Anyone following the Premier League since its inception in 1992 will know that up until the middle of this decade, two clubs dominated. They were Arsenal and Manchester United. Manchester United are still dominating the Premier League, but what has happened to Arsenal?
We can all remember the pet names ascribed to Wenger after his first Premier League title; “Le Boss”, “Le Professor” et al. However, these were names given to a man who had displayed utmost pragmatism. His influence on the way the team played was also changing, morphing eventually into what some Arsenal fans cheerfully called “little Barcelona”. Probably the high point was the season whereby they did not lose a single game and became immortalised by the name “The Invincibles”, although I should point out that they were not the first to achieve this feat; Preston North End did the same in the inaugural Football League season in 1889!
Wenger also became particularly assiduous in the transfer market, buying players like Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry, relatively unknown players, and making them into world stars. He was so successful at discovering talent, that the club s balance sheet reflected his achievements most years since he became manager. So what has gone wrong?
There are two major events that have derailed Wenger`s progression. The first was the perceived need to have a new and larger stadium; one with a larger capacity, to earn more revenue. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration, but it became an obsession with Wenger. The project seemed to consume all of Wengers time and effort. Basically, he took his eye off the ball. Not only did he become involved with the minutiae of the project, he left some team matters and scouting to others. The stadium cost a staggering £390 to complete! The capacity did increase to 60,000, but at a cost to Arsenal that not only hit fans in their pockets through ramped-up ticket prices, but by preventing them from competing in the transfer market. Wenger`s ability to spot new talent in Franco-African countries had been rumbled and clubs from all over Europe were now watching these countries players. However, the biggest threat to the Arsenal juggernaut came from the East, in the shape of Roman Abramovich.
The advent of Abramovich taking over at Chelsea marked a seismic shift in the power struggle at the top of the Premier League. Abramovich had an instant effect at Chelsea by giving the manager at the time an almost unlimited transfer budget. He duly obliged and the rest as we say is history. Chelsea, by virtue of their new found wealth, overtook Arsenal in competing with Manchester United for the Premier League title. In an odd quirk of fate, this happened almost simultaneously with the building of the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal. So Not only did Wenger and Arsenal have little or no spare cash from 2005 onwards, but Abramovich`s Chelsea also came onto the scene. There is little doubt that the two events had a catastrophic effect on Arsenal as the major power at the top of football in the UK to challenge Manchester United.
Today, the effects upon Arsenal and Wenger in particular are coming to a head. Of course, we all know that after Chelsea and Abramovich was Manchester City and Sheikh Mansour. This effectively ended any chance of Arsenal reclaiming their position at the top table of football in the UK. Because of financial pressures and sheer player power, Arsenal`s top players have steadily been leaving and going to rivals; Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Flamini, Hleb, Adebayor, Viera, Toure, Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas and finally Van Persie. Strangely enough, eleven player, i.e. a whole football team, sold or just left for free.
No club can sell players of their ability and standing and expect to carry on at the top and the recent loss by Arsenal, fielding an almost full first team, to a Division Two club in Bradford City is not just an embarrassment, but a water-shed moment in their history. Arsenal fans, even the staunchest supporters of “Le Boss” are coming to the conclusion that he can no longer pull the rabbit out of the hat.
Like the punch drunk ex-champ who never knows when it is time to quit, Arsene Wenger will almost certainly have to be told. Who that will be is anybody’s guess.
Finally, just to nail “that old one” which Arsenal supporters always wheel out, “who will take over”; Well there is a perfect fit in the shape of a certain Catalan gentleman called Guardiola.936779