When Arsenal finished fourth on the final day of the 2012/13 season, although this was an outcome that was widely expected as a minimum, it was still nonetheless a fine achievement from Arsene Wenger.
Let’s not forget that this was an Arsenal team that were, and had been, shackled financially through not wanting to rack up debt despite having a new stadium built.
This meant that in an era where the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City were buying top-four finishes thanks to heavy investment, Arsenal were matching them in qualifying for the Champions League with a net spend in the region of £10m over a decade.
It would be unfair to label Arsenal as a selling club, but losing the likes of Cesc Fabregas ,Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie among others in recent years wouldn’t have done wonders to their prospects of becoming title challengers either.
However, going into the start of last season, optimism would have been much greater at the Emirates.
With the stadium debt being almost cleared, Wenger would no longer be as hampered in the transfer market. The signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in particular show Arsenal as being in a position to compete for the bigger names now.
Finances have also been improved by improved sponsorship positions. A £150m deal has been struck with Emirates and Puma have replaced Nike as the official kit supplier, which is worth around another £20m a year.
No longer can Wenger or Arsenal hide behind a lack of available money as a reason for settling for the top four, especially in a time where Financial Fair Play rules put them in a far stronger position than many.
Therefore, with only an FA Cup in the Arsenal trophy cabinet since 2005, this was the season for the Gunners to push on after the best part of ten years since the time of “The Invincibles” in 2003/04.
The sky was the limit and even if they played second best to either Chelsea or Manchester City, Arsenal should have been in the title mix.
Instead, we are at the end of November and Arsenal are already 15 points off top spot, they have won only two of six games at the Emirates and taken one point from four games against opposition above them in the Premier League standings.
If Arsenal are to challenge domestically, taking points off rivals is imperative. Below is the record of the north Londoners against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United since the start of the 2009/10 campaign, who have proved their three biggest title rivals in this timeframe.
Only one point from a possible nine has arrived against this trio this season too.
One of the big problems is Wenger’s seeming reluctance to sway from his Total Football philosophy, even though this clearly hasn’t worked for a few seasons in the top-of-the-table fixtures.
Against Chelsea in particular, the Gunners lack an obvious physical presence in midfield. Their beautiful pass and move style may have been sufficient to do the double over Newcastle and West Ham in each of the past two seasons, but clearly needs adapting for the bigger fish.
The greater Arsenal teams of Wenger’s tenure had such a figure in Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva and even though the modern game is more about pace than ever, Jose Mourinho wasted little time in chasing such an enforcer at Chelsea when signing Nemanja Matic.
Man City have attempted to fill a similar void this summer to make them more versatile with Fernando.
Yet summer links with William Carvalho to Arsenal proved fruitless, while Yann M’Vila and Morgan Schneiderlin are others that have filled newspaper columns on more than one occasion.
Only a few clubs are good enough to not need to adapt their tactics for each individual opposition and unlike Barcelona or Bayern Munich, Arsenal are not one of these.
Furthermore, a club the size of Arsenal and with the aspirations of Arsenal shouldn’t be forced into fielding a recognised left-back in central defence on the back of an injury to one centre half, who in this case is Laurent Koscielny.
Man City wouldn’t play Gael Clichy at centre back if Vincent Kompany got injured, Real Madrid wouldn’t do the same with Marcelo if something happened to Sergio Ramos and so why are Arsenal in this position with Nacho Monreal?
Meanwhile, there is potentially even doubts now over Wenger’s trusted philosophy being suitable to see off so-called inferior opposition.
A 3-0 lead was thrown away against Anderlecht in the Champions League and then a league defeat occurred to Swansea.
Both of these teams play the Arsenal way but to a lesser standard. If the Gunners can’t beat teams with similar tactics now, what sort of opposition are they capable of taking three points against under Wenger?
The more physical and direct playing styles have been known to cause problems to Wenger’s Arsenal in the past, most notably Stoke when they were first promoted to the Premier League and Bolton in the days of Sam Allardyce in the dugout.
This is the time for Arsenal to become an English force again, but it is increasingly looking like Wenger was the pivotal man to getting them through the rocky waters, without having the nous to guide them to shore.
Although his record in the past 18 years makes him almost impossible to sack, Wenger’s time must be up. If not now, then certainly at the end of the season.
Jurgen Klopp is almost a younger version of Wenger based on the constant rebuilding job he has had to do at Borussia Dortmund and with this Bundesliga season being a struggle, he would surely be more open than ever to a move.
Klopp is 12/1 to be the next permanent manager of Arsenal and this is a price worth extra looking into.
It is 2/1 that Wenger is not the Arsenal manager on the opening day of the 2015/16 season and if those on the board want success in the next five years, this has to be the path to take.