These are far from happy times if you’re an Arsenal fan. The Gunners haven’t garnered success since their fortunate 2005 FA Cup final victory at the Millennium Stadium. The club hasn’t won the league since 2004. They finished eleven points off the pace this season. And now their phenomenal trequartista talisman is flirting with the idea of making a return to Catalonia.
Fans are justifiably anxious and frustrated as Arsene Wenger’s budding new horizon perpetually fails to bloom and his promises grow increasingly hollow by the day. In fact, Arsenal’s lumbering shell is so empty and cavernous now all that remains is Van Persie assuming the fetal position, reassuring himself by a dimly lit log-fire, Fabregas starring nervously for the exit, and the men who crank the donkey wheel that operates William Gallas’ mood swings.
But back up a bit. Can the blame for this dystopian wreck be leveled squarely at the manager’s shrewd and disciplined stance on transfers ?
Well, Wenger had the fortune of inheriting a quite talented group of players when he joined the club in 1996. In defence, Arsenal were especially strong, featuring Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. There’s little wonder then that Arsene concentrated on crafting a better attacking force. Dennis Bergkamp’s despairing form, which had dipped following his move away from Ajax, began to revive and Wenger made several astute signings of little known but gifted players. Patrick Viera, Marc Overmars and Nicholas Anelka soon joined Arsene at Highbury.
The team’s shape and, most importantly, the majority of its personnel remained unchanged to provide The Gunners with one of its most successful footballing decades. To Wenger’s dismay though, the team of Invincibles of 2004 rapidly disintegrated. The sheer speed of the breakdown of the team is astonishing; within two years the team had been utterly transformed. None of the class of 2004 still ply their trade for the club – the only exception being Sol Campbell’s recent rebirth. Meanwhile, Manchester United’s squad still contains the exceptional class of 1992. Chelsea have also retained John Terry and Frank Lampard despite their drastic oligarch fueled overhaul.
After their 2005 cup win, Wenger, effectively, had to reboot the team from scratch. Although the exceptional youth system did provide a cushion to the blow, the talents coming through were far from the finished article and far from capable of filling the shoes of a Thierry Henry or a Patrick Viera.
Simply buying players, of course, doesn’t always provide the solution. The heart and soul of a team doesn’t come from big name imports with egos as large as their names. You can insert your own relevant quip about Real Madrid here. Gunners fans need look no further than their own Russian winger, Andrei Arshavin, for evidence that money and popularity has no correlation with footballing prowess. Wenger’s aware of this. A successful team grows organically.
Of course, the problem is if nurturing becomes elongated and success remains sparse. When false dawn follows false dawn, players will inevitably leave for higher climes. And this is what is playing out currently. On the other hand, should Wenger relinquish all his financial conservatism only to find success still remains sparse in an extremely competitive league, players will still leave and the financial cleanup could become crippling.
What’s admirable is that most Arsenal fans seem to understand this too. They lobby for the pursuit of Chamakh’s rather than Aguero’s and favour Ramsay’s in preference to Sneijder’s. They’re a patient bunch. Should the rumours surrounding Fabregas’ future come to hold substantial weight, however, it will be interesting to see how Arsenal cope with another major set back and yet another uncertain transitional period.
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