Arsenal limp on in decline but seek to avoid a catastrophe

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The Independent Online

At the Emirates Stadium today many of the chief scouts of leading European clubs, along with many agents, will convene for a forum on the scouting and trading of elite level footballers. Finding the next big talent, developing players and trading them astutely is big business these days and where better to hold a seminar on the subject than at a club who pioneered the art in the modern game?

It would be no exaggeration to say that a large part of the Emirates was paid for on the profits of Arsène Wenger's unerring eye for a player and once enviable scouting network. The man who brought Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, among others, to England changed football here for ever. But not much in football stays the same for long.

This talk at the Emirates today will be, in part, about the dismal situation the host club finds themselves in. Beaten in the League Cup by a team 72nd in the professional hierarchy and with a side that was close to full strength. Seventh in the Premier League and now so concerned that their 16-year spell in the Champions League is coming to an end they are insisting, if it comes to that, players agree to a reduction in wages.

At the top sits Wenger. Embattled and frustrated, he is in an unusual position for a manager whose club are slipping down the table. He is stronger than ever within Arsenal. The absentee majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has no appetite to intervene. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, defers to Wenger on all player contract issues, so too the club's so-called transfer fixer Dick Law.

Wenger's skill in recent years has been narrowly averting disaster – failure to qualify for the Champions League – which in turn has put no pressure on the club to change anything radically. Every calamity, such as last year's frenzied summer window trading after the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, is patched up. In May, Arsenal finished third and it looked like a success compared to the situation nine months' previously. Even now Arsenal are only two points off fourth place, albeit 15 off the top.

Every season something slips. Take this summer's signings. A tick for Santi Cazorla, but Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have failed to make an impact. Podolski was looked at by most of the leading European clubs and subsequently passed over. As Arsenal have found in their failed attempts to sign the likes of David Silva and Juan Mata, if a richer and/or more successful club is interested, they lose out.

Wenger will not be leaving soon and certainly not before the end of the 18 months on his contract. There is nothing like the critical weight of supporter feeling to force him out, in fact they sang his name at Valley Parade. There is every chance Arsenal will beat Reading on Monday and limp on. They pull the occasional rabbit from the hat to divert the gaze from their increasing mediocrity.

Defeat by Bradford was simply another marker in the road in the gradual falling of Arsenal's fortunes, not a pivotal moment from which change will spring. In fairness, a League Cup defeat should never decide a manager's future but this is a club that is very different. The more life becomes difficult for Arsenal, the closer they stick to their guns and for some that is a quality to be admired.