Wright: Gunners lagging in trophy chase
Arsenal legend Ian Wright fears his beloved club's wait for a major trophy is unlikely to end any time soon, as he suspects Arsene Wenger's latest revamped squad will again come up short in the chase for major honours.
Wright's damning critique will stun many Arsenal fans who have been encouraged by their new-look side's steady to start to the season, yet the striker who scored a magical 185 goals in 288 appearances for the club between 1991 and 1998 pulls few punches in dampening down the hopes of the public that still hold him in such high esteem.
The one-time record goalscorer for the Gunners claims Arsenal have become an also-ran against Europe's top clubs and questioned why Wenger seems so reluctant to bolster his squad despite the relentless selling of a host of star players every summer.
"A top-four finish is a realistic target for Arsenal this season and my concern is they have become a team that just qualifies for the Champions League without ever really having any great hope of winning it," began Wright, whose passion for the Gunners' cause still runs deep.
"The steady outgoing of top players has been going on for some time now and we saw the first signs of it when Thierry Henry left for Barcelona. Thierry made a call to say he is not going to win the Champions League at Arsenal, so he had to leave to have a chance to win the biggest prize of them all somewhere else. It was a massive blow.
"Since then, there has been a steady stream of top players leaving Arsenal. When you look at the emergence of Manchester City and Chelsea, Manchester United looking strong, you have to say it will be hard for this Arsenal squad to break into the mix, even though they have started the season in quite well.
"I don't blame the players that have left Arsenal because they want to win stuff in their careers. It's not about the money for these guys because they are earning more than enough, but they want to win trophies and clearly felt they need to leave Arsenal to do that."
Despite his failings over the last seven seasons, Wright insists Wenger is the right man to revive the club's fortunes, though he suggested the club's most successful manager of all time has some serious questions to answer.
"I just ask what is happening with all the money that has come in from players sales in recent years," pondered Wright. "We need to sign the players to take Arsenal back to where they were, that's how I see it.
"The thing is, Arsene is a company man and he would never say if they club were not giving him money to spend. I respect him for that in a way and he is clearly doing what he feels is best for the club, but it's frustrating for the fans.
"Don't get me wrong, Arsene deserves credit for taking the club forward into the new century because when he arrived, the team was known as 'boring, boring Arsenal'. I was playing for the team at the time and you have to say Wenger took the club into a different stratosphere, so he's done brilliant in some respects.
"Yet it has got to a stage where Wenger is being really tested as a manager. Seven years have passed without a trophy and not many managers would have kept their job for so long at a big club without winning something. At the same time, he is Arsene Wenger and the fans love him, whatever he does."
Wright suspects his comments to win him scorn from the Arsenal faithful, yet he insists he is within his rights to 'call it as he sees it' as he believes large sections of the fans who flock to Emirates Stadium weekend are a little too devoted to Wenger for their own good.
"It is hard for Arsenal fans to turn against Arsene as they love him so much, but until Arsenal get into the arena where they are challenging again, I'll say what I see, simple." he insisted. "People like to think I will be blinkered and stay loyal to the Arsenal cause whatever they do, but that's never been my way.
"Some of the club's legends like Thierry say what the fans want to hear, which is fine. I prefer to be more objective and there are some new-age Arsenal fans who have only started supporting the club in recent years and they see everything through rose-tinted glasses, but I am only saying what is happening here.
"So long as Wenger has the majority of fans in his corner, it doesn't matter what me, you or anyone else says about him. He has a major amount of respect for what he has done and I understand that, but people are entitled to question him as he has gone so long without winning anything.
"The Arsenal fans will have a pop at me because they see me as criticising the club and the manager all the time, but I'm just stating the obvious. I don't care what fans who shout me down me for making points about the club say about me because they can't take away the love I have for this club.
"Arsenal is a great football club and I want to see them back challenging for the title right through until the final game of the season. They finished 19 points behind the top two last season, which is a massive gap to close."
'Wrighty' believes the appointment of his former team-mate Steve Bould as the club's new assistant-manager will bolster the Arsenal defence and he tries to end the interview on a positive note, insisting he hopes to see Arsenal re-enter the winners circle under Wenger's guidance.
"I see a day when Arsenal could win the Premier League again, for sure," he concluded. "You have to keep the belief, don't you. I hope I live long enough to see the day England win the World Cup. It might be way, way out there, but Arsenal have to get back in there with the resources they have."
Wenger's army of loyal supporters will doubtless be quick to lambast Wright for his withering assessment of Arsenal's hopes, yet this outspoken character has earned the right to express an opinion of a club he did so much for in his playing career. Time will tell whether his pessimism is justified.
Ian Wright spoke to ESPN FC at the launch of the Stoptober campaign, which is aiming to encourage smokers to give up cigarettes for the month of October, with the aim of kicking the habit for good.
"Smoking has no benefit for anyone and I'm delighted to be involved in the campaign encouraging people to stop," Wright told us. "What is in it for people to smoke? I just don't get it. It smells bad, it's anti-social, you know it is slowly killing you. People get angry when you asked them why they do it, but I want to build the awareness in any way I can.
"I tried smoking when I was a kid for the coolness aspect, but it wasn't for me and when I have been to cancer wards in hospital and see loads of sick people who are already sick because of smoking stood out in the rain, puffing on a cigarette with an oxygen tank next to them. What more of a message do they need!"
Ian Wright is supporting Stoptober by encouraging the nation's smokers to take part in the 28-day stop smoking challenge. If you go 28 days without smoking you are five times more be able to stop for good. For more information visit http://www.smokefree.nhs.uk/stoptober.