The full-time whistle at the Reebok Stadium on Sunday, brought about a rather familiar story, as Arsenal’s early-season promise ended in disappointment, a 2-1 defeat against Bolton, effectively ending their title charge. As Gunners boss Arsene Wenger cut a frustrated figure on the touchline, he went on to insist that in the aftermath of their crushing loss, he, rather than the players, should take the responsibility for his side’s failure to secure a trophy for a sixth consecutive season.
Many Arsenal supporters would agree with Wenger’s comments, feeling that the Frenchman’s methods are simply not emulating his success of previous campaigns and his reluctance to abandon his ideas is ultimately damaging the club’s ambitions. The brand of football Wenger brought to England has become synonymous with his club, his meticulous methods of preparation, as well as the attractive, expansive, attacking style saw Wenger win three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. However, his insistence in recent on building a side with a nucleus of young players, has failed to see his side lift a major trophy since 2004.
Wenger has an unquestionable ability to identify young talents. However, many feel that such talents need further support from experienced players if they are to end their trophy drought. When Wenger led Arsenal to their first Premier League title in 1998, the spine of his side consisted of experienced internationals, many of whom achieved legendary status during their time at the club, the defence, led by club captain Tony Adams, with England teammate David Seaman in goal; the attack spearheaded by Ian Wright, who would go on to become the club’s leading scorer under Wenger, alongside Dutch international Dennis Bergkamp. This core of players allowed the Arsenal boss to introduce younger players alongside their established teammates, with the emergence of the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, players coming to England with potential, now with the opportunity to become some of world football’s hottest properties.
As the careers of Wenger’s veterans began to wind down, players such as Vieira became senior figures at the club, as Arsenal completed their famous unbeaten league campaign, with the introduction of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, as well as the emergence of Ashley Cole leading Arsenal to unprecedented success. However, as Arsenal failed to repeat any such success as well as landing any European glory, senior players have continued to be lured by new challenges, both home and abroad, with players such as Cole, Henry, Vieira and Kolo Toure departing, leaving a squad of developing talent, with a lack of experienced figures in the dressing room.
Arsenal’s young side continue to maintain their top-four position every year, however, when they look at the sides above them, they continue to see a core of senior players, experienced heads who have seen and overcome the pressures of competing for the game’s greatest honours. As Wenger begins to dissect his side’s shortcomings, history will suggest that his previous success has been built upon the solid foundations within his dressing room. As senior players continue to be linked to moves, with no signals indicating any such recruitment, the wait for honours may well continue.