Wenger’s legacy could have been so different

The pictures that came out after Arsenal had clinched the fourth Champions League spot were some of the most embarrassing I have seen for a long time.

The pictures that came out after Arsenal had clinched the fourth Champions League spot were some of the most embarrassing I have seen for a long time. Players huddled together, standing, sitting and draping over one another with their shirts off. Some even went as far as swinging them around their head, all with pure elation on their faces. Many of them were soaked in liquid that they just couldn’t contain themselves from squirting at each other.

All this tomfoolery stemmed from the sheer joy that they could be competing against the crème de la crème of Latvian football in August for a place in the group stage. Let’s hope it wasn’t champagne they were going mad with as that would be taking the proverbial biscuit. Anyone would have thought that they had won the Champions League let alone the fact that the celebrations could be premature should they come up against a side from one of Europe’s top leagues. It was desperate stuff for a club of Arsenal’s stature.

This was not one that had qualified for Europe’s premier competition for the first time, it was their 16thin a row! You would think they’d be used to it by now. It’s just another season, so no need to go potty with glee. But this sums up the standards to which they have become accustomed to for nearly a decade. 

Poor Arsene Wenger. If only he had left Arsenal between 2004 and 2006 (maybe 2007 at a push) his name would forever be enshrined by fans of the north London based side. No doubt he is lauded by even the most disillusioned Gunners’ fans for his past achievements, but after he has gone, his reign will be tainted by these last few years where they have not won a major trophy since the FA Cup in 2005.

Perceptions could easily have been so different though. The year after that FA Cup win they reached the 2006 Champions League final. They were down to 10 men within the first 20 minutes when Jens Lehmann was sent off. Despite taking the lead with one less player on the pitch they lost 2-1 courtesy of two Barcelona goals in the last 15 minutes. The following year they lost the League Cup final to Chelsea and then, along with a few semi-final appearances in the intervening years, lost to Birmingham City in the final of the same competition in 2011. It exemplifies the fine line between what is seen as success and failure. 

They have been close to the prizes, but have just fallen short when a trophy here and there since 2005 would have casted a brighter glow on the gloom. A European Cup triumph would have lit up the club for a good number of years. How galling must their fans feel that Chelsea (a much smaller club in terms of history especially before the 2000s) pipped them to become the first London side to lift the trophy. It’s not as if Wenger’s sides have finished in the bottom half, or even once outside the top-four since 2005, but for Arsenal, the third most successful club in English football when it comes to trophies, it’s not a very invigorating time to be a supporter.

Sure, there has been a lot of exciting matches over the past eight years, but fans are often left extremely frustrated by the end of them as they either throw away a win, or obliterate teams by turning on the style that could beat just about any side in the world. As it is the club are going through their most barren run since the start of the 1980s when they went from 1979 to 1987 without a trophy, one that will be surpassed by next year. 

Wenger relies on the fact that his sides have qualified for the Champions League in every full season he has been at the club, which is a stellar achievement, but for a club of their size and resources, doesn’t he feel they should have more? Its winning trophies that have secured the illustrious history that Arsenal have to their name, not third and fourth place finishes. Out of the last eight trophyless years, would fans rather they qualified for Europe’s premier competition during that period without a trophy like they have done? Or win four major honours and finish below the top four for say four or five of the campaigns in that time span?

After the financial constraints of the last few years, it appears that the board and Wenger will finally push the boat for players that can bring them the trophies they crave. The record buy is still the estimated £15million paid for Andrei Arshavin, a fee that Newcastle United stumped up for Alan Shearer in 1996!

But for the moment, the photos of Arsenal players losing themselves over a fourth placed finish arguably justify Robin van Persie’s decision to leave Manchester United more than the ones of the Dutchman parading the Premiership trophy around Old Trafford. The comparison between them just about sums it all up.

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