Soccer

What on Earth happened to Arsenal?

WATFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal (14) and team mates Granit Xhaka and David Luiz react during the Premier League match between Watford FC and Arsenal FC at Vicarage Road on September 15, 2019 in Watford, United Kingdom.
Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Oh, Arsenal, where to start? Once one of England’s most revered football clubs, the team has seemingly collapsed in recent years. In its history, the club stayed consistently atop of tables. Year after year, the “Gunners” from North London saw European football and consistently competed for silverware.

They also fielded world-class players. Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Ian Wright, and countless others lined the pitch for the club. It all culminated in the historic 2004 season where “The Invincibles” won the Premier League without suffering a single defeat.

With their star-studded squads, the team always looked dangerous, akin to a mighty lion of a club. Sadly, the current state of the team sees itself bearing more of a resemblance to a kitten.

In recent years, the team took a step away from both title challenges and the Champions League. Arsenal last appeared in the UCL in 2017, and their last 5 league seasons saw them fail at cracking the top 4. Keep in note this also includes 2 dismal 8th place finishes.

Now, at the time of writing, they sit in 13th place in the 2021-2022 league table with a 2-3 record along with just 2 goals scored. So what exactly is happening to Arsenal?

Roots of the decline

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - MAY 29: A dejected Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal after losing the UEFA Europa League Final between Chelsea and Arsenal at Baku Olimpiya Stadionu on May 29, 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

To explore the roots of the club’s sad decline, one could start in 2018, when club legend manager Arsene Wenger and the club “mutually parted ways” (he later revealed the board effectively forced him out). The departure of Alexis Sanchez in that same year can also be examined.

However, the root of Arsenal’s run of mediocrity and disappointment started when current owner Stan Kroenke joined the mix all the way back in 2007.

The club seemed great at the time. The Gunners were fresh off a Champions League final appearance where they fell just short to Barcelona. Later in the year, they made the move out of their old stadium into a new, modern ground called Emirates Stadium where they still play.

After a year of buying shares in the club’s ownership company, Kroenke joined the board in 2008, and by 2011 he held a majority stake in the club.

Now, in 2021, Kroenke owns over 90% of the club, enough for essentially full ownership.

As an American, Kroenke understandably has less knowledge of the sport, and as a result, is unpopular with many fans. After all, he started his ownership career in the NBA and NFL rather than at another football club.

Since his time at the club began, the club’s best player ever in Thierry Henry left, the club’s best manager in Wenger left, and the club has failed to challenge for a title bar from the 2015-2016 season when Arsenal finished second.

So what is wrong with Kroenke?

Kroenke’s Issues

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 27:  Arsenal director Stan Kroenke during the Arsenal AGM at Emirates Stadium on October 27, 2011 in London, England.
Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

It’s simple really, Kroenke sees the club as a business, while fans see it as a passion. With multiple teams across 2 continents under his ownership, Kroenke has a lot on his plate. His interests are spread around the sporting world and he is simply unable to pour all of his assets into one team.

In the football world, and especially the Premier League, this style of ownership simply can’t lead to success. Just take a look at his competition.

Liverpool has John W. Henry in charge. Henry too has stakes in American sports within the Red Sox, but he founded ‘Fenway Sports Group’ which runs the team and has an entirely separate board to aid him in operating the team. As a result, he can shift the majority of his focus to Liverpool, which has been one of Europe’s most successful clubs in the past several years.

Chelsea has Roman Abramovich. The club is the Russian’s only dip into the sports ownership world, and over the years, he has pumped an enormous amount of money into the team. They too, have enjoyed success, and are the current Champions League winners.

Kroenke’s most famous competitor perhaps is Sheikh Mansour and his oil-funded takeover of Manchester City. In the past decade, he and his ‘City Football Group’ transformed the club’s identity to where it is now.

What about the players and coaches?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: A dejected Mikel Arteta the manager / head coach of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on December 29, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.
James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

While ownership remains a major problem at the club, the very basis of every sporting competition is the players and coaches. Without them, sports wouldn’t exist.

In Arsenal’s case, the squads of the present and recent memory are a lackluster bunch in comparison to the glorious teams of the 2000s. Not to mention, current manager Mikel Arteta might just be the most disappointing manager in all of the Premier League.

The club has retained an underwhelming roster since the 2016-2017 season when they finished 5th place, tied for the highest finish since that time.

Signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018 certainly seemed a step in the right direction. He was regarded as world-class at the time, and he continued his fine form in his first 2 and a half seasons at Arsenal. However, this past season he scored just 10 league goals in comparison to having 22 in each of the 2 seasons prior.

He also hasn’t scored this season, but that simply may be due to his age. At 32, he is now in the waning years of his career.

Now, in the current season, the team has a mid-table quality squad at best. Arguably their only bright spots lie in goal with German shot-stopper Bernd Leno, and on the wing through Bukayo Saka, the young Englishman who already has national team experience and looks poised for bigger things.

Is there hope?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 07: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal which was awarded after a VAR review during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

For this season? No. Arsenal simply can’t challenge for any significant trophy this season unless the team has a lucky cup run. At best, they could finish in the Europa League spots. And that’s at the very best.

At least for this season, the expectation remains low. Even Aubameyang knows the state of the club and he even acknowledged the disappointment after the loss to Manchester City.

For the future? Yes. While the team currently has a lackluster squad, they aren’t anywhere near the relegation zone. With a few signings and potentially a new manager, things may soon turn positive for the club.

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