By Tony Attwood
When there is mention the unbeaten season and my thoughts immediately turn to the last match of the season, going one down, the rescue and victory, staying for an hour in the ground, and then driving through London and finding that everywhere there seemed to be people out and about waving scarves and flags.
The whole city seemed to be in celebration although there were of course lots of fans of other clubs skulking under the table and behind the sofa or watching Thunderbirds while pretending nothing had happened at all.
We focus of course on our experience and that final moment, forgetting that although we were unbeaten some of those games really were far more nerve-wrenching than exciting.
So in moments like this, thinking of last night, we remember the goals, the clinching of the victory from the jaws of Jaws, and the sheer relief that the season is still alive.
But that is not all there is, because there has to be worry too. Just as winning the FA Cup last season does nothing for this season, so even if we were to win the Europa that would do nothing for us next season save give us a place in Europe. If the League form continues to leave us in the doldrums those games will be hard to win.
And suddenly with such thoughts, my mind went back to Liam Brady the glorious gem in Terry Neill’s side who won the cup with Arsenal in 1979. Brady then left in 1980 because what he was getting at Arsenal was simply not enough. 235 games and one trophy, yet he was a genius. Italy beckoned.
The screams at the time were all about how could the club have been so stupid as to let him go, and where was his loyalty, but that was not it, for he simply had wanted more than the club could offer.
And I think these thoughts because of our current wonderful crop of youngsters: Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Willock. At first they just want games, but then they want trophies. And have no doubt they will be surrounded by people telling them that they won’t win anything with Arsenal, that Arsenal’s glory days have gone, and that their career is short, and if they don’t move on now they are going to regret it for the rest of their lives.
Thierry Henry stayed at Arsenal for as long as he did because a) he believed in Wenger, and b) Wenger delivered the trophies. Henry eventually did go to Barcelona of course, but that was after 274 games, and in 2007 by which time it was obvious that Arsenal could no longer compete with Chelsea and Manchester United.
This season we might win the Europa, and that might encourage our brilliant youngsters to stay a bit longer, but if we don’t and we have a season out of Europe, we need to remember that the loyalty that we feel to Arsenal is not shared by our players. They don’t want to look back on their careers later in life with a sense of what might have been. They want to look back with a sense of achievement. The sense of achievement that Lehmann, Henry, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Lauren, Campbell, Toure etc etc have through being part of that amazing team.
So our best players will move to where they think they have a greater likelihood of gaining immortality. To stay with us they need to feel Arsenal is not just rising back to the top, but doing it quickly.
Mr Wenger gave Arsenal unimaginable success (and yes the second double was unimaginable for over half his second season) and made everyone look at Arsenal afresh, and made the players realise that Arsenal was a very special place to be. But that early success was unusual.
It took Chapman five years to get Arsenal on track and win his first trophy. It took George Graham three years. For Wenger it was two years. Arteta did it in year one.
As a result, if we don’t win the Europa this season, I am sure Mikel Arteta will nonetheless survive, not least because I suspect the owners realise that another rapid turnaround of management is not only going to be costly, but does not guarantee improvement. When Emery left in November 2019 we were missing sixth spot and a European position just on a goal difference – but that was enough to get him sacked. Now sixth looks impossible and what we also know is that no one remembers the runners up in the Europa League.
I don’t think that Arteta will be sacked this season, no matter what happens, and he might well be able to hang on to his brilliant young players, but I think we’ll all know that after that he will have to deliver trophies. Next season, with these brilliant younger players, that really has to be the moment where we regain the “not a trophy” positions. Even if it wasn’t in the past, it will have become a trophy now.
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