You’ve Never Had It So Good?
Arsene believes that the last four years has been the best period of his reign at Arsenal. Freely acknowledging that, in terms of silverware, it has been a barren spell, Wenger put a perspective onto this time, giving an insight into the expectations of the club. If he were not performing to the board’s expectations, the confidence that they so obviously have in him would not be there. Indeed, neither would the manager in that scenario, either through not being given a new contract extension a few years back or not signing one that was put in front of him.
Unsurprisingly, it has been a time when a lack of appreciation of the working environment has shone through. Wenger observed in his webchat:
In some ways [these changes are] for good, in some ways for a little bit more negative because it’s less relaxed. Everybody is a bit more tense and life is, as well, about enjoyment. I felt that 13 years ago a defeat was less dramatic than it is now. It is all about Champions League now and being in the top four.
He omitted to add that winning is the only thing that matters in some supporters eyes. Fail to sign a big name player and you are a loser. Finishing in the top four with little or no money to spend? Loser. Patience in the Premier League generation of fans is almost non-existent. When this was vocalised last season, Wenger noted that football was simply a reflection of the society in which we find ourselves living today: a ‘now‘ generation, brought up on the shallowness of being called a celebrity for no apparent reason other than having five minutes of fame on odious reality television programmes.
The world of football has been skewed and distorted by an influx of money, some borrowed, some of equally dubious sources. English football has commercialised itself into a global business. No problem there at all until the wretches who control the game spew forth notions about 39th games around the world, maximising their revenues whilst devaluing the very competition that has become so watchable to the masses. In this morass, Wenger has been able to fashion top four finishes, cup finals and semi-finals from a team which in monetary terms had no right to be consistently finishing in the coveted Champions League places.
Winning silverware is of course important but so is the future of the club. Investment in clubs from outside is no sure thing. Manchester City has taken the poisoned pound from a morally bankrupt politician to find itself swimming in cash, spending freely and achieving little in return thus far. Liverpool are sinking into the riverbed of the Mersey, unable to rid themselves of their American fighting cousins. Only one club which has been taken over can vaguely claim to be run sensibly, Aston Villa, reaping the rewards of a sustained policy of growth by challenging for Champions League places last season and this.
Wenger’s biggest demon has been his own track record. Domestic doubles, titles, cups littered the first nine years of his reign, culminating in The Invincibles. The last trophy was the turgid 2005 FA Cup but when you are winning, the manner of victory does not get remembered by the history books. Even Wenger admits to breaking up his undefeated team too quickly but a side of a similar age is going to disappear around the same time. Paris 2006 would have been a fitting swansong but would not have changed one thing about the move to The Emirates; financially the club was always going to have a tough time.
In moving to The Emirates, Wenger knew he would have to rebuild the club on the playing side. Planning for this had happened several years beforehand, the Youth Academy did not suddenly have an influx of talent overnight. The rewards are beginning to shine through. A taster came two seasons ago, derailed by a series of events, collapsing under the weight of pressure in the end. In whichever industry you work, progress by a young team of people will be in stages, plateaus misinterpreted as backward steps. The inexperience of the players last season shone through as they struggled for consistency in the summer and autumn months. Post Christmas, the malaise was shaken free and a run put together which cemented a top four finish.
The conveyor belt of youth is Wenger’s legacy. Manchester United harp on about their golden generation but no-one has come through since to be bracketed as a World Class Player, save for the vapid rhetoric of their manager, complimenting individuals in a uxorious manner. Little wonder that Wenger takes greater pride in this squad. It may be the best he ever has; it may not. History will pass judgement when they are gone.
Right now though, they are challenging for trophies on three fronts – a little disingenuous, I know, since the FA Cup has not yet begun for Arsenal but we have yet to be eliminated. It is a time of promise; a time of hope. Little wonder that this mix of youth and purchased experience, Wenger believes it to be a period of potential. Perhaps those who chastise and berate will be changing their tune. That will require patience.
Merry Christmas to all who have passed through the ACLF doors, thanks for your time and contributions. I will be popping in and out over the next couple of days, inbetween watching the kids enjoy and inadvertantly destroy their presents whilst I consume copious quantities of alcohol to retain some sense of sanity. And with a bit of luck, finding enough time to read Football Ambassador by Eddie Hapgood, the latest reprint from GCR Books, which arrived on the ACLF doormat this week. A review of will be up after the Villa match. Next post will be on December 26th.