Inside Track with John McIntyre
THERE was a time when Arsenal and Arsene Wenger carried all before them in England. Remember, the 2003/04 Premiership season when the Gunners stormed to the league title without losing a single match. To go through a 38-game campaign unbeaten was unprecedented, but the achievement underlined the consistency and quality of players at Highbury.
It was Wenger’s third league triumph since joining the London club in October of 1996 and having already guided Arsenal to league and FA Cup doubles in 1998/99 and 2001/02, the French man could do little wrong. Admittedly, he inherited a strong squad but Wenger made them better and their fluid football was also very pleasing on the eye.
These were the days when the likes of Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Freddie Ljunberg, Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown, Ashley Cole and the magnificent Thierry Henry were at least the equal of the great Manchester United team build by Alex Ferguson. Between 1997 and 2003, the two clubs dominated the Premiership as they shared seven titles between them.
But those glorious days are now a thing of the past for Wegner and Arsenal. They haven’t won the league since the 2003/04 season and though he led the club to a seventh FA Cup under his reign in 2017, the grumbles continue to grow on the terraces. Last season was the first time that the Gunners failed to qualify for the Champions League with Wenger in charge, leading to renewed calls for his resignation.
Ultimately, he signed a new two-year contract, but this season has gone from bad and worse. Arsenal made their earliest modern-day exit from the FA Cup; they are miles adrift of the top four in the Premiership; have already lost eight times in all competitions in 2018; and were beaten in their third consecutive league game when falling to Brighton on Sunday.
By Arsenal’s standards and tradition, their current form and lack of confidence is shocking. Wenger, somewhat delusionally, still believes he is the right man to take the club forward and gives no impression of a man ready to throw in the towel or quit. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to realise how much off the pace Arsenal have fallen in recent seasons and appears reluctant to accept the reality of the situation.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.