Two games into the season and Arsenal had yet to win, or even score. Their captain and best player had left, acrimoniously, to one of their rivals, and the choruses of crisis had started to ring around the Emirates Stadium. The ever vocal Piers Morgan had already taken to Twitter, lambasting his club’s lack of ambition; and despite the arrivals of arguably Germany’s best player in Lukasz Podolski and Ligue 1’s top scorer last season, Olivier Giroud, the contributors of talkSPORT phone ins had insisted the club had “signed no one.”
Fast forward two weeks, and after wins against Liverpool, Southampton and Montpellier, we hear talk of the title at Arsenal once more. It is a sad truth that in the modern game we see such fickleness amongst the supporters of the league’s most successful teams, but until a club like Arsenal has experienced a true crisis, a real hardship and barren spell, we cannot see who the real fans are.
It is this absurd sense of entitlement that ultimately does it. Spoiled by storied success in the early noughties, Arsenal fans are apparently lacking in perspective. “Wenger Out” banners that followed the 8-2 defeat to United last season were soon replaced by “In Arsene we Trust” after pipping Spurs to third just a few months later.
A good start to this season has renewed optimism in the Arsenal camp, but rest assured it will only take a defeat away to City this weekend to question Mr. Wenger’s capability once again. So let me explain why Arsenal fans should be satisfied, not just with their convincing performance against Southampton, or the capture of one of German football’s brightest talents, but as a whole, as a club operating in completely the right direction.
Many club owners respond to the demands for instant solutions, wrongly I might add, with a manager’s average tenure across all four divisions down to 18 months, and under one year in the Championship. Given twice as much time to prove their capabilities, most managers would be deemed to be a success if they won promotion or kept their teams in the upper echelons of the league for a sustained period of time. They would not be expected to win the double twice or deliver Champions League football every season while finishing no lower than fourth in the Premier League. That is what Wenger has done in sixteen seasons with Arsenal.
A record only bettered by Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been in charge at Manchester United for almost a decade longer, Wenger’s contribution to Arsenal is staggering. Yet when Arsenal fail to beat a plucky Sunderland side at The Emirates, sections of their support respond as they do whenever the team loses or draws with someone other than Barcelona, by going on air to suggest the old man has lost his way.
During Wenger’s time, Arsenal fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win the majority of their games while picking up trophies regularly. As one of the Big Four, they acquired a sizeable number of new followers who wanted to support a successful team. The current seven year stretch without a trophy was not the package the glory hunters signed up for, while some long term fans seem to have forgotten they used to have barren spells like most other clubs.
Arsenal as a club are not underachieving. They are operating exactly as their reputation demands, in the top four and challenging for honours. Until Arsenal experience a demise akin to that of Leeds, Newcastle or by the looks of things, Liverpool, I cannot say I sympathize with any charge of underperformance.