It was Week 7 of the Barclays Premier League and Arsène Wenger and his boys were at Stamford Bridge on a redemption mission against José Mourinho and the Blues. The Chelsea team under Mourinho meted out a 6-0 drubbing of Wenger and his boys last season, and that, on a day Wenger was marking his 1,000th game as manager. Even more riling, Mourinho had referred to Wenger as a specialist in failure, for the latter’s inability to win a Premier League title in almost a decade. Wenger’s frustrations may have led to the altercation with Mourihno during the match. While Mourinho may have been uncharitable, few would disagree that Wenger has not made the best of a club with so much potential.
Again, deficiencies in Wenger’s business model meant Chelsea came out victorious on the day. It was the usual story. Arsenal had all the fanciful possession but no final third capability and of course, the defensive lapse that conceded the contest.
The reasons are not far-fetched. First, since the departure of Thierry Henry, Arsenal have had, arguably, in Robin van Persie’s last season, just one competent striker; and then he was sold to rivals Manchester United to help them win the Premiere League title. The rest of the strikers have shown rather low chance conversion ratios. As shown in Table 1, Arsenal did not have even one shot on target throughout the match against Chelsea.
The implication then is that against the top Premiere League teams, where goal-scoring chances would be few, Arsenal would be unable to get winning results; and that was the case at Stamford Bridge. Against the top 7 premier League teams of the 2013-2014 season, Arsenal could only win 3 games, losing 5 and drawing 4.
Secondly, Arsenal’s defensive midfield and backfield capabilities have been unimpressive since the “Invincibles” team of 2004. Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s Belgian winger rode roughshod over the Arsenal midfield and backfield, scoring the first goal of the match. Didier Drogba, during his first-term at Chelsea, had a field day against Arsenal, scoring quite easily in just about every game he played against the club.
All said, Mr. Wenger’s business model really needs a review. His vision of buying promising youngsters and developing them has not translated to title-winning teams and his preference for players of certain physical attributes upon whom he imposes a certain play-pattern has left him with one of the worst injury lists in the Premier League.
Table 2 shows the total number of injury days for first team players in the Premier League for the 2010-2011 season through 2013-2014.
In three of those seasons, Arsenal either topped that table or placed in the top three. Last season, Arsenal had a total of 1,716 days without its first team players, almost 300 more than the second-placed team, Tottenham; it was also more than three times that of Chelsea and almost double those of Liverpool and Manchester City. All three teams finished above Arsenal on last season’s Premier League table. The 2014-2015 has barely begun and already, Arsenal is saddled with long first-team layoffs in Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Debuchy, while Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsay and Theo Walcott are out for unspecified periods. Abou Diaby is seemingly permanent on that log.
Without a rethink of this model, it is unlikely the team will return to title-winning ways, leaving that specialist-in-failure tag firmly in place.