Wenger running out of excuses
Another season of disappointment in Europe is unacceptable
DINAMO ZAGREB 2
(Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 24-og, Junior Fernandes 58)
(Theo Walcott 79)
Arsene Wenger spoke of an "immense" drive to win the Champions League this season.
After yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 2-1 loss to minnows Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Group F match, his conviction now sounds hollow.
Not for the first time in Wenger's reign, Arsenal fans find themselves seated in a spinning teacup that doesn't look like it's going anywhere.
No matter what the Frenchman says.
Arsenal were "a bit unlucky", he claimed.
The loss had nothing to do with squad rotation, he insisted, despite him making six changes to his previous starting line-up against Stoke City in the EPL.
The officials took most of the blame. According to Wenger, the opponents' first goal came from an offside position.
The Gunners boss labelled Romanian referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan as "rash" in sending off Olivier Giroud for a second caution, and he also failed to spot Dinamo's many infringements.
Wenger, 65, has never had a problem coming up with excuses, but his his Champions League record is a damning indictment.
Now into his 20th year at Arsenal, he has seen Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea conquer Europe during his time, but has never been able to deal with the challenges the continent has to offer.
The closest the Gunners came to lifting the coveted trophy was in 2006, when they lost 2-1 to Barcelona in the final.
They haven't gone anywhere near since, with a last-four appearance three years later their next best achievement.
Defeat by Dinamo also earned him the unwanted record of being the first manager to register 50 career losses in the Champions League, although it must be said that he has also managed more games than any of the current bosses.
This latest setback was especially frustrating for Arsenal fans because Wenger had actually looked on the brink of assembling a golden generation.
The astute signings of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil and this season, Petr Cech, also reversed a policy of moulding their own talent, one which was heavily criticised as the reason for the Gunners' stagnation.
Back-to-back FA Cup triumphs in the last two seasons further fuelled hope.
But some warnings remained unheeded, particularly the call for Wenger to bring in a top striker.
He now rotates between Giroud and Theo Walcott for the job, effectively denying both of them the chance to build up the confidence required in accomplished goal-poachers.
After taking 126 shots at the opponents' goal in the Premiership and Europe, the team have scored only four (excluding two own goals), which accounted for a 3.17 per cent conversion rate.
The long-term injury to forward Danny Welbeck exacerbates the problem.
And, in a season where they were supposed to push on and mount a genuine Premiership title charge, they signed only one senior player in Cech.
The signs don't look good.
They have just opened their Champions League campaign with a whimper.
Considering Bayern Munich are also in their group, the Gunners now stare at another possible second-placed finish, which will pit them against a group winner in the first knock-out round.
If there is a sense of deja vu here, that's because they have finished second and gone out in the Round of 16 over the last three seasons.
There will come a time when the owners will say enough is enough.
Coming up short in the EPL and the Champions League season after season is not what is expected of Arsenal.
Wenger will run out of excuses very soon.
GO WITH THEO, SAY EXPERTS
They've got to give Theo Walcott a chance (up front)... he's talked about wanting to be a centre forward. I think Wenger is hurting Arsenal by not giving him a sustained period playing up front.
- Former Man United and England defender Rio Ferdinand
I would've started Walcott just because he played against Stoke, scored a very good goal. Came on tonight again and scored a very good goal. He's got the momentum. At the moment, Giroud doesn't seem to be in the right place. It's Theo's time.
- Gunners legend Ian Wright