The downside of achieving too much

You haven’t written in a long time. Your precious little football magazine is aiming to go big. Need to look for articles to write, don’t you?

You scratch your head for topics to write about. Let’s prepare a checklist, shall we? What all have we got? The first name to strike your head is either Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich. Don’t pretend, you know it’s true. All of us are football hipsters. You see a lot of people salivating over the deep-lying midfielders in Pirlo and Carrick of late. Write an article on them? Nay, too many out there. How about one of Manchester United’s epic treble-quest? Are you kidding me, it’s like every article on every site. Steady, brain. Come up with a good idea. You let Simon & Garfunkel ring through your body … and voila! How about revisiting a sight that made you the most nervous when you started watching football? Yeap, let’s do this.

A neat-little one two in the middle of the park, the ball is passed on to the left-winger, who plays it out wide to the opposite wing. The right-winger puts it back to the middle of the park. A nice shimmy by the number 10, who lays it off for the centre-forward, and it’s a goal. Beautifully taken, the manager is all smiles, and Theirry AWN-REEE rings around the stadium. The defenders walk back in raw acceptance of their fate. The fate which Arsenal controlled. The Arsenal of the late 90s and the early 2000s. The master controller from the bench, Arsene Wenger. The fortress went by the name Highbury. Or maybe it didn’t matter where the game was played, honestly. A match against Arsenal meant sleepless nights for the players, the manager AND the fans.

Arsene Wenger and the Invincibles

Sol Campbell. Patrick Vieira. Dennis Bergkamp. Robert Pires. Freddie Ljungberg. Theirry Henry. Looks fantastic on paper, no? Well a lot of squads do. How many of them transcend support and evoke appreciation in the way that team did? Not many. The manager resembled a scientist. He had studied the opposition and their tactics to the last detail, and made the ever-so-subtle changes to counter them. Before you knew it, they were out of sight. A team as good as any in the Premier League era. Maybe even across eras.

Is all of the aforementioned the bane of the current Arsenal FC outfit? I genuinely think so. They achieved so much and were so devastatingly good, that anything short of excellent is looked upon as just not good enough.

Is the current squad bad? No.

Is it good enough to challenge for titles? Yes.

Then why doesn’t it? Because all through the so called ‘transition-period’, Arsenal FC have persisted with the same manager and hence, philosophies and expectations around them. Eight-years is a long time for a club as big as them. It’s not as much about the trophies (or the lack of it) as it is about the increasing mediocrity of football. When Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott and Podolski step on the field, they know they have to emulate the glory days from a decade ago. Arsene Wenger is expected to emulate himself from those days. It cannot be a comforting thought. You rarely see Arsenal going for a scrappy 1-0 win when it’s needed. More than anything else, it’s the expectation from within that the manager is succumbing to.

Do you think Manchester United would now accept 5 mediocre and trophy-less years from Sir Alex Ferguson?

Let that alone, do you think Sir Alex would accept that himself?

You know the answer, he won’t. It’s Arsene Wenger’s perseverance which has kept him at the club. It’s not a trait many people are blessed with, and it most certainly needs to be saluted. But there is a threshold. If it hasn’t been reached yet, I believe it’s coming closer by the day.

Like Barcelona parted with Cruyff right after the dream-team phase was over, like Sacchi left Milan just when they were getting off their peak, Arsenal needed a new manager when the crux of ‘Les Invincibles’ left. Not every club is blessed with a big pool of resources that can see through a transition seamlessly. Arsenal needed a new team, a new gaffer, and a new set of philosophies and expectations.

It’s never too late, Arsenal. Do what’s needed to get this club back to their lofty heights.

Sarthak Dev

Computer engineer, pianist and writer; not necessarily in that order. Can kill for a good football story.