Cast your mind back to the lean years. I know, it was tough to endure and we all have no desire to relive the delights of Squillacci, Denilson and company, but, trust me.
The stretch of time between 2006 until the moment the yellow ticker at the bottom of the Sky Sports News screen declared the arrival of Mesut Ozil. That was the moment that tangible optimism returned to the club. Before that, there was only an all-encompassing cynicism and melancholy the journalists lovingly refer to as – ‘ The Trophy Drought’.
Before our journey starts, the drought years weren’t completely devoid of any form of celebration or joy. We had plenty of moments to cheer and goals to savour. In comparison to the years before though, they were awful. High profile departures, watching our title rivals swat away our pitiful attempts at a challenge, keeping the penny jar so tightly closed that we were forced to shop in the equivalent of a Cash Converters. Everything purchased included a risk. Or so we are led to believe.
The consensus between Gooners is that due to the lavish stadium that we now reside in costing more than it would to recover an ailing Greece’s economy, we had a choice – pay back the stadium debt as rapidly as possible through player sales and picking up far cheaper alternatives – or spend on a more even keel to our rivals and spread the debt out over a longer term.
Wenger – with a degree in economics – plumped for the former.
We are all more than aware of the power Wenger wields throughout the club. His word is gospel to all departments. Surely, if he wanted some splash money for the next ‘hot prospect’, then he could pick up a phone and Dick Law would be boarding the next plane?
Wenger had a theory. He had what all film villains in PG movies would call……
This didn’t involve a wailing damsel in distress tied to the nearest train tracks whilst he fondled his extraordinary moustache in a villainous manner. No, he wanted to build the perfect team.
But not how most managers would construct the eleven of their dreams. Arsene didn’t want to dirty the water with barrels of cash. He wanted to distil his team, he wished for a pure source.
He would assemble a team that was formed in Wenger’s eye. The same eye that is used to run the rule over a foreign 14 year old who has played no senior football. He would trust his judgement and watch his team of adolescents and experienced journeymen blossom into a destructive force – laying waste to all that they faced.
Add into the mix Arsene’s attacking philosophy and if the team could adapt to his beliefs, then the Masterplan would be victorious. Cue tickertape and a nationwide autiobiography book launch.
The problem is that the youngsters Wenger recruited to the team – on the whole – couldn’t deliver what was promised.
Fran Merida, Joe O’Cearuill, Denilson, Nacer Barazite, Luke Freeman, Amaury Bischoff, Samuel Galindo, Ryo Miyachi, Kyle Ebicillo, Thomas Eisfeld. Just a few that were lured to The Emirates with a mind full of dreams only to see them dashed when their mind was deemed too slow or their body too weak. There were exceptions to the rule; Theo Walcott, The Ox, Aaron Ramsey but these were in the minority. It was proving more than difficult to assemble a team of youngsters who could exhibit what he wished.
It wasn’t only the failings of the young charges which was responsible for such struggle. Arsene would have been well aware of the chasm that now yawned between his team and Chelsea and the Manchester clubs. Not only that, but the shrinking gap between us and the shadow dwellers of White Hart Lane. He needed to react to the failings of his manifesto and recruit a little differently. He should have used the font of knowledge that is his brain and sought a change in approach to games. Whilst the possession game worked against most teams, more savvy opponents could easily outmanoeuvre the haymakers that we were throwing.
A team on the ropes. Season after season of scraping European qualification. Entering the aforementioned European competition with no real hope of glory. Ditto the Premier League. We would only be sated in the North London Derby and the mashing of spuds. Even that wouldn’t rid Gooners of the acerbic taste that resided after such insipid seasons.
I won’t continue on this branch. Suffice to say, the signing of Ozil was the watershed. It signified that the stadium debt was of such an insignificant stature that even fiscally mature Wenger could be tempted to open the club chequebook for something truly exceptional.
It also was the moment that earmarked another significant moment. Arsene Wenger could be swayed from his own stubborn opinion.
He wanted so badly to be the herald of a new type of team. To be the spokesman for a cadre of players who were all cut from the same cloth. He wanted to be the antithesis of what these oil baron led outfits were. He achieved one aim. His frugal approach left our club in such a rude state of health that we are reaping the benefits far earlier than anyone expected and it also leaves us able to compete on a global scale. On the pitch however, it took a while to recover.
With the arrival of a bona-fide world class star, it showed that Wenger could relent on his ideals. The signing was on a par to when Bergkamp signed. It shocked not only rival fans but Gooners themselves. We all thought it was another phony transfer link which we were accustomed to. No-one could claim to have seen the truth in Wenger’s smirk when he was asked regarding signings….
The season after, we bought Alexis Sanchez. From another team that could easily have had its pick of our players – and has done with unabashed glee in the past – Wenger handpicked a player that would add another dimension to his group of players.
Sanchez and Ozil. It still resonates that we have them in our team. What is even more exciting is that we all realise that Wenger has demoted his ideas for now. He still has the keenest of eyes for a promising starlet who could be a genuine world-beater in five years time, but his focus is now on the present.
Last season also saw a slight shift in the sands of Wenger’s big game tactics. Our victories over United, City and Liverpool showed how he has adapted to the many pastings doled out to us over the years and a more patient approach has seen us reverse what was becoming a worrying trend.
He realises that the majority of his team have reached a level where they could compete at the highest level. What would aid them, boost their confidence and their talent, would be to train everyday with players who are already household names and can bust open a game with one silky shimmy or lung-busting run.
He sees that his team are close.
The journey has brought us to the present day, where Wenger thankfully is concentrating on. We already have enough youth in our ranks. This transfer window brings with it another reason for optimism. We are looking at players who would be an asset to any club in the world. Petr Cech has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and one of the best in the world for the last ten years. He also resides at a club who would refuse us a napkin for a stab wound if they could. Now, we are nabbing away one of their prize players. True, they have Courtois, but they obviously didn’t want such an amazing keeper such as Cech to go to us, did they?!
Who next? Who knows! That is the best thing about it. We honestly have no clue who will be joining us, instead of a dark cloud of negativity following around every Arsenal fan. We can expect the unexpected. We can dream.
Our team is closer than ever. Over to you Wenger. You’re a changed man and have finally ironed out flaws that were in danger of blotting out the club-changing work you are responsible for. Time to show that the Masterplan – with a few changes – can still work.