsenal are demanding for Cesc Fabregas, he will begin next season at Camp Nou.
One of the most dismal consequences of Arsenal’s defeats at Bolton Wanderers and Stoke, and the string of April stalemates, is that players who are effectively playing for their Arsenal futures have not been able to raise their games.
Should a reasonable offer come in for one of Lukasz Fabianski, Laurent Koscielny, Sebastien Squillaci, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Denilson, Alex Song, Andrey Arshavin, Emmanuel Eboue, Marouane Chamakh, Carlos Vela or Armand Traore, then few would want Arsene Wenger to stand in the way of a deal.
Whether it is a late-season tease with 2011-12 season tickets to be sold or not, Wenger has said there will be changes in the summer.
How substantial those are could well have a substantial bearing on how the Frenchman’s often-glorious Arsenal tenure will be viewed by history.
On a May Staffordshire afternoon when the sun was jostling for position, the clouds of despair had never seemed so prominent.Follow Wayne Veysey on
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