By Tai Emeka Obasi
Life As An Arsenal Fan.
Being an Arsenal fan, I’ve concluded, is never a coincidence. It’s rather a design, which has a lot of bearing in all endeavours of anyone privileged enough to be deeply associated with the London-based outfit. If this assertion may be considered an overstatement prior to Arsene Wenger’s arrival, it cannot be waved aside in the modern times where the Frenchman’s attitude to every criticism is forever a perfect manner for any progressive’s handling of daily affairs.
Chelsea has beaten Arsenal twice in the league. The stuff we heard and read centred on Arsenal can’t beat or score against Chelsea. Few bothered to add that in both games, Chelsea couldn’t score or truly threaten until Arsenal were reduced in numbers. Nobody cared to recall that in the only match Arsenal completed with equal number of men against Chelsea this season ended in the Gunners’ victory and that it was Chelsea, with Mourinho, who couldn’t score. Or that in the last game Chelsea had to park the bus against 10 men for the better part of second half to preserve their slender lead.
Fast forward to Arsenal against Leicester City….Arsenal Lucky Against 10-man Leicester; Leicester So Unlucky Against Misfiring Gunners – and such stuff. To score against Arsenal, Jamie Vardy had to dive. Martin Atkinson willingly gave a penalty. Listening to commentaries…the commentator said he wouldn’t blame Vardy, that it was a clever play. I’m sure he would have had a different thing to say if it was Oliver Giroud that was involved at the other end.
Today, pundits are tipping Tottenham to win the League. Nothing wrong in that. The White Hart Lane outfit has deserved the attention this season. However, what mirrors inconsistency in this punditry is the reason for tipping them – they are young, energetic and play entertainment football. Aren’t these exactly same reasons same pundits ascribed to Arsenal’s lack of trophies in past seasons? You can’t win with kids…you can’t win playing so pretty…Arsenal lack leaders…etc, etc.
In everything about the game in England, Arsenal are measured in a different parameter from all other contenders. But it NEVER gets to Wenger. He’s always replied them with one action – FOCUS. Try as they do, the FA, PIGMOL, Match Officials, Press, Rival Fans, AAAs have NEVER succeeded in shifting Le Prof’s focus. In press conferences, he’s always calm, collected and full of wisdom. He knows the gang-up but never gives his knowledge away.
Despite nearing end of the club’s financial crunchy times he still sold Robin van Persie to Ferguson and Manchester United. While RVP helped Fergie to a healthy retirement both club’s fortunes have literally reversed ever since.
Everybody that has heard the word football ‘knew’ Arsenal needed a defensive midfielder to truly compete…the Carvalhos, Vidals, Benders, Scheiderlins, Wayamas, etc. Wenger stuck with Mikel Arteta, added Mathieu Flamini and continued to nurture Francis Coquelin. Even Thierry Henry said Giroud is no potent striker. But Wenger ignored his ex-captain and others, stuck with his compatriot, shifted Theo Walcott to the middle to offer competition and variety of play while patiently waiting for Danny Welbeck’s return.
The ex-Monaco coach is a perfect study on how to be a professional – believe in yourself, stick to your convictions and work tenaciously. It may take longer than people anticipated but you’ll certainly get there.
At the risk of getting sacked, Wenger stuck to the rules of re-building his team. As mentioned earlier, van Persie was the last player he was forced to lose. Ever since, he has kept all players he needed for following season. He wanted Luis Suarez, missed him because Liverpool were being unnecessarily cocky by breaking contractual agreement …but Wenger got Mesut Ozil same summer. Pundits and AAAs screamed Arsenal didn’t need Ozil but rather a world class striker. Wenger kept his cool and broke his nine-year trophy drought with the FA Cup. Again the following summer, he kept all players he needed while adding Alexis Sanchez…people screamed for more but he kept his cool, retained the FA Cup and added Petr Cech…
The pundits wanted Wenger to spend 200 million pounds in one summer but Wenger knows much better than all of them combined. Loius van Gaal has spent over 300 million pounds in less than two seasons and will be lucky to last till end of this season. While his United team looks exactly like a team that needs another 300 million spree to resemble anything like a top 4 side.
Arsene perfectly understands that he needn’t distort team chemistry while attempting to strengthen. That is why he gradually continues to add to his squad. For the past three summers it has been one world class addition at a time. Last season, when Arsenal was ready to compete, the monster of injuries disrupted the first half of the campaign. I remember even Mathieu Debuchy played as a centre back in many matches. Nacho Monreal as well while new signing Calum Chambers was Mr Utility. By the time players, including Ozil, returned Arsenal have been the best EPL side ever since.
Today, pundits are quick to tip Leicester, Tottenham…they forget that these two teams lack experience in playing personnel to drag through the remaining 1/3 of the campaign without stuttering – the same we’ve seen of Arsenal in past seasons they had playing personnel of same inexperienced pedigree.
Nobody wants to acknowledge that in the present Arsenal fold that we have in Cech a veteran that has won everything in club football. Monreal and Per Metersacker are with World Cup winners medals while Monreal adds European Championship winners medal. In the middle, Santi Carzola and Ozil are equally World Cup winners. And while Carzola adds Euro medals, Ozil adds La Liga winners medal. Sanchez may not showcase a World Cup medal but he more than compensates with La Liga, Champions League and Copa America winners medals.
We’re talking of six experienced winners spread over all departments while the rest of the team virtually have two FA Cup winners medals and two Community Shield successes to brandish. Not forgetting Giroud came with the French Ligue un medal.
I don’t know of any player in the combined teams of Leicester and Tottenham that has any medal to show. Let me pause here and warn that all these medals may count for nothing by mid May but I’m just trying to recall a vital aspect of winning teams pundits are suddenly ignoring just because it’s in Arsenal’s favour.
Even Man City do not have it as good in assemblage of top winning personnel in their kitty. Despite recent long-term injuries to three key players the Gunners are still just two points behind the season’s shock team. Despite battling unfavourable officiating in every match, any team has to garner more points than the Gunners to win this title.
Do pundits think that Arsenal being the only team yet to lose against top 5 rivals this campaign is a coincidence? In fact, in the available 15 points against top 5 teams, Arsenal have kept 13 of them. Only Tottenham snatched a point. It’s no coincidence or luck. Wenger has built a solid team without making noise about it. And more, he has added winning-ugly tactics to his variety. In the five matches we lost so far only Southampton’s cannot be explained. Against Chelsea twice wouldn’t have happened if referees weren’t overzealous with red cards. West Ham was first baptism and WBA was one of those nights everything goes wrong.
Keep your Mourinhos and the likes…give me Wenger any time…for his patience, humility, dedication, tenacity and unrivalled professionalism. My book on Wenger is coming in my own style…but I won’t even pen down a word in it yet until he wins the Champions League. And I’m not guessing it – he certainly will. Not this season but the next two will see him do it. Football, posterity and the protagonist acts of conscientious life will be too cruel to Le Prof if he retires without winning it. And I don’t think God’s world is that tainted.
22 February 1964: Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1, start of seven game sequence without a win – a run that suggested that manager Billy Wright did not know how to rectify the situation. He did however last until the end of the following season. Laurie Brown, signed by Tottenham from Arsenal the day before, played for Tottenham.
22 February 1997: Nic Anelka arrived from PSG for approx £250,000. The story is that PSG did not want to sell him, but Arsenal arranged the signing on a technicality. He was later sold for 100 times the cost to Arsenal.
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