No, our beloved England did not win this year’s World Cup! Our arduous 48 year wait for that glorious day sadly continues (sniff, sniff!) Instead, after a 9 year wait, its Arsenal who have come up trumps, lifting the 2014 FA Cup. In true gritty Arsenal style, they did it the hard way, overturning a dramatic early 2-0 deficit to finally overcome Hull City’s brave resistance, winning 3-2 after extra time. Gunners fans were certainly put through a roller-coaster of emotions in the Wembley final but with Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, earlier in the season, labelling Arsene Wenger as a “specialist in failure,” it was the Arsenal manager who ended up having the last laugh.
Specialist in failure
Though Mourinho’s comment was seen as rather disrespectful at the time, question marks had indeed been continually raised regarding whether Wenger still had enough fight in him to lead Arsenal to another trophy success. Don’t forget, this man, during his first 8 years, had led Arsenal to three English Premier League (EPL) Championships besides four FA Cups (two of those as double trophy triumphs and one as an undefeated championship winning season). Back then it may have been easier. Wenger was able to rely on such legends as goalkeepers David Seaman and Jens Lehmann, influential captains Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira. Then there were two strikers who would go on to break the club’s goalscoring record, first Ian Wright broke Cliff Bastin’s long standing record before his record was finally usurped by Thierry Henry (with the incredible Dennis Bergkamp assisting many of those goals.) Then Wenger’s 2004 championship winning team were heralded as The Invincibles, having gone through that entire season unbeaten. The following season that team would go on to win their 4th FA Cup under Wenger in a dramatic penalty shoot out over Manchester United. Then in 2006 the team were on the brink of being crowned champions of Europe, cruelly denied in the dying seconds by Barcelona in the Paris final. Most of that team was dismantled and Wenger had to weave his magic again, bringing younger, talented players like Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie into the squad. The pressure of having to rebuild a completely new team while augmenting a move to a new stadium were perhaps contributory factors in the side unable to win trophies for the next 8 years. While the players and manager worked hard each season to qualify for the lucrative European Champions League, which helped with financing the completion of the new stadium, championships were shared among Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, clubs with investment from multi-billionaire owners. Wenger, backed by club CEO Ivan Gazidis, found himself unable to compete with these clubs on a financial level. Disillusioned and perhaps inevitably, top players like Nasri, Fabregas and Van Persie would move on to bigger clubs, achieving the type of success they could only dream about whilst at Arsenal. The North London giants had merely become the team which played the most entertaining football but with nothing to show for it at the end.
In the 2012/13 season, Sir Alex Ferguson, with the help of former Arsenal fans favourite, Robin Van Persie, won Manchester United their 20th championship and his 13th as their manager before announcing his retirement from the sport. Sir Alex, a long time rival of Wenger’s, had left a legacy which marked him out as the longest serving and most successful manager in EPL history. His story could not have been better scripted. While for Wenger, the next longest serving manager in EPL history, there were only question marks concerning where his legacy was heading. The 2013/14 season would prove to be the most pivotal in answering those questions. Almost as if inspired by his now retired nemesis’ achievement the previous season, Wenger defied the critics, ending the season with something to show off in one of the finest stadiums in the world. With his pride now restored, Wenger begun the current 2014/15 season with an impressive 3-0 victory over current EPL champions, Manchester City, in the Community Shield at Wembley, adding a second title in just under 3 months to the Emirates Stadium. Now with a team boasting the quality of players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, (captured from Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively) maybe, just maybe Wenger is beginning to get back his spark.
© Copyright 2015, Darell J Philip