November 2001 and all that, the 4-2 reverse by Charlton at Highbury sparked a winning revolution at the club that would see us win 2 Premier Leagues, 3 FA Cups, culminating in our brave defeat to Barcelona at the Stade de France in May 2006. Little was I to know as I sat slumped at the Herbert Chapman Pub on Holloway Road that evening it was the end of an era.
As you look on the Arsenal Honours list, 2005-06 is clearly the high water mark of AW’s career with us, not withstanding the epic 49 games. Like England’66, it was the end not a beginning. But it should have been the beginning if you see what I mean, a springboard to greater heights and consistent success trophies year on year. Not just top 4 mediocrity.
Look at other clubs who have re-started & re-invested in their dynasties and have never really stopped; SAF rebuilt the 1999 treble winning side to rejuvenate them into Double conquerers once again in 2008. Refusing to be hemmed in by any financial controls or a wild change of ethos. Even now despite the massive debt which may engulf them later rather than sooner, they are still there competing, challenging & consistent. The Ferguson 4-4-2 formation remains.
Obviously we can point to 22nd July 2006 as the beginning of barren times with the opening of the Emirates and the £470 million the club sunk into this to make it happen. I certainly didn’t expect this to have any impact on the actual pitch but it has, and how!
Wengers change of philosophy to a Fagan style strangling of any transfer kitty to the point of not purchasing Mark Schwarzer in the Summer, was when I realised that he himself had decided to take this route. He was and is still under no pressure from anyone else, less of all the board themselves who look upon him awestruck. It is like he is trying to prove a point, to who, I just don’t know, that pure football can really conquer all. No outside help or interference thanks, less of all from the fans as those of you who went to the last AGM can testify.
Let’s be honest the money is there to spend and will always be there and there are players who want to come. Subotic, Schwarzer and Reina are all players we have bid for and failed, and this has been for the want of trying. As I write this I understand we are hoping Afellay will join from PSV on a Bosman as possible replacement for Rosicky. Since then thogh it seems he has agreed to join Barca, no doubt for better wages. However Ramsey’s signing from Cardiff under the noses of United means Wenger still has something about him in these situations.
When Anelka was sold to Real Madrid in ’99 we used all that money plus a bit more for Wiltord, Henry & Pires for a combined £30 million playing our normal 4-4-2 replacing Overmars, Wrighty & Le Sulk. What were our last operating profits at? I’m guessing more than that. Yet he persevers with Clichy, Denilson, Bentdner to name but 3. Clichy’s form dip is the most alarming, seeing as I was confident when Ca$hley left he could fill his boots. And he did, for a bit, and now, I know he’s on the pitch, somewhere.
Wenger has rejuvenated, revolutonised & re-branded how top flight football is played in this country, initially bringing it up to speed with the rest of Europe. Diets & nutrition and a training regime, which I have seen at close hand, is second to none. But something has replaced his hunger to maintain the auteur, and revelling in threatening other managers supremacy. These managers have caught up, and are now leading the way. Mourinho the main protagonist as the arch pragmatist.
Which is one element that Wenger never seems to have had, he’s always played the same way. As The Times wrote in 2003-04 “Wenger’s approach to the game has been an emphasis on attack”. It seems to me he has scant regard for set-piece defending or set-piece attacking for that matter or a need to “get rid” if the need arises. Clichy v Shakhtar a case in point, yet again. Sorry Gael. There seems to be no study of the opposition in any way, it’s irresponsible.
The rise of Jesus means that 4-3-3 is now the name of the game but the emphasis remains the same, now it’s 5 up front and poor Song trying to keep the back door closed. It’s not his fault and I think it has made him a better player though I doubt this was by design. I would argue that a lot of these players have hit their peak, regardless of age and it’s now a frustrating plateau. Remember we had our best 11 out there against Newcastle and we did in 2001 against Charlton.
So where now, well if history serves we will do the double. After all we still have Campbell, Cole, Lauren, Keown, Adams, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Henry, Wiltord & Dennis don’t we?
Also bear in mind that Wenger also discovered George Weah! So Arsene, please come back mate, we need you more than ever at London Colney, in the dugout and at The Emirates – not behind the balance sheet.
There is still all to play for if you really want it.
Written by Michael Thomas 4
If you missed the Carling Cup draw last night, we have Ipswich in the semi-finals. The first leg is the weekend of the 10th January, the second is the weekend of the 24th January..