After Arsenal’s 3-3 draw at Bournemouth on Tuesday, it’s pretty safe to say that the fans’ reaction to going 3-0 down before coming back to claim a point was………mixed.
Some were eager to point out that coming back from such a deficit was a tremendous display of character from a group of players who are often labelled as weak and soft.
Others were just as eager to point out that the first 70 minutes of the game were so poor that the team should receive no credit for digging themselves out of a hole for which they only had themselves to blame for being in in the first place.
It was a testament to the situation in which Arsenal find themselves in at the moment.
There are so many issues that need addressing at the moment, such as the contract status of our best two players and the manager, yet none of them are likely to be resolved until the end of the season, leaving the club in a weird state of limbo as the season progresses.
But it’s also an indicator as to where Arsenal find themselves in a long-term sense as well.
In US sports, where salary caps and draft positions limit teams’ ability to build a title-winning squad, there is a phrase called ‘championship window’ that describes the period of time that a good team has to win a title before it has to inevitably break up the squad because of rivals’ ability to pay more money to their best players than they can.
It usually begins once a team has managed to pair two star players together, and will last no more than a couple of years before a team has to decide on whether to keep spending around those two players, or trade (sell) everyone and start again.
Arsenal’s championship window opened the moment Alexis Sanchez walked into the Emirates Stadium for the first time.
It’s now the middle of year three of having both him and Mesut Özil as the centrepieces of the team.
Are Arsenal any closer to winning either of the Premier League or the Champions League with the two of them as the heart of the team? Yes.
Are they close enough though?
We don’t know.
That’s why there was so much frustration after the Bournemouth game, because either winning or losing that game would have went a long way to help determine in which direction Arsenal are going; it would have shown that they were either getting closer towards being title contenders or further away.
Instead, we got neither, leaving everyone still unsure about just how good the team is.
This information is crucial, not only to fans trying to work out whether they think the manager or team is up to scratch, but to the board as well. This is where the ‘Championship window’ comes into play, because if Arsenal don’t look like winning the league after having Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez for three years, then why would you want to commit all of your financial resources to keeping them?
That question also applies to the manager.
In leaks to national newspapers over the last couple of weeks, the board have made it perfectly clear that they have the means to pay both Özil and Alexis, but the ripple effect of having to give bumper deals to Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and many others, will leave the transfer kitty virtually empty for next season.
This would be fine, if you are keeping the core of a Championship contender together. But Arsenal don’t know that for sure yet.
Your today determines your tomorrow
That’s why the next few weeks could help shape Arsenal’s next few years.
If Arsenal put a run together, beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and are within 4-6 points of the leaders in the middle of March, then it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to commit long-term resources to the squad as it is constructed.
But if the wheels come off altogether, it might be just as useful to Arsenal in the long-term.
As difficult as it would be to let all of Wenger, Özil and Alexis walk out the door together in the same season, it would be a hell of a lot more palatable if Arsenal had finished 6th at the end of that season.
If the board comes out after a season like that and says ‘We’re starting from scratch. The new manager will have carte blanche to buy and sell who he wants.’, it’d be far easier to get the manager you want than if you tell them they have to work with a squad that finished out of the Champions League and have limited funds to improve it.
For a decade now, Arsenal have walked the tightrope between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ brilliantly, using a pole with two 4th place trophies at either end to balance themselves as they do it. But with so much at stake, and so many people’s contract statuses to be determined, Arsenal need to find out once and for all if the team they have constructed is good enough to warrant keeping around.
It is one of the rare occasions where finishing 6th is far more in Arsenal’s best interests than finishing 4th is.
But that’s where Arsenal find themselves at now.
It’s time to find out if that Championship window is open, or if we have to knock the house down and start building again from scratch.