As an avid supporter of Arsene Wenger and an empathetic Arsenal fan, understanding of current frustrations expressed by many a fellow Gooner I feel it is only right to contextualise our current predicament in support of one of football’s greatest managers.
Having reached 1000 games it’s easy to juxtapose the Wenger era by splitting it in two. The first half glittered with silverware, culminating in record breaking feats, broken in style and anti-climaxing with a bitter European cup final loss to Barcelona.
For the bemoaning supporters of late it is easy to compare this period as an equal to the one that followed it and discredit the last few years of not being of equal merit. However, Wenger’s achievements since that night in Paris are of equal greatness, I believe.
Having identified and cultured the globe’s rawest footballing talents into international superstars it called on Wenger to conflict his two biggest loyalties in football, his players and his club. Wenger had to pawn these players to fuel and accelerate the development and enhancement of the club – he put our club first.
To have created a conveyor belt of such consistent quality to be able to do this is an achievement in itself, unrivalled in England since Fergie’s class of 92 and perhaps only bettered by Barcelona. Yet to have to rely on this talent to compete and maintain a level high enough to be awarded a place amongst Europe’s elite each year is unparalleled.
I’d also afford Wenger some bitterness that those he’d placed his faith and loyalty in, and had seen an arguable level of success in doing so, did not repay the same faith and loyalty in standing by him to see it through – despite that same collection of players having extremely successful nights together; playing a Barcelona (in their peak) off the park and beating them at their own game at home, for example. Yet success isn’t awarded on such nights alone.
In light of the first half of Wenger’s reign it can seem hard to credit the cultivation of these players as success. However, in this time foreign investment has skewered the competitive landscape of the English game which has allowed urgency, impatience and desperation to seep in to our support, when in fact; it only heightens Wenger’s achievement.
We are towards the end of a first full season where we can compete on equal measure with the other financial forces in our league, only justified by our late signing of Mesut Ozil. This is done by earned right, not foreign spoils, through Wenger’s execution of a vision to propel us on to becoming a global force. The season has seen us plagued with injuries to crucial, match winning players that have left us fading at the final call, yet in a semi final of the FA Cup to offer some comfort nonetheless.
Ozil, himself much criticised, did not get the luxury of a pre-season training camp with the rest of the squad to aid his settlement into the side. Yet the initial excitement and goading that we are back as a force soon turned to finger pointing and criticism of player and manager alike.
I believe we have arrived at a point where we have taken the first step in developing from a side capable of a certain level of consistency, in keeping with financial assurity, to a point where we can begin to compete with the other clubs for Premiership glory.
Whilst this is unlikely to be done this season owing to recent disastrous results, in context, and in the much grander scheme of things, this has been a massive step forward for Arsenal and a sign that Wenger’s constraint in delivering us to this point has been for the greater good of the club. We are stable, secure and have significant assets. This is something fans should be thankful of Wenger for.
Whether this tenure has taken his toll on him, with the criticism and disregard from our support potentially denting his desire and confidence, and how this compounds and resonates with him may leave us bidding farewell to a man that has improved our club in equal measures to Herbert Chapman.
Personally, I’d like to see Wenger be given another season. A fair crack with the opportunity to invest and add to a squad which in fairness has been close over the course, but far away when competing head to head. He’s been guilty of some tactical errors, some clinical guile and either an oversight or blind faith in having one recognised striker the whole season.
However, we’ve seen genuine attempts in the transfer market thwarted, deals seemingly lined up for the summer and a genuine appetite to compete by using newly awarded resources. We are close. Wenger has got us close. He deserves the opportunity to fill the final pieces.
One summer to assemble and prepare a squad capable of winning the title should be afforded to a living club legend. Someone that has sacrificed inevitable glory overseas with elite club’s already primed for success – in favour of creating a legacy, which he may not be at the helm to fulfil.
Wenger’s been criticised for being well paid, yet he could have easily doubled his wages and paid less tax by taking one of these moves. By what he’s achieved we’ve repaid our debt early by selling key players and having increased sponsorship yet not faded into obscurity. On this basis our club is extremely healthy and Wenger should be financially rewarded.
Frustrations are vented at the board over record breaking commercial deals, yet Wenger has maintained our relative competitiveness in order to secure such large sums of money. He’s not accountable for how these funds are reallocated.
He’s delivered us, early, to a point where we can remove the handbrake. Peeking over the neighbours’ fences shows that whilst we may not have kept up with the Jones’ – we’re not a million miles away. This is of significant credit given the millions of investment they had to flood their squads with to catch up.
I still trust in Arsene Wenger to do right by the club and Arsenal fans owe it to him to support him, and hope that next season we can take the next step.