By Tony Attwood
Over the years of building Stadium Wenger, we’ve got used to players deciding to move on.
Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Bac Sagnay, Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Alek Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Alex Song…
Some have done well, some have quite simply taken the money and run, some have taken the money and fallen over, Cesc found his DNA didn’t match the Barcelona master race after all, and of course some have been edged out of the door.
We know the reasons why. Some have just wanted money, some didn’t fit, some wanted to experience something else, some were misled by the promises of other places – promises which did not always deliver.
What does become clear looking at the list, is that some of the purchases made suggest that the clubs looking at our players have just seen what they have become under Arsène Wenger – which quite often means playing at a very high level because of the tactical arrangements Arsenal have made. What they haven’t seen is the system that the players have played in – a system often changed by Arsenal to suit the players available.
We can see this quite clearly in this regard with a player who is still very much with us: Francis Coquelin. He didn’t turn from being a not-that-wonderful player with Freiburg into our regular man of the match this year through personal development alone, but through the way he is managed, the training he gets and the positioning he is given.
Likewise Thierry Henry didn’t move from being a flop with Juventus (one goal every 6.3 games) to being Arsenal’s greatest scorer through personal development alone, but through the coaching and understanding of ArsèneWenger.
So, slowly, the word has got around among the playing fraternity, it’s not all about the individual player. It is about the player and the manager and the system. Otherwise how do you explain Alex Song going from Arsenal to Barcelona to… WHU in the space of a couple of years?
Which is why it isn’t too much of a surprise that Arsène Wenger is saying that he is sure Theo Walcott will sign a new deal with the Premier League club, despite some northern team showing an interest. His actual words were “I am confident because I believe Theo has a great future.
“He is just coming back from a very, very difficult injury. Every week he is getting better.
“Theo is very young and I believe he will have a great goalscoring record in the future because of the quality and intelligence of his game, and therefore I would like him to stay with our club.”
And Theo will probably say yes, because he knows he is unlikely to get the sort of attention and support that he gets at Arsenal, in other clubs.
Mr Wenger also said that Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are likely to agree contract extensions at the end of May.
Meanwhile on the issue of Jack Wilshere Arsène Wenger said in his arsenal.com interview, “He has improved physically and I think he is available for selection now to be in the squad.”
Arteta, as we’ve assumed, won’t be ready yet because of match fitness, not because of an injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is two weeks away from full fitness, but as we’ve already listed here Wojciech Szczesny will be in goal for the Reading match.
Mr Wenger said about the semi-final,
“I think this is my 10th semi-final on Saturday so that means we know how to prepare. We know as well that it’s always tricky – we learnt that from Wigan last year. It’s a special occasion for us to share with our fans. We want to go home happy but we know in a semi-final it’s tricky.”
Here’s the list of semi-finals under Mr Wenger
- 1998: Arsenal 1 Wolverhampton 0
- 1999: Manchester Utd 2 Arsenal 1, after 0-0 draw
- 2001: Arsenal 2 Tottenham 1
- 2002 Arsenal 1 Middlesbrough 0
- 2003 Arsenal 1 Sheffield Utd 0
- 2004 Manchester U 1 Arsenal 0
- 2005 Arsenal 3 Blackburn 0
- 2009 Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
- 2014 Arsenal 1 Wigan 1 (won on penalties)
So that is six wins out of nine, not too bad a record. And the list above is a good reminder of how things can work when Arsenal’s finances are not restricted. The first seven in the above list came in the space of eight years. Then the long pause while the stadium was built, and now we are looking at a similar sort of run again – at least I hope we are.
Mr Wenger also had a few words to say about the match being on TV at the same time as Chelsea against Man U: “I’m surprised a game of the same stature is being played at the same time. There’s a bit of conflict there and it’s difficult to understand. It shouldn’t happen. You would like it to be a unique competition, especially the semi-final.”
But with our match on the BBC, which means free-to-view, it will of course get a much bigger audience than the Sky match, so there are no real worries.
Two early anniversaries on this day from our troubled times…
16 April 1910: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 1 in front of 39,000. The first ever Tottenham v Arsenal league match at Tottenham. Despite five games unbeaten Arsenal’s financial and footballing problems continued. This was the 16th consecutive match in which neither side scored more than one goal.
16 April 1912: One of the club’s pivotal days. George Leavey wrote to the Kentish Independent explaining that he could no longer spend the time nor provide adequate support for the club, wished Norris and Hall success in the venture, and resigned.