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What is Arsenal’s future?
It is a bit early to single out Manchester rivals United and City as the only title contenders this season, but it appears highly likely that Arsenal will not be among the chasing pack now headed by the new-look Liverpool and Chelsea.
What is more, the 8-2 hammering the Gunners suffered at Old Trafford suggests that Arsene Wenger’s side might even struggle to finish in the top six, unless the Frenchman can swiftly turn around their fortunes.
Crippled by early injuries to some regular starters and even more so by the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Arsenal were so off the pace for most of the match that their fans will want to forget as soon as possible.
With the team’s vertebrae boiling down to inconsistent and injury-prone Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, Wenger faces a mammoth task of rebuilding his side which is now a far cry from the 2003-4 Invincibles who won the league title without losing a match and stretched their unbeaten record to 49 games the following season.
Ironically, that remarkable run ended in a 2-0 defeat by United at Old Trafford and signaled a decline which seems to have culminated in Sunday’s humiliation.
The 2005 FA Cup is the only silverware Arsenal have managed since and adding a fourth league title to his trophy cabinet always looked unlikely for Wenger after the Gunners swapped the intimidating atmosphere of dilapidated Highbury for their glittering new palace, the Emirates Stadium, in 2006.
Several pundits have suggested that the seven-year drought and lack of financial muscle to compete with Arsenal’s rivals should have prompted Wenger to step down at the end last season, or the board to show him the door after 15 years in charge.
That would have at least spared Wenger the anguish of watching his once mighty team getting torn to bits by Alex Ferguson’s young lions.
But, would Arsenal benefit in the long term with Wenger gone? Would a panic replacement fill the void that would surely be left behind a manager whose football philosophy transformed Arsenal from a drab, mid-table side to perennial and high-scoring title contenders?
Had he ordered his troops to thwart United with a cagey, defensive performance akin to Arsenal before his era, Wenger might have at least limited the damage.
However, that would have contravened the Frenchman’s basic principle of nurturing the attacking and entertaining football which should remain Arsenal’s legacy after he leaves.
Building a new stadium might well have shredded Arsenal’s ability to compete with their rivals for major trophies in England and Europe for some time, but should the club’s board, owners and increasingly disgruntled fans not have been aware that you cannot have your cake and eat it?
Picture: Arsenal’s coach Arsene Wenger (R) reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, August 28, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Staples