Arsenal fans could be forgiven for assuming the above quotation was Arsène Wenger’s response to a chastening week where the team followed-up a 6-0 thrashing by Chelsea in the manager’s 1000th game with a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Swansea.
In fact, it was delivered in a question and answer session in May 2009 with Arsenal shareholders, worried about the club’s then four-year trophy drought. That was five years ago, and the Gunners face the prospect of a ninth barren season if they fail to overcome Wigan Athletic in next month’s FA Cup semi-final.
Arsenal now find themselves six points behind leaders Chelsea with eight games left to play. When asked how he saw the title race unfolding in the wake of Tuesday’s draw with Swansea, the crestfallen coach admitted: “That is not the biggest worry we have at the moment. We have to look behind us. Of course, as well in front of us, but also behind us.”
Wenger’s response is indicative of their recent form which has brought only three wins in their last nine league games. They are suddenly in danger of surrendering their proud record of 16 consecutive seasons in the Champions League.
Everton now lie six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand, and the pair meet a week on Sunday in a potentially pivotal match. The title-chasing Manchester City, who Wenger has described as “unstoppable”, come to the Emirates this Saturday evening, where anything but three points will surely consign the Gunners’ title dream to dust.
In time-honoured fashion, Arsenal’s season is beginning to unravel in the spring. It did so spectacularly in 2008 and 2011, where sequences of one win in eight and one win in seven derailed their two most recent credible title challenges.
The 2013-14 season has reverted to type, and supporters are left with a familiar sense of déjà vu during that time of the season where champions soar and pretenders stumble.
As is so often the case in football, people are looking for a scapegoat. Wenger cut a solitary figure at the weekend after admitting that the debacle at Stamford Bridge was a “nightmare”, and the need to respond with victory over Swansea failed to materialise.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Gunners, with a first-choice midfield of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil currently on the sidelines.
Though Wilshere and Özil have often flattered to deceive this season, it is the absence of Ramsey’s invention and Walcott’s pace since the turn of the year that has hurt Arsenal most in the second half of this campaign. Ramsey’s electric form was a revelation in the opening half of the season – his eight goals and six assists propelling the side to the Premier League summit.
Wenger’s great strength – which won Arsenal seven trophies in his first nine years – has become a weakness that has underpinned their nine trophyless years since winning the FA Cup in 2005. Unstinting belief and faith in his team is virtuous, but when the same methods yield the same acceptable – if not successful results – it points to blind stubbornness.
Circumstance has not helped. The decline of the Invincibles side of 2004 and its subsequent regeneration has coincided with the financial pinch of paying for the new Emirates Stadium.
While Wenger has excelled at preserving Arsenal’s Champions League status since the arrival of the nouveaux riches in Manchester and West London, the gap from the top will only increase as the club continue on a horizontal trajectory.
Perhaps the best illustration of where Gooners’ sentiments lie came in a tweet from the well-respected Gunnerblog on Tuesday night: “Anyone ever stayed in a relationship too long because you were scared of the alternative?”
Wenger has not yet committed to the Emirates beyond the expiry of his current contract this summer. As the board appears in no hurry to scout a replacement, it is likely that he will be the one to dictate where Arsenal’s future lies.