By Jonathan Blaustein
It’s finally December, which means evil November has ceded the stage. I hope the door hit November in the ass on the way out, and that it left a mark.
Like a bruise.
Or a scar.
I’d like to scar November, because she has clearly done a number on Arsene Wenger. Tim’s more of a stats guy, but I don’t need to conjure the number to prove how bad Arsenal have been during his reign. (It was everywhere at the beginning of the month.)
It’s an awful statistic.
I thought numbers were supposed to be elegant.
But not this one.
This stat is nastier than Jose Mourinho’s subconscious.
(Sample dream sequence: Jose climbs out of a green ocean, onto shore. He has fish scales and crab claws. He is an ugly creature, unlovable. At the crest of a small rise, he sees a boardwalk. There are carnival barkers and cotton candy.
Arsene Wenger is there. He’s on stilts, with the cheshire cat grin he wore the day he bought Mesut Ozil. Arsene is dressed in a blue navy sailor’s outfit, but his pants are short, like a little boy’s. Everywhere he goes, people applaud his fashion, like it is so creative and chic, but Jose knows he is a fraud.
Where were we?
I think there are two ways to read this November: the optimist’s, and the pessimist’s. I wonder how well that binary divide tracks with when fans first joined the Arsenal bandwagon? Pre or Post Invincibles?
Lifelong fans, maybe in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s will likely know of success before Arsene Wenger, and that it comes and goes. I never saw it, but George Graham won defense-first titles a few years before Arsene, right?
But fans who came along with Arsene, or a few years after, were reared on one of the best teams ever assembled. THE best team, if you go by record. I’ve heard of the heroes many times before, Henry, Bergkamp, Viera, Pires, Adams, but never saw a game.
I also missed the Fabregas era, joining up two weeks after he was sold to Barcelona. They must have choked and overachieved, the Fabregas teams, or just been super-unlucky.
If the standard is the Invincibles, and years of losing titles have since worn you down, then this November was totally normal. (1W 3D 1L.) Points were dropped. Momentum was lost.
And the beautiful football of late Summer was a distant memory.
At least the PR folks had the decency to hold back on the “Cazorla needs surgery: out 3 months” news until it was officially December. But November, as usual, was Phil the groundhog, predicting yet one more year of the same.
Out of the Champions League in the Round of 16.
Out of the title race by March.
Go on a winning streak at the end to secure 4th place.
But if you’re like me, and this is your 6th season of obsession, this November’s narrative is a bit more positive. Gut it out, prove you’re tough to beat, come from behind draws against Tottenham, United and PSG prove that Arsenal has newfound mental strength.
You don’t win titles without that.
The loss to Southampton on November’s last breath also has a look-on-the-bright-side perspective. Arsenal’s 2nd and 3rd team were good enough to beat lower league opposition, but not a Southampton side that played its best guys.
Southampton are probably the 6th or 7th best Premier League Club over the last 3 years. They’ve also beaten Arsenal consistently.
So Tuesday only proved that Arsenal’s B and C team players aren’t good enough to beat an EPL powerhouse. Are we really that surprised?
That Arsene Wenger felt comfortable with his team sheet only means he believed it more important to focus on the other 3 competitions he’s got going. He has bigger fish to fry.
Maybe if Lucas was match fit? If Ramsey had more games under his belt at the 10? If Xhaka played from the start?
It doesn’t matter. Arseblog already pointed out that the next round of the EFL Cup would have come at a bad time. City and Chelsea are out of the competition as well.
Regardless of what fan cohort you rep, the truth is, we don’t know what will happen next. History certainly has a way of repeating itself with this club, but I’d say this is by far the strongest squad Arsene has had in the 6 seasons I’ve been watching.
He’s built it year by year, and there are no scrubs left. (Except maybe Carl Jenkinson.) Really, there’s no dead wood. No Andre Santos. Or Bendtner. No Gervinho. Or Vermaelen.
Finally, Arsene has a proper mix of young talent, mature talent, and superstar-in-their-primes talent.
Arsenal would be favorites to win the league, if not for the influx of the mega-managers. (Pep, Klopp, Conte, and Dracula.) But I’d argue this Arsenal squad is as complete as any.
As such, it’s going to be a fascinating six months. We might get some real proof of whether Arsene Wenger’s still got it. Is he sharp enough to keep up with the next generation?
Can he win more silverware? Will he stay on?
What do you think?