A week ago, Arsene Wenger’s career stood on the brink.
Entering the second leg of a Champions League qualifier against Italian side Udinese, reports circulated that Wenger’s position would come under review if Arsenal failed to qualify.
Gunner nation endured a nervy sixty minutes, but eventually their superior class shown through.
But Wenger’s proverbial exhale lasted a mere four days. Manchester United’s 8-2 disemboweling of the North London side was so horrific the club felt it necessary to reimburse the Arsenal faithful that made the trek to Northern England.
Again, Wenger was written off. Many had suspected that the once professorial nurturer of talent was out of touch, and the superstars leaving his club said as much.
Premier League enthusiasts have watched the once revered man’s stature drop considerably since the 2005 season, as Arsenal have continually drifted further from title contention.
The Frenchman once brought Arsenal an undefeated season, two historic doubles as well as an additional English title and two more FA cups during a nine-year span in which Arsenal finished either first or second in the Premier League.
But in the six years since, Wenger hasn’t brought a single piece of silverware to North London.
The trophy drought fuels the flame that heats Wenger’s seat. Arsenal’s last six seasons have shown little success on the scorecard largely in part to the dominance of one, Sir Alex Ferguson and the emergence of Abromovich’s Chelsea.
Arsenal’s dedication to free-flow football entertainment and a successful business model should be enough to separate the Gunners from the common disgust of many EPL fans, but the collection of dust in the Emirates trophy cabinet gives little aid.
Reports of Arsenal’s decline have been written with varying degrees of hyperbole in the period since, but it is undeniable the outlook at Emirates Stadium is growing bleaker by the year.
A club that was once perennial contenders is fighting what looked to be a losing battle to remain relevant.
Combine the quarter-billion dollar player investment at Manchester City finally resembling football with Liverpool’s seemingly weekly import of a sexy midfielder, most believe it certain Arsene and co. will be outmuscled in the top four scrap this season.
Regardless, let the records show that in era that saw the last two premier league champions share a debt of nearly a billion dollars, Wenger continues to balance the books.
The recent dry spell may not have happened had Arsene turned down the bloated offers for Robert Pires, Seb Larsson, Sol Campbell and Cashley Cole in 2006. Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer, Thierry Henry, left the following season for an inflated fee. Barcelona only got one quality season from the once prolific goal scorer.
Standing behind the icons he had spent the last decade developing, Arsene’s new boys then came to conquer with youth. Those recent seasons have seen little in terms of silverware, but the fruitful business of buying low and selling high has put Arsenal in a positive position moving forward.
Arsene is known for turning incredible profits on transfers, and this summer he certainly stuck to his guns.
The Fantastic Cesc Fabregas, and City slickers Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy brought Arsenal a 66 million pound return this window. Meanwhile, the incoming Gervinho, Mikel Arteta, Mertesacker, Andre Santos, and loanee Benayoun should help fill the talent void and more importantly supply experience, grit and sound, intelligent defense for a total expense of approximately 34 million.
No team wants to be labeled a “selling club,” but Wenger has successfully dealt with such departures and subsequent shopping sprees before. His ability to transform Nicolas Anelka into Robert Pires and Thierry Henry hardly seemed ideal in 1999 but is loudly applauded today.
Nothing Wenger did on deadline day will allow cooler heads to immediately prevail, but in typical fashion, he delivered the goods.
We will never know how Wenger convinced Mikel Arteta to take a 20,000 a week pay cut to play the rotation game while putting Evertonians on a collective suicide watch. Additionally, German World Cup standout Per Mertersacker and Brazilian tactician Andres Santos will sure up the gutted back line while Chelsea outcast Yossi Benayoun adds much needed midfield depth.
Combined with the purchase of youngsters Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell, Arsenal’s new boys revolutionize and deepen a squad reduced last weekend at Old Trafford to a third-string cast Blackburn wouldn’t envy.
Arsenal now boasts a side of superior form and depth to their Anfield counterparts, and will even when the artist formerly known as Stevie G returns. Regardless of what side Wenger trots out, they all will have arrived at Arsenal with a transfer fee close to what Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll alone.
The 8-2 dissection of Armand Traore and Co., is more of an anomaly than an accurate gauge of the new age Gunners. United, as strong as ever, deserves credit for their brilliance, but they did not beat the 2011-12 Arsenal. They beat a transitional team. A team missing Alex Song, Jack Wilshire, Gervinho, Vermaelen and Sagna.
Shortly after the sell of the teams’ two most influential players but still pre-deadline, the Red Devils caught Arsenal at a unique moment. The lack of depth and experience exploited in that match has been well addressed.
Wenger now has a starting XI and sufficient bench for a formidable campaign. Top Four, Champions League knockout success and an FA cup challenge should no longer be considered questions but instead expectations.
Good business and cash-splashing competition have kept Arsenal from duplicating their turn of the century success. Those glory days no longer seem enough to feed the Emirates faithful. With the recent revolution comes another chance for Wenger.
Le Professeur has a crop of talent with a extraordinary variety of skill and longevity (see Chamberlain, Wilshire, Ramsey, Miyachi, Song, Walcott, Szczesny) to compete for trophies now.
The man has maintained top-four status his entire Arsenal career. Now is not time to lose faith or doubt the man who has managed two domestic doubles and an undefeated season.
This may not be the Invincibles reincarnated, but Wenger’s squad shows the promise of a healthy run.