Where does this leave them now?

Three Premier League titles (five times runners-up), four FA Cups (and another four runners-up medals), runners-up in the League Cup, again in the UEFA Cup, and again in the Champions League: I am drooling already, and I haven’t even mentioned the calibre of players he brought in (Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas), nor the forty-nine games his team went unbeaten for in the league, or the scintillating football with which they achieved this. If your interest in football hasn’t served that long, or if you happen to have the memory of a fish, perhaps you should try doing a bit of research. Trawl through YouTube, click through Wikipedia, maybe rent out a couple of DVDs, and experience those achievements and the journeys each one of those teams went through to about a millionth of the degree that I did over those twelve years. And then perhaps the few people (and yes, I realise it’s a minority who share about four brain cells between them) who’ve been calling for Arsene Wenger’s sacking might think again.

 

A lot of people forget the position Arsenal was in at the beginning of the season. They hadn’t won anything for two years (apart from being runners-up in the Champions League, and then again with a young squad in the Carling Cup), and had just sold two of their most experienced players in Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg. I still remember the first day of the season, and the initial stab of pain in realising, I thought, that it was going to be the same story all over again, when Jens Lehmann gifted Fulham the opening goal just two minutes into the game. It was a pain like no other, to have to sit through the next eighty minutes, one eye on the game and one on the away fans as they jumped up and down, sardonically rotating their song-list between “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry” and the good ‘ole “We love you Freddie” classic, as if to highlight the fact that Arsenal was nothing without them. Some pundits predicted that Tottenham would finish in fourth place at Arsenal’s expense. A foreign takeover was imminent, Arsene Wenger would desert the Gunners, and with his departure we’d all see the likes of Cesc Fabregas heading for the door. Something happened, though. The board got their act together and made measures to ensure the club remained in the secure hands of its current shareholders, Arsene Wenger signed an extension on his contract, and the team started playing with a certain freedom we hadn’t seen properly since that unbeaten run, and when they needed to grind out a result, they could do it. Talk of the impending downfall of Arsenal FC slowly fell away, while talk of Real Madrid or Barcelona snatching away the talented twenty-year-old Spaniard amounted to nothing more than just that, and some were even so daring as to say that Thierry Henry’s departure from the club was a good thing.

 

What some people don’t realise, though, is that football is an emotional game. Even though it is, as I keep reminding myself, just a game, it’s one which has led to grown men blubbering like babies, and to groups of otherwise-sane human beings attacking total strangers, and to normal- albeit, slightly inebriated- adults attempting suicide. After Eduardo’s horrific leg-break against Birmingham in February, several players spoke with passion about how inspired they were to go on and win the title for their injured team-mate. I don’t doubt for a second that they tried. But if football is an emotional game, then the current Arsenal squad has to be one of the most emotional teams I have ever seen. Maybe that’s due to youth and inexperience; maybe that’s due to Arsene Wenger fathering his squad and sending them off to school equipped with Power Rangers lunchboxes and lollypops. A team like Manchester United, a squad bursting with experience in the form of Scholes and Giggs and Neville, and with a manager not afraid to spit his words of wisdom into his player’s faces, might have been better equipped to handle such devastating events, had the bad luck befallen them and not Arsenal. But as it was, the bad luck went Arsenal’s way, and it was such that the players had neither the mental nor the physical strength to overcome it. Four so-called ‘easy’ fixtures set Arsenal up with a mere four points, and by that point, it was too late for them to clamber back up onto the horse. Was it Arsene Wenger’s fault that the team didn’t have the strength in depth and mental stamina to overcome their run of bad luck? Perhaps. But one thing that the manager can’t be blamed for is standing by his players and instilling the faith in them that allowed them to come so far in the first place. He has won three Premier League titles (five times runners-up), four FA Cups (and another four runners-up medals), a runners-up medal in the League Cup, again in the UEFA Cup, and again in the Champions League. We as commentators have won nothing. So let’s all shut up and let him get on with it.  

 

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One Response to “Where does this leave them now?”

  1. Well, these are interesting thoughts. I think they are true. However, everything is
    relative and ambiguous to my mind.

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