Memories are short, and everything is about the now these days. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal were ridiculed from about the midway point of the season but winning the FA Cup and ending a nine-year trophy drought erased all that, at least for one day, making everyone forget the names, the jokes and the taunting they’ve used over the years for someone who has turned into something of a loser.
An FA Cup, as much as it must hurt, doesn’t change that premise. Wenger hasn’t had the richest or best paying club at his disposal, but he has had the talent. Maybe not the mental makeup or the right tactics, but somewhere between 2004 and 2014, Arsenal should have been able to squeeze in a Premier League title and a much more serious challenge than we’ve seen from them during that period.
This season they’ve led the league more than anyone else only to falter in the second half of the season. Injuries, true, were a big part of the collapse. But hanging on to the same old excuses of youth and fitness becomes old, stale and pathetic. There can only be so much unluckiness before the fingers come pointing and the pitchforks with them.
Wenger now has quiet for a summer to work. On improving his striker situation, if there is one. Olivier Giroud will never be a big-time forward. He’s good with a great midfield, but his best isn’t enough when you compare him to what the other top teams in England have to offer: From Luis Suarez to Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko through Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yaya Sanogo is young, but not that promising.
There is that defensive midfield issue Arsenal have been looking to solve for years. Mathieu Flamini signing for free wasn’t bad, but it’s only a band aid on a deep, bloody wound that has been that way for years. Improvisations with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta (who shouldn’t be starting for this team) and the overrated Jack Wilshere in different constellations is good for short runs, but over the course of a season it simply doesn’t hold up.
There are more positions that need upgrading: Right back, another centre back and maybe even goalkeeper. Wenger might not like to admit it, but he needs tactical help. He is very bad against most teams when it comes to responding to a match not going his way. The way his players collapsed in too many big matches points to another issue: Mental problems that have come between them and greater success.
But for once the bottom line is a good one. There’s a sliver lining at the end of the season in the form of the FA Cup, a competition that doesn’t really tell us about the quality of the team or predicts any future success. This is simply a feel good moment, nothing more, that probably lasts a little bit longer because it is Arsenal and they’ve been waiting for so long. For a few days until fans get angry again about not signing top players, Arsene Wenger is a specialist in success and no one is thinking about the terms loser.