Okay. Mark Twain may have been referring to an entirely different subject, but one can still draw parallels with the sense of being dismissed as an irrelevance, or even more aptly, of suffering a metaphorical death at the hands of the media.
The reality, as Arsenal’s recent performances, illuminated brilliantly by the win over Manchester United have shown, is that Arsenal and Wenger’s painstakingly cultivated long-term vision, is finally beginning to bear fruit.
That the Arsenal project seems closer to its denouement is a testament to the unshakeable faith and steadfast adherence of the Arsenal manager to principles that he continues to espouse, despite the strident attempts of some in the press to brand him an apostate, a late convert to pragmatism who has recanted from his previous misguided idealism.
The truth, as can be clearly seen if one takes a longer view of Wenger’s career, is that the Frenchman’s teams have always been capable of applying counter attacking tactics when necessary. From the FA Cup final 2005(which coincidentally the Gunners won by beating a better United side on the day) to more recent examples against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the last couple of seasons, there are numerous instances of occasions where Wenger has instructed his charges to sit and play on the break. What is more important is that this preparedness to soak up pressure on occasion is subsumed within a larger ethos that emphasises a possession oriented, attacking game.
In winning over Manchester United, the Gunners broke an important psychological barrier and took the next small step towards assuring that Wenger‘s blueprint for success remains on the right track. For whilst many have attempted to airbrush Arsenal’s recent past as being one notable for it’s decline, the truth is rather different.
The way the Frenchman has overseen Arsenal’s relocation from Highbury to the Emirates, helping to keep the team competitive both on and off the pitch is nothing short of absolutely heroic. If any evidence was needed of how difficult it is to keep a team consistently at the top level even when the finances are there, one needs not look very far. Manchester United since the loss of Sir Alex Ferguson has found the adjustment so difficult, even with the enormous investment over the past two transfer windows, that they are not even certain of retaining their top four status at the end of this season. Even teams like Liverpool and Spurs have struggled to make the top four after spending hundreds of millions of pounds in the last two seasons. All that is before you even look at the examples on the continent like Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munich that struggled financially in the immediate aftermath of building new stadiums. Ajax have still not regained the status they occupied in the mid-nineties.
It is within this context that Wenger’s achievements will eventually be judged. His careful husbanding of resources during the lean years following the move to the Emirates, coupled with his ability to build young, vibrant attacking teams have placed Arsenal firmly within the category of European super clubs, at least from a financial standpoint. Winning at Manchester United marked another threshold, the return of Arsenal to true superpower status on the pitch. Now that that mental block has been eviscerated, there appears to be little standing in Arsenal’s way towards marching towards another top four finish this term and possibly claiming a second FA Cup title in successive seasons.
Up next lies the challenge of another London derby. If ever there was a game that presented itself as a potential banana skin, this is it. Coming as it does just before the seismic challenge of attempting to overturn the 3-1 deficit sustained against Monaco in the first leg of the Champions league, this is a game that could conceivably turn tricky if the Gunners keep one eye on the game against Monaco and do not maintain their full focus on West Ham. With this in mind, the Arsenal manager will have his work cut out in keeping his squad’s attention firmly focused on the immediate job at hand.
Considering that the trip to Monaco comes barely 72 hours after Arsenal meet West Ham, a few changes are inevitable. This should not detract from Arsenal putting in another efficient, professional performance to secure all three points however, and continue Wenger’s project of placing Arsenal right back, where they belong; at the pinnacle of English and European football.