Wenger faces up to fight for fourth
Just five years after being hailed as English football's invincibles, Arsenal are in danger of being reduced to bit-part players in the Premier League.sports Updated: Aug 09, 2009 10:55 IST
Just five years after being hailed as English football's invincibles, Arsenal are in danger of being reduced to bit-part players in the Premier League.
The sight of Patrick Vieira proudly holding the Premier League trophy aloft at the end of the 2003-04 season was supposed to be the start of an extended period of dominance for Arsene Wenger's team.
Instead the Gunners have won just one piece of silverware - the 2005 FA Cup - since then and none of Arsenal's strongest team from the squad that went unbeaten throughout the 38-game league programme in 2004 are still at the club.
The final player to leave was Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure, who accepted Manchester City's mega-money offer after growing tired of life at a club that seems to be stagnating.
Toure's move to City continued a trend of Arsenal's stars losing patience with the lack of a serious challenge for trophies, but Wenger insists the situation is not as bleak as it seems.
"I feel that what is accepted at Arsenal is to win the Champions League and the title. Anything else is looked at like a disaster," Wenger said.
"Overall, our results last year were not as disastrous as people think, nor in the way we played our football.
"We did not win a trophy, and of course that hurts, but the overall assessment of the season has been highly negative because we did not win a trophy in the years before."
Neither Toure or Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who also joined City, will be especially missed by Arsenal fans after some erratic displays last season.
But with Saturday's Premier League opener at Everton just a week away, Wenger, hamstrung by Arsenal's lack of financial clout, has only managed to sign Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax.
Equally concerning are reports that Wenger is considering a move for Vieira, now at Inter Milan, as he tries to bolster a squad painfully short of experience.
Since leaving Arsenal after nine glorious years in 2005, Vieira has looked way short of the form that made him a legend for club and country.
A move for Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh remains possible if the French champions are willing to lower their 14 million pounds asking price.
And, with Celtic lying in wait in the Champions League play-off round, Arsenal need new recruits fast as they try to reach the group stage of Europe's elite club competition.
Wenger took heart from the way his side battled to reach the semi-finals last season but they were swept aside by Manchester United in the last four.
"A fan who had been a supporter of Arsenal for 50 years, he told me last season had been a disaster," Wenger added. "I asked him 'how many times have Arsenal been to the semi-finals of the Champions League since you have been watching the club'?"
It is a sign of how far Arsenal have fallen since 20004 that finishing fourth in the Premier League was a greeted with an almighty sigh of relief.
Even that relative success could be beyond them if City or Aston Villa continue their upwards momentum.
Injuries to Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky have added to the sense of frustration washing over the Emirates Stadium at present.
France midfielder Nasri won't be back before October, while Rosicky was ruled out of the start of the season just weeks after returning from an 18-month injury lay-off.
At least Wenger has Cesc Fabregas fit after the Spain midfielder missed most of last season.
If Arsenal are to exceed expectations, Fabregas must recapture the form that made him one of Europe's most elegant and incisive playmakers.
The emergence of English winger Jack Wilshere, 17, is further cause for optimism. The Arsenal faithful may be clinging to such glimmers of hope for some while.