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Serendipity

A guest post from @foreverheady

Serendipity. Just about my favourite word, meaning, as it does, a happy accident or a chance discovery. It was serendipity that led me to The Arsenal back in 1997. I am aware as I write this that it disqualifies me from ever being regarded as a proper fan, although I shan’t lose too much sleep about that. My first team was Portsmouth, being the closest side geographically to where I grew up, and I followed them with the enthusiasm that only a boy can manage. My parents were kind, taking me to a few matches, including one memorable birthday treat, a midweek match under lights against Hull that led to a resounding 4-0 home defeat. I still recall the smarting embarrassment of explaining to the two carefully chosen friends I was allowed to take that we were normally much better than that, though of course in my heart of hearts I knew that that was about our level. I suppose enduring an away League Cup defeat to South Coast rivals, Brighton and Hove Albion, then a whole division beneath Pompey, had already taught me not to rely too heavily on sporting idols. We went posh in the stands then, but my true ambition was always to be behind the goal at the Fratton End. John Milkins was my brilcreemed hero, and I remember every detail of his pre-match routine when I finally strutted my stuff on the terraces: it is hard to imagine Szczesny removing his false teeth and placing them with loving care in the little bag that held cap and gloves before acknowledging his fans with gap-toothed grin, but no doubt whatever he does will be etched firmly in the memory of today’s urchins.

In my late teens I moved along the coast to Brighton, and unforgivably they began to supplant Pompey in my affections, largely because I was able to go and see them fairly regularly. Some of my friends got to know a couple of the players and they would leave tickets on the gate for us. It was my first real experience of supporting a successful team, and my memory is of seeing them go from Third to First Division in successive seasons, mainly due to the trickery of Peter Ward: exciting times, and it was down to The Seagulls that I first went to Highbury, for the FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday, a thirty yard screamer from dead-ball specialist Jimmy Case seeing Brighton to Wembley for the first, and perhaps only, time. I drifted away a bit after that, leaving my old life behind.  I moved close to Reading and a new career took over, while football itself lost much of its glamour: Heysel, Hillsborough and England’s reputation for thuggery didn’t do much for its image, and if I remember rightly the BBC even dropped Match of the Day. There didn’t seem much incentive to stay in touch, and the highs and lows of the Turf began to take the place of Football, especially as for geographical reasons I no longer really had a team to support and there wasn’t much to watch on TV in the late 80s and early 90s.

But in February 1997, Jim, a good mate and diehard Palace fan, was keen to go and watch the Fifth Round Cup-tie with another friend, subsequently Best Man at my wedding, who followed The Arsenal. I tagged along and high up in the Clock End saw possibly the worst and most boring game I had ever seen. 0-0 but terrible though it was it was good to be back at the football and I realised how much I had missed it all. As luck would have it the replay was on the TV the following week, and I began to recognise some of the players. They still weren’t desperately convincing, although they won the tie, and points adrift in the League and surely destined to progress not much further in the cup, they seemed a reasonable side to pledge my allegiance to. My father had supported The Arsenal, my best friend did and it seemed appropriate for me to do so. I wanted to be able to say I had a team again, and could surely never be accused of glory hunting for siding with such a seemingly dull side managed by such a strange and owlish man. That the league form immediately turned round, that they chased down United and went on to win the Double was the stuff of fantasy: the tenner on Overmars to score the first goal at Wembley the icing on a rich and unexpected cake. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad time to start following The Arsenal. Serendipity indeed.

But despite the astonishing success that followed on from that great season, I couldn’t really claim to be a proper fan. I looked for the results of course, enjoyed the highlights on TV, basked in the vicarious glow of the side’s success, but I wasn’t with them all the way. There was too much of my own career still to do to spend any time worrying about the careers of strangers, too much of my own life to live to need to live through the life of others. And – and this makes me feel uncomfortable for what it reveals about me – there was also a slight discomfort about supporting such an invincible team, for what is the point of following a side if they are never going to lose? In my formative years I’d regularly been let down by Harry Harris, Ray Pointer, Nicky Jennings: what right had I to go through a season unbeaten? I might as well have been a United or Liverpool fan, a plastic twat in the eyes of many, and maybe myself too.

And that is how it stayed for a good while, through the good seasons, through the move from Highbury, through the disappointments, which while not massive on a global scale, were, none the less, disappointing. I enjoyed supporting The Arsenal, but it was all fairly lukewarm until my boy Daniel started to take an interest four seasons ago, and that – well, that changed everything. Although we didn’t know it at the time it was van Persie’s last season, and he was Daniel’s first hero. I didn’t know how to break it to him that he was leaving, and I didn’t expect him to stay loyal, but despite constant bullying from a United fan, he remained committed to the cause, and suddenly for me there was a real point to supporting the club. Posters went up on bedroom walls, kits were bought, the first family trip to The Emirates arranged. And perhaps crucially for me there was a vulnerability about the team that made supporting them all the more important. Of course they lost to Bradford, of course they got knocked out by Blackburn, of course the new signings took time to settle in – but these reversals made the triumphs all the more worthwhile, and when the team clicked and played the kind of football that only a Wenger team can play, then I really knew I was following by far the greatest team the world had ever seen. Like many dads who have bought their child a trainset too early, The Arsenal took me over completely. I discovered football websites and the whole paraphernalia of social media, and gradually began to find like-minded souls from around the world with whom I could share my hopes and fears. I also began to discover bias, treachery, propaganda and disinformation, which at first dismayed but then, far from annoying me, merely fuelled what was by now becoming a full blown obsession. I began to feel personally responsible for my team.

It would be ridiculous to say that The Arsenal has taken over my life, for there is far too much going on for that to be the case. Both of my children have their own sport to play, and I get to spend plenty of time ferrying them from this pitch to that one. If Netball tournaments get arranged for Cup-final day, then Netball takes priority, if midweek matches coincide with cricket nets, then the cricket comes first. It has to be like that. My job gets irritatingly in the way, and my wife’s career also takes some juggling, so all in all I ought to be able to say that I am not totally dependent on The Arsenal to give meaning to my days. Nevertheless, there are few moments where I am not agonising over the latest result or looking forward to the next match with that familiar and awful mixture of hope and fear. I would love to be able to go to more matches, and maybe in a few years’ time that will be easier to do, but for now I feel fortunate to be able to watch so many games on the TV, to read and write so much about the club, and to have met, either virtually or in real-life, so many wonderful fellow travellers on the Sunshine Bus. To some I may not be a proper fan, but in my heart of hearts I know that very few care as much about The Arsenal as I do. That it took a nil-all home draw to put me on the right track merely confirms that the condition is now probably terminal.

196 Comments

Hey, We Won At Newcastle.

Arsenal won a great game of football yesterday.

Of course if you read twitter this might come as a shock to you. Apparently they didn’t do it with the assurance and panache that many uber fans demand. Clearly we should dominate the game from start to finish and not let the opponents have a kick of the ball in their own back yard.

The total lack of understanding that these halfwits on twitter display is a never ending frustration to me.

In the first half we were dominant and created many opportunities, scoring twice without reply. We were not at our scintillating best, for sure, but would you expect that ? It was our fourth game in 14 days and our 3rd away game in that period. And  we won them all.

The game changed early in the second half when the hosts scored a goal with the help of some good play on their part and some sloppy play on ours.

What happens in these circumstances is the home crowd go berserk, the home team find an extra yard and start playing with freedom and flair. Why? Because that is how it works. They would have felt the game was lost, All of a sudden they are back in it. Tails are up, caution thrown to the wind. They are the home team after all. They are entitled to have a go .

The problem yesterday was that we were unable to take back control. The tanks were empty. So………. we had to hang on and defend.

Its almost like Arsenal are the only team that are not credited for being resolute in defence.Other teams win while not at their best and are hailed as great teams. Arsenal do it and its the players being crap and the manager being unable to motivate them. Double standards much !

I watched that game. What I saw was a home team putting in a fantastic performance in the second half against a very leggy opponent.

Its was a great 3 points and under the circumstances, a good performance.

I

135 Comments

Arsenal In Newcastle – Stiffen The Sinews

Once more unto the international break dear friends, once more

We have been riding an undulating course of late. The humdrum of league encounters has been punctuated by the lofty heights of all or nothing cup competitions and then it’s back down again to the daily grind. Except of course that the daily grind for us represents jousting with the very best for the biggest prizes of all. Not that the main prize is actually in reach you understand. To be honest it isn’t even in view yet. There is a veritable forest of ifs to negotiate before we even snatch a glance. If we can overtake the blue Mancunians, if Chelsea lose their game in hand and if we go on to beat Chelsea then there may just be the smallest hint of a glimpse of a prize. Oh, and all of this is predicated on us first taking maximum points from an away trip to Newcastle, from Liverpool and from Burnley. You can see why Arsène is a confirmed celebrant at the Church Of One Game At A Time, can’t you?

We supporters, free from the constraints which necessity places on those at the heart of the drama, can dream big and wonder if the seemingly impossible might become true. We did this on Tuesday didn’t we? And didn’t that dreaming make for a thrilling evening of football? Winning the league represents a far more outlandish scenario than that which we hoped to see in Monaco but a win at St James Park today will at least keep the infinitesimally small flame alight for another week.

It would be nice to have some spark no matter how tiny its source to warm us during the evil chill of the dreaded international break. I despise the interruption as I’m sure you do. The only good thing one can say for it is that it gives our injured players a little more time to recover without missing games. I hate it because, like an advertisement in the middle of a tense drama or an unwelcome knock on the bathroom door it breaks one’s concentration, disrupts the flow. More than this though the internationals ruin the pattern, the run of energy and momentum which has built over the preceding weeks of league football. Chelsea have stuttered. Six points dropped in their last six games. Manchester City have stumbled, eight points dropped. Arsenal and Liverpool have powered forward winning their last five and dropping only three and two respectively in their last six. After this weekend all of that will be as nought. The teams will return after the nonsensical irrelevance of the international sideshow, and like actors retaking the stage following an air raid warning will try in vain to pick up their lines, to remember where they were stood before the sirens cleared the theatre. The actor may in fact recall his script but the particular energy of the moment can never be recaptured.

Each international break is a small death and whatever is resurrected can never be the same as that which has passed. Be that as it may. Drop points today and none of that will matter. I don’t expect us to give Newcastle the room to prosper this afternoon. I expect us to apply a similar choke hold as that with which we so expertly stifled and suffocated Monaco. This was the single most pleasing aspect of our superb performance on Tuesday. The way the players were able to attack with fluency and invention and yet simultaneously envelop the opposition in a blanket of defensive discipline; harrying defenders, closing midfielders and throttling the forwards. If the players can raise themselves from their understandable disappointment to achieve similar heights in the North East today they ought to give their hosts an uncomfortable afternoon. I wonder if they can? In truth they should take an awful lot of encouragement from the way they played in the Principality. Far from being discomfited they should reflect on a masterful display of team work and individual brilliance. They missed out on the result by a tiny fraction but they showed how good a footballing team they can be and that may prove more important in the long run.

What of our opponents? Well, like us, they have their own idiot brigade who thought they could help their team by harassing the manager. This is a fascinating idea which I’m sure must delight any passing anthropologists. The suggestion that publicly abusing the very person responsible for engineering the success of your team will somehow benefit the players he has to inspire. That denigrating achievement and applauding defeat can in some way lead to better things is the work of an intelligence so far beyond the reach of mine that I am speechless to pass judgement upon it. Unlike the sad, bewildered minority of our own supporters who follow a similar logic, the Newcastle fifth columnists got their wish. As the champagne bubbles went flat in the aftermath of New Years Eve celebrations and twenty fourteen gave way to twenty fifteen, Alan Pardew returned to Crystal Palace leaving the fog of war on the Tyne far behind, and frankly, who can blame him? Before he took the plane south Newcastle had enjoyed a mixed bag of results. They were rampant in October and November beating, among others, Spurs, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea in a run which was cruelly brought to an abrupt halt at the Emirates when we demolished them in a four one rout.

With Mertesacker hitting the underside of the bar and Wellbeck’s brilliant falling chipped goal being wrongly disallowed the scoreline actually flattered Newcastle. Giroud scored two fine goals that day underlining yet again to all but the blind or the stupid just how valuable he is to us. Honestly if you even entertain those who try to draw you into a debate as to whether Olivier Giroud is good enough for Arsenal you need to have a long hard look at yourself. If he never scored another goal for us, the rest of his game is so good, so important to the way we play that he would still merit a place in our starting line up. It isn’t just Larry’s form which should give us heart. With Aaron coming back to his best and Mesut and Santi in their pomp the Arsenal scythe looks sharp as the season ripens and the final harvest approaches.

While the superstars in the squad are showered in rightful praise there are three other players who have been punching well above their weight. Hector, Nacho and Francis are all wrongly denigrated as respectively, merely quick, dull and tough. Each player has, however, far more to his game than these lazy stereotypes. Hector Bellerin is possessed of some crazy ball skills and is, I believe, playing well within himself at the moment, and understandably so. To be catapulted from the youth team to the Champions League would leave anyone a little overawed but when this boy shows what he is capable of I think he’ll be running rings around premier league defenders for fun. Nacho Monreal is a far better footballer than people give him credit for. I don’t see him showing the same flashes of genius of which Hector is capable but his reading of the game, position, pace and passing out of trouble when allied to his willingness and versatility have seen him take full advantage of Gibbs’ carefully managed recovery.

Which brings me to Francis Coquelin. Now I know that people hated Arteta with a slavering insanity akin to a fish hating water. Consequently anyone who wasn’t Arteta had, they felt, to be applauded. But the same people had spent so long telling us that we needed a big, tough, hard tackling defensive minded player that to save face they are now forced to pretend that Coquelin is just that type of player. They therefore ignore his range of passing. They ignore his wonderful snake like twisting to guard possession while looking for a pass. They ignore the sublime touch and skill with which he brings the ball under control and they ignore his wonderful slight of foot when going past the opposition. I think he has the potential to become a complete player. My message to these fools is that just because you are too stupid to see what a brilliant footballer Mikel Arteta is doesn’t mean you have to close your eyes while watching his understudy. If Coquelin can learn to read the game like our captain then his other attributes will ensure he has everything needed to succeed at the very top. Just don’t pretend to me that he is a big brute tackler who can’t do anything else simply because that is what you want to see.

We can probably expect some changes today. Maybe Theo, maybe Gabriel. Personally I’d love to see Tomáš. Please Arsène, please. Whoever starts at three o’clock I hope they can continue the good work of Tuesday night. I also hope that we can go into the enforced misery of No Football Fortnight with a win under our belts and that West Brom, Leicester, Liverpool and Hull can all give us something to smile about. I trust you will find suitable diversions with which to entertain yourself during the Arsenal drought, I’ll be back on April the fourth with my Liverpool preview, until then, I bid you farewell.

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Racism Is Alive And Kicking

A guest post from Yido6061

When the footage of Chelsea fans boasting of their racist entitlement whilst jostling a black man on the Paris Metro emerged a couple of weeks ago, I admittedly fell into the trap set by my own deeply entrenched prejudices. After all, this is the club that continues to be captained by a self-styled ‘leader’ and ‘legend’ who was undeniably caught on camera spitting out equally abhorrent racial slurs towards a fellow professional.

This is the fanbase of a club who have evoked the horrors of the Nazi gas chambers by insidiously hissing at my own club’s supporters over the years. This is the club who cannot observe the poignancy required by a minute’s quiet reflection on the anniversary of ninety-six deaths during a cup semi-final. that’s the problem with prejudice. It is an emotion bereft of reason and when one realises it has taken hold, one must immediately banish it to some dark recess of the brain, sub-categorised ‘The Seventies’. Of course not all Chelsea fans are knuckle-dragging, unevolved goons, posturing and chest-beating themselves into xenophobic frenzy on French public transport.

To resort to the standard defence made by the casual racist, I know a lot of Chelsea fans and have counted many of them as my best friends. Kind of. After all, if it’s good enough for the backtracking squirming of the likes of Dave Whelan and Ron Atkinson, it’s good enough for me.

Those Chelsea supporters are not inherently evil as some have been quick to point out. They are morons. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the attitudes they foster within themselves are bubbling away beneath the surface of many people throughout this country and however much we like to congratulate ourselves on the work we’ve done to kick these things out in our workplaces, football stadiums, etc, we can’t be so delusional to believe that racism’s insidiousness has been eradicated from all aspects of public life.

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Arsenal In Monaco: Daring To Dream.

“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.”
George Orwell: 1984

I was wondering what it would be like to write for a different Arsenal blog, pretty much any other Arsenal blog it seems to me sometimes. I wondered how I could tailor my words to fit the required narrative, distort my thoughts and opinions and still write with honesty and humour. That is when Orwell’s words came to me. Doublethink. That’s what it would require “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies,” to somehow see the evidence before us of the remarkable, breathtaking and above all selfless achievements of Arsène Wenger and misrepresent them in an unending litany of unfounded nitpicking, of cynical and above all snide deceit.

We saw this process in action after the almost entirely positive results of the weekend. Bear in mind that this was the best week in our season. That the inexorably rising tide of negativity had told us with complete confidence that we could not progress in the FA Cup once we’d been drawn against Manchester United at Old Trafford. That the best we could hope for was to battle against superior forces for an unlikely fourth place because Chelsea and Man City wouldn’t be dropping any points any time soon and we are too unreliable, too weak and inept not to do so ourselves. Of course these people may have been correct. One good week doesn’t decide a season, but why is a negative, pessimistic assessment of future events not seen as self deluding when a hopeful, positive prediction is? Why can’t folk just celebrate the good times unabashed, unfettered from their usual sarcastic harping? It beats the hell out of me. I imagine them as children, receiving a wonderful birthday present then telling all their friends how badly their mother wrapped the gift, how poor the paper plates were at last years party.

As you all know I start every new season believing we can not only go unbeaten in all competitions but that we can win every game in which we play. Why? Because it’s possible. Likely? Of course not, but possible. It is a wonderful scenario to envisage and fuels my hope and expectation. Granted it makes the first draw hard to bear and the first defeat harder but surely it is better to live in a state of happy excitement than one of perpetual impending doom. The result is the same for people of both mindsets so it seems to me that remaining positive means I spend more of my time happy than they do. This is why I pity rather than censure the fans who elect to believe the worst, to worry and fret about possible or even probable failure. They choose to live in misery before there is even anything to be miserable about. There is an old line which all this brings to mind –  worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.

This is why I have been happily looking forward to tonight’s match. This is why I am entertaining perhaps fanciful notions of winning the league. And the FA Cup. And the Champions League. Because why not? These outcomes are possible and so I treat them as possibilities. Hardly the behaviour of a delusional person to treat the possible as, well, as possible. It’s a simple equation x = x. What harm does it do anyone to imagine a positive outcome and enjoy the subsequent scenes pictured in one’s imagination right up until the event itself? I’ve looked forward to tonight’s match ever since the final whistle in the first leg. I’ve visualised us scoring towards the end of the first half, and then again with about fifteen minutes still to play. We survive a couple of close calls along the way, maybe a brace of fine saves from our keeper, perhaps they hit the post or have a good call for a penalty turned down. Then, as the clock ticks down, doubts begin to creep into the minds of the players from the home team. They make a few nervous clearances, we begin to bombard them with crosses, with dazzling passing moves. Then, disaster! They break away, our commitment to total attack leaves us bereft of deep defensive cover, through on the keeper they snatch a goal – it seems all over. Until a moment of brilliance from one of our players wipes the smiles from their faces and we go into extra time with the tie level and all to play for.

Now I know what you’re thinking and you are quite right, this is a fantasy. Of course it is, I could just as easily choose to picture us winning by five clear goals and never suffering a moment’s unease. I could imagine Monaco scoring in the first minute and the whole thing crashing around our ears. My point is I have thoroughly enjoyed imagining success. Have those who are inexplicably angered by this enjoyed their fortnight of looking forward to certain defeat? I doubt it, so who is the richer man? Given that I will be no more or less unhappy if things don’t go well then it’s an easy question to answer.

I feel the same about catching Man City. I pictured it, enjoyed imagining how it would feel and now it is a distinct possibility. It might not happen still, but who cares? If it does then I will look forward again and imagine us catching Chelsea. They could still suffer a few injuries, lose a little confidence after a couple more games like the Southampton one, who knows? It would be a rare and historic achievement of course and it remains a distinctly unlikely scenario but as long as it is possible what is to be gained by harping on about games we lost at the start of the season? Why search out negative depressing thoughts when you could be enjoying the ride?

My other sport is mountain biking and I often watch instructional videos by a man called Richard Kelly. Richard is an enthusiast for not getting hung up on obstacles and barriers encountered along the way. He preaches looking through the trail to a successful outcome and above all envisaging that successful outcome before attempting a difficult or hair raising piece of riding. You know what? It works. Picture yourself being successful and you don’t go at an obstacle tense and in a negative frame of mind and consequently you don’t haul on the brakes at the worst possible moment and sail over the handlebars.

This advice can be taken off the trail and into everyday life. Our positive thoughts may not influence the players tonight, but they can make us live with a little more happiness and a little less negativity and what on earth could be wrong with that? Win lose or draw I will always believe in this team. The players and the manager are just too good for me to think otherwise. Enjoy the match, and don’t give up hope until all hope is lost.

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Arsene Wenger. A Personal Sacrifice.

Today we have a guest post from @TheFalseNein

 

 

It’s 1995 and George Graham has decided his time at Arsenal was up – Leaving  Rioch to hold the fort for The Gunners who finished a mediocre 5th the following season. I say mediocre, but this was a huge improvement on their league position in the previous season, in which they finished 12th following Graham’s sacking after the scandal he was involved in. Graham’s sacking left the club in a state of disrepair and in need of a pioneer to get the club back to the heights it was at during the 10 years prior. ‘Arsène who?’ the papers questioned, when the Grampus Eight manager was hired in the close season. How could a club with such a glorious history choose such a person to drive them back in to Europe? Sure he had won a Ligue 1 title amongst 3 other trophies in his time at Monaco, but a man who cowers off to Japan when things get tough surely cannot handle the great English Premier League? You can imagine these were the thoughts amongst the media and so too the Gunners faithful followed suit. Arsenal captain Tony Adams famously said ‘He looks like a school teacher’ with the clear implication that he wasn’t all that in football terms.

Wenger introduced new training methods and player dieting, something unheard of and ridiculed in English football. I won’t go into the details because this is an article, not a biography. I’ll let you know in brief then, how the opening decade of Wenger’s reign went:

96/97 – 3rd after signing Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde

97/981st and won the FA Cup after signing Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Nicholas Anelka with Ian Wright departing after the Cup Final.

98/99 – 2nd losing the Premier League and the FA Cup to ‘The Class of 92’. Ljungberg and Kanu sign.

99/00 – 2nd losing the EUFA Cup Final to Galatasaray. Anelka leaves and is replaced by Thierry Henry. Graham’s old guard begin to depart, Lauren brought in to replace Winterburn.

00/01 – 2nd losing the FA Cup Final to Liverpool. Petit and Overmars leave, Pires, Wiltord and Edu are brought in.

July 2001 - Wenger is offered the chance to join Petit and Overmars at Barcelona, instead he signs a four year deal at Arsenal. Arsène finds his new CB pairing in Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure.

01/021st and win the FA Cup. Two doubles in 6 years for Arsène and Arsenal. Gilberto Silva signs.

02/03 – 2nd and win the FA Cup. Wenger hits out at Manchester United’s unbridled  spending. Brings in Lehmann to replace Seaman. Senderos, Clichy, Djourou, Van Persie and Fabregas are signed.

03/04- 1st. Arsenal go the entire season unbeaten in the league with 90 points. Reyes is signed midseason to aid the title challenge .

04/05 – 2nd Arsenal miss out to Mourinho’s Chelsea, who spent £203m in the two windows prior. Arsène’s saving grace is once again winning the FA Cup.

2004 – 2006: The work on the Emirates Stadium finally begins. Wenger describes this as ‘the biggest decision in Arsenal history’. And so it was.

Now I’m not going to pretend the next 8 years are pretty. They aren’t. Arsenal have to start making annual PROFIT while Chelsea spend in excess of £70m each window on transfers alone. Arsène holds his tongue despite only being given a minute budget the previous season (the only signings being Flamini, Eboue and Almunia with no movement in January to aid the title push). The squad are low on morale after missing out on the club’s third double in a decade – and it’s only about to get worse. Robert Pires feels his best days are over and leaves the club, taking his creative contribution with him. The club then receive an offer for want-away captain, Patrick Vieira from Juventus. The Invincibles lost their captain that year and the rest of their spine follow a year later (Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry) after the heartbreak of the Champions League Final loss to Barcelona. Half of the squad Arsène built over the last decade have abandoned him, the board say they do not have the funds to properly replace them.

You know how the rest of the story goes. Arsenal endure a lengthy trophy drought between 2005/2014, despite making 5 semi-final appearances and one final appearance, each as agonisingly painful as the other. Many argue ‘Arsène lost us that many big matches.’ but I’d like you to think for a moment who managed to get us in that position in the first place? Of course he could have handled certain occasions better – perhaps set up more defensively etc. as all the twitter experts and Adrian Durham will tell you, but does that take anything away from the credibility of the man? Does that mean he is not a top class manager because he refuses to play negative football and ‘park the bus’? Of course we can pick at individual mistakes Wenger has made over his tenure, he has managed over 1,000 Arsenal games and is bound to get some of them wrong, him being a human being and all.

But this article isn’t about ‘what makes a top class manager’, It’s about the contribution Arsène Wenger has made to Arsenal Football Club. I will remind you again of the events of 2001 where Arsène was asked to join Barcelona or perhaps 2004 when he could’ve taken the coaching role a Real Madrid. How easy would it have been for the Premier League Manager of the Year 2004 to ‘leave on a high’ and build on the 16 trophies he’s already won with one of the Spanish giants? I know world class manager, Jose Mourinho would’ve. I can say that because that’s exactly what he did when he left Chelsea mid season in 2007 because things weren’t going as planned. The difference between the two fantastic managers is that Mourinho would rather retire with a very pretty trophy room, filled with his own personal honours and be known as ‘the special one’ by those who supported his various teams – whilst Wenger wants to make an imprint on one football club, a long lasting legacy that will ensure the success of the club long after he’s gone. When asked about where his titles are Wenger said ‘I don’t know. I don’t like to look back’. He may not care for individual honours, but what he certainly does care about is Arsenal. Arsène sacrificed his own success so that he could make sure Arsenal could stay successful.

It’s been about two years since Arsenal  paid the portion the debt of the Emirates Stadium that they planned too. and club CEO Ivan Gazidis claimed ‘Arsenal are now on course to compete with the greatest clubs in the world, we’re in the process of becoming a modern super club’. He’s not wrong. If you look at the transfers explored earlier in this article, you’ll see that Wenger bought 2 or 3 key players in each season prior to the Invincibles run – gradually building a title winning force that can maintain a challenge in ALL competitions. Arsène unearthed great gems during the trophy drought, players he surely thought would shape the spine of his future title winning team – Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure,Cole. All left to chase glory with sides that had uncapped spending potential. Each time Wenger would establish his first team, get to a stage where he was two players off a side that could win titles, two more would leave – an impossible task when you make world class players but cannot afford to keep them happy. Now we find ourselves in a similar position. As I type this, Arsenal fans are still relishing in their triumph over Manchester United, the club look on course to retaining the trophy they ended the drought with. We also sit in one point off of 2nd place, many suggest we are one or two players away from winning the title – where have I heard that before? Though due to the debt of the Emirates Stadium being paid off, we are in a position where two players can come in without us having sacrifice one of our star men to afford it.

For me, the sad part is that Wenger feels his own career is coming to a close. When his contract is up in 2017, he’d have finally completed the squad we’ve been building for years. Ozil, Alexis, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Koscielny, Gabriel and Giroud will all be in the peak years of their respective careers. There you have a spine of a team that can win titles in the present but what astounds me is Wenger’s concern for the future success of the club too. Spending grand sums of money on youth products like Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin that’ll surely continue to dazzle and contribute to Arsenal’s success long after Arsène himself is gone. The manager that takes Wenger’s place will have very little to do as the foundations for success will be there ready made for him. The media illusion will tell you that Wenger’s retirement is what Arsenal needed to win titles again, but in reality it was the sacrifices he made that created a platform for us to succeed in the first place. He may not have the titles Ferguson had, but he will leave the club of his heart with the means to continue to be strong without him. My aim of this article wasn’t to put Wenger’s name up in starry lights and glorify everything the man has done. Just to make you think a little before you criticise a man who has always put our club, his club, before himself.

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We have our swagger back

Watching yesterday’s efficient despatch of West Ham in the gentle Spring sunshine of North London it occurred to me that we definitely have our swagger back, domestically at least.

The Appy Ammers arrived with few expectations of a victory after a 14 game run against the Arsenal with not one win but hopeful of making us work, clinging on and eventually stealing a point. Sam has form for this type of result. Never pretty but Sam would never claim to be pretty. Like dogs his teams take on the characteristics of his misshapen bulldog skull.

Alas within a short while it became clear even to the visitors’ noisy contingent that the best result they might hope for would be a respectable defeat rather than a definitive shellacking.

Our midfield movement from the first whistle opened the Ammers up. Players moved not as independent and disconnected units but in sequence, joined in a collective mind to look for the space, the opening, the weak link to exploit. Song to his credit battled hard, too hard once or twice, and Adrian was a warrior between the sticks. But the power was all one way, the force bearing down on the claret and blue goal. Oh yes, the confidence flowed through my system as the ball weaved and span across the baize, stroked, caressed and eventually potted by our finest crop.

And eventually it came, the hammer blow into the top corner just as the half time oranges were being cut. I share below a snap taken by excellent AFC photographer Stuart MacFarlane – if you don’t follow the man in Twitter you should.

Olivier Giroud celebrates his goal

I did not realise the cod-piece was making a come back in modern sportswear but you have the evidence.

So 1-0 at the break and cruising, it should have been more.

And then the opening ten minutes of the second half ? Not good, not switched on when we came out and a better side than West Ham might have taken advantage. Fortunately while they had possession and pressed us back, and we appeared unable to keep the ball, they had no sharpness in the box to take advantage. The cloud passed over, the sun shone on. And so, inevitably, we started to control the game again. Santi and Danny came on, and our control developed into total domination. The next goals came, inevitable and very tidy they were against a team who, with ten minutes to go, had clearly nothing left to contribute but were out on their feet.

There may be those who tell you that West Ham, at just 0-1 down were “still in the game” to the 80th minute. Don’t believe it, They were never, ever in the game.

It finished 3-0, a distinctly unflattering score given our dominance. I did however have my fingers firmly crossed during that last few minutes for that third goal to go in, because of Tuesday. The third goal seemed important, a portent of future events, because of Monaco. And the man from Marseilles duly obliged. You know what I mean.

For all the patterns and systems it is about players and I thought Mesut was magnificent yesterday. A superb contribution with the ball, exquisite movement off it, and great energy. Kosc was a yard faster and a thought ahead of anything West Ham may have had up their sleeve. And le Coq is gradually becoming more creative, not just the “midfield beast” that the  experts demanded.

So enjoy your Sunday. Two interesting games later. I think we set off with great heart to Monaco after one of the best footballing weeks in a long time.

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