LONDON (AFP) – Following the poorest start to a Premier League season in his 16 years as Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger finds the wisdom behind his methods being questioned as never before.
Saturday’s 2-0 loss at home to Swansea City was Arsenal’s fourth defeat of the season, their third game without a win, and left them 10th in the table.
An afternoon that began with a fan protest against the Arsenal board ended with a chorus of boos, as Wenger stalked down the Emirates Stadium tunnel bracing himself for fresh questions about his capacity to lead the club.
Many supporters are aggrieved that Arsenal’s reluctance to invest money in new signings means the players that swept the club to glory in the first half of Wenger’s reign have not been adequately replaced.
“It is more down to shareholders and that is not my job,” Wenger said when asked about the resources at his disposal on Saturday.
“It’s difficult to answer that straight away after a game like that, but I believe the support from the board is there to spend the money if we find the players.”
Despite the supporters’ concerns, chief executive Ivan Gazidis says Arsenal’s financial stability and projected revenue growth will soon put them “in the top five clubs in the world”.
Last week, Arsenal announced a £150 million ($239 million, 185 million euros) extension of their shirt sponsorship agreement with Emirates Airlines.
The sales of star players Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Alex Song, meanwhile, have raised in the region of £90 million, but the players signed to take their places have enjoyed only qualified success.
Of the glut of players who arrived in the 2011 close-season transfer window, only Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have managed to nail down first-team places, and this season’s new signings have also enjoyed mixed fortunes.
While Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla has been a revelation, it has taken French striker Olivier Giroud time to find his feet and Lukas Podolski has shone only in fits and starts.
For all of Cazorla’s evident class, and the vast potential of youth-team graduate Jack Wilshere, there are fears that Wenger’s famed ability to spot a player may be deserting him.
Arsenal have gone seven and a half years without winning a trophy, but while they used to be able to take solace in the quality of their football, Wenger’s side are no longer the swashbuckling team of old.
They continue to enjoy more possession of the ball, on average, than any of their rivals (59.9 percent, according to the website www.whoscored.com), but after 15 games of the current campaign, their attack is only the seventh most potent in the division.
At the Emirates on Saturday, it was Swansea, not Arsenal, whose passing football drew gasps of admiration from British media pundits.
As Swansea coach Michael Laudrup noted: “Arsenal are still moving the ball around well, but we play that way as well.”
Wenger has at least guided Arsenal into the last 16 of the Champions League for the 13th successive season, but they have gone beyond the quarter-finals only once since losing to Barcelona in the 2006 final.
Deepening the gloom around the Emirates on Sunday morning was the news that long-serving chairman Peter Hill-Wood had been admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack.
The 76-year-old was one of the men responsible for bringing Wenger to Arsenal in 1996, in a move that was to change the face of English football.
Sixteen years on, Wenger has established a legacy that cannot be tainted, but with the club’s rivals streaking into the distance, he is under more pressure to react than ever.