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Arsene, Arsenal, The FA Cup And The New Era…

By Tai Emeka Obasi

 

Arsenal fans all are still celebrating the FA Cup triumph over League Champions, Chelsea FC. For three times in four seasons, Arsene Wenger has delivered the world’s oldest trophy to his dear Gunners. Past two deliveries were achieved via beating Hall City and Aston Villa, both supposed underdogs.

But the last win, precisely on May 27, 2017 turned that tide. For once, the Gunners were the underdogs and rightly so. Chelsea won the League title in style, amassing 93 points – a whopping 18 points more than Arsenal. And it didn’t end there. Arsenal finished fifth and for the first time in 20 years, will miss Champions League football. Add the other matter of finishing for the first time below Tottenham Hotspurs under the Wenger era and conclude no pundit was actually being partisan ‘giving victory’ to the Stamford Bridge outfit before kick-off.

But football matches have not always been won by favourites or there wouldn’t be any need playing them. From what could probably be Arsenal’s best performance of the season Wenger boys tore their London rivals to shreds from kick off. They got a fourth-minute lead but never let off. That the match remained just that one Alexis Sanchez’s strike by halftime surprised even the Chelsea players, particularly Captain Gary Cahill, who cleared two sure-goal efforts off the line after his goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had been clearly beaten.

Despite the misfortune of having their three first choice centre-backs in Laurent Kolscieny, Gabriel Paulista and Shkrodan Mustafi  unavailable owing to suspension, injury and illness respectively, the boys in red never showed any sign of such setback. Even Alex Ox-Chamberlain, playing as left wing-back for the first time in his career (as Kieran Gibbs was equally unavailable) never showed any sign of a fish out of water. And more – they were supposed to be psychologically down, having just ended a very disappointing season.

On the other hand, Chelsea had just won the title with two games to spare, had all their players fit and available for selection and had all bookmakers’ favours in the drawer.

But everybody was thinking the teams swapped jerseys before kick off as the first 45 minutes got under way. The League Champions though expectedly upped their game in the second half but the Gunners were already in the mood. The new FA Cup kings responded by showing the other side of their resilience – defence. With Captain Per Mertersacker starting his first game in 392 days and second game of the season, rookie Rob Holding, makeshift Nacho Monreal marshalling the back three and Hector Ballerin, Ox-Chamberlain flanking either side of their rear half, the Blues got more than they bargained for when the gritty Gunners tackled effectively, blocked in numbers, nodded all balls away from damage, exhibiting such discipline even die-hard Gunners fans never believed possible.

Instead, chances were coming at the opposite end where Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck ran havoc with near perfect counters. Surprisingly, Chelsea equalised after going a man down when Victor Moses deservedly collected his second yellow card for simulation inside the Gunners box. Diego Costa(who else?) forced home an equaliser that keeper David Ospina should really have done better with in the 78th minute.

Game on!

Oliver Giroud was already waiting to come on before the equaliser and despite the setback, Wenger didn’t hesitate. In came the Frenchman for Welbeck…38 seconds later the striker was taking the ninth of a perfect Arsenal passes from the re-start onto the head of roaming Ramsey to bang in Arsenal’s second.

Game over!

And Arsenal won a match they were not expected to in the most convincing fashion – dominating every aspect of the game. And by so doing, created history – winning the FA Cup for a record 13 times… and Wenger setting his own managers’ record of seven wins.

But despite this master class of a performance many Arsenal fans have not let off in the clamour for Wenger to go. Depending on the divide one falls within, the issue of the Frenchman’s fate with the club truly calls for passionate appraisal.

Personally I’m a Wenger fan to the marrows, die-hard, if you wish. But put in honest garb, I never truly stood firmly behind Le Prof while our darling Gunners stuttered to nine defeats in a season that finally saw us miss Champions League football. Reason is just simple. The French could be stubborn and annoyingly so, even in the face of things going dangerously wrong. For instance, one could never hide the bizarreness of waiting till the 75th to effect changes even in the face of a glaring defeat under any loyalty garment.

Sticking to a very predictable system as well as playing in a very predictable way were glaring shortcomings that lost the long-serving manager his fans faster than he was making any. Being second bests in big matches that suddenly have included those with Tottenham and Everton were no encouraging signs. Losing 3 – 0 to the likes of Crystal Palace was no longer a scenario that condoned patience. Being whitewashed 10 – 2 aggregate by Bayern Munich, whatever the circumstances, brought the often asked question back – why always qualify for a competition just to make up the numbers? Why will a club that has skilfully navigated its way from debt still underperform when being expected to hit the big-club heights as envisaged before we went through the Emirates Stadium investment and other expansion landmarks?

Many questions – all pointing in the direction that no matter how revered and respected, Le Prof was due for a change of scene since he was not prepared to adapt to modern dictates of the game. I had written my farewell piece after the Crystal Palace bashing, waiting patiently for season end. I just managed to hold myself from senseless outbursts. Yes, because I believed and still believe that at all times, Wenger deserves his respect, not only as an Arsenal manager but also as a legend of the game.

Yes, LEGEND. Here’s a man who plays strictly by the rules of the game. Never involved in any atom of cheating to win. Never bypasses any rule in all transfer deals, never injects any of his players to play with injury. Never tolerates cheating from his players however desperate circumstances called. Never calls the press names, particularly the English press for glaring bias in reports about Arsenal. Never speaks evil of the FA and match officials despite a glaring gang-up against his dear club. Never speaks out of turn despite extreme provocations.

This is not a man I should involve my money in chattering a chopper with banners to insult. This is not a man I should go to stadiums with banners to chide. This is not a man I should write poison-penned articles to infuriate. And it’s just as well… for Le Prof took the same game that made him almost lose me to turn things around – COMPLETELY.

After losing that match to Palace, it was my lowest point of the season. Then came the following match against Middlesbrough… and for the first time we saw Arsene lining out three central defenders. They deservedly beat the league hosts 2-1…followed it up with same formation to deservedly beat Man City in the FA Cup semi-final. And through all other opponents which included Manchester United and José Mourinho, Everton and Ronald Koeman, Chelsea, Leicester City, Southampton, Stoke City and others, Arsenal won all. The only blur being the 0 – 2 loss to a truly good Spurs side at White Hart Lane.

But it wasn’t just the wins… it’s the convincing manner that spoke volumes of something refreshing – a new ERA. Wenger has finally decided to change tactics. He has finally decided to take risks. He has finally accepted that occasional gambles are part of the game. And in doing so, he achieved feats hitherto not believed possible. He beat Mourinho for the first time in a league match; he beat Ronald Koeman for the first and he did that emphatically, playing with ten men for about 80 minutes.He outclassed Pep Guardiola in the FA Cup semis, cleaned up Antonio Conte in the final.

These are certainly no longer news but perhaps the players’ adaptation is the real news.

It started with Ox-Chamberlain playing wingback, Monreal being a very important player in the 3 – 4 – 3 system and the players playing to their real potentials. Finally you could no longer predict Arsene’s intentions before any match… even during matches he could now switch tactics. He can make players play out of positions with maximum effects. Finally the new dynamic manager I was looking for is right there in the new-improved Wenger.

It is therefore being completely insensitive and inability to professionally appraise and appropriately discern our late performances of the ended season to now send our longest-serving manager packing. Provided the French septuagenarian continues in his new-found dynamism there’s nobody out there that could come in and possibly do better.

I will therefore call on the board to offer Le Prof a two-year contract to not only get us back into the Champions League but also win more trophies, keep our core players and make Welbeck to start scoring goals.

Give me just two quality signings and something very good could happen next season. Wenger is still the man to do it. Meanwhile let the celebration continue.

UP GUNNERS!


Footnote: The BBC is announcing that Mr Wenger has been offered a two year contract by Arsenal.


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4 comments to Arsene, Arsenal, The FA Cup And The New Era…

  • Oludotun

    And two years it is…
    Arsene deserved the new contract being offered by the board. The fans need to support the team and the manager.
    To end the season with such great performances merits another shot at the EPL and UCL for Wenger.
    Needs to juggle the team; keep the core that forms our best legs, sell or release a the ones that are on the edge (especially in light of the new formation) and buy those 2 or 3 key men (left back, forward….).
    Let the team make an assault on all fronts of competition, the squad size allowed that for 2016/2017;and we could be celebrating better thus time 2018.

  • Oldham Gooner

    I’ve always backed our manager but prior to this season, I never realised how important it was to me.

    I’ve wavered thinking maybe during our lowest moments it would be better for Arsene to abandon us to the tides (no better than some of us deserve).

    The media and their patsies can jog on though, I can’t get enough of Arsenal no matter what 😁

  • Nitram

    One fantastic bonus of Wenger signing a new deal is just how pissed off this is going to make the odious Piers Morgan.

    Lets just hope he hangs himself in despair.

  • Flares

    On a side note, I believe Carlo Ancelotti’s contract (which he claims he won’t extend) at Bayern is up at the same as Wenger’s at Arsenal….