Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Arsenal Project Coming Undone?

Arsene Wenger has long been regarded as somewhat of a football enigma. He is a respected manager, who espouses confidence in both himself and his team. He speaks like a child of the enlightenment, an apparent champion of football purity. The eleven players that he sends onto a football pitch, be it at Highbury, the San Siro or the Reebok Stadium, can always be counted on to play exciting, entertaining football. At its best, the flow of an Arsenal attack can be as graceful as a nymph and as powerful as the Mississippi. However, for all the light, purpose and honour that Arsenal advocate, there is an equally distrustful, arrogant and abhorrently disgusting side to their disposition. This Arsenal team has far too often been the root of a myriad of controversy and indiscipline, all the while smarmily shrugging off the resulting contempt that they draw from the public. In truth, both the positive and negative aspects of this team can be traced back to its manager. Wenger aspires to achieve football glory in a truly stylish manner, yet suffers defeat terribly and permanently seeks to deflect fault away from the unruliness of his charges. This is the dual-faceted nature of Arsenal FC which we have all grown used to.

Yet for all the faults that detractors, begrudgers and Tottenham fans may point to, Arsenal FC under Arsene Wenger has enjoyed a rich period of success. Wenger now stands as the most successful manager in the club's history, with seven major honours in the last nine years. He has garnished a reputation as possibly the most astute talent spotter in Europe, turning promising youth players into some of the best footballers in the world. He has banished the past legacies of 'Boring Boring' Arsenal by cultivating fluency and creativity in the his team's style of play. The results have richly entertained a Highbury faithful that long suffered the robotic offside traps of the George Graham and Bruce Rioch days.

Despite the obvious successes of this cultured Arsenal side, true dominance in English football has continuously escaped them. The late 1990s saw his team achieve only sporadic success in the face of the Manchester United 'Golden Generation', success that was unfairly labelled as being attained only when Sir Alex Ferguson's side suffered a poor season. This situation carried into the new millennium, whereby Arsenal failed to augment any form of Premiership ascendancy through their inability to win back-to-back league titles. Since then, the role of Premiership kingpin has shifted to Stamford Bridge, but the lingering demons hanging over Arsenal and their manager remain the same. The simultaneous influx of Roman Abramovich's billions and Jose Mourinho's sheepcoat-wit to Chelsea is something of a poetic injustice to this Arsenal team, who arguably stood upon the pinnacle of finally achieving the supremacy that had previously eluded them after winning the Premiership unbeaten in 2004. Arsene Wenger's team is arguably now staring at a bleak future of continuing to play catch up to a dominant team.

It is against this backdrop that the seeds of discontent have been sown within the Highbury dressing room. Certain forces had been put in place over the last ten years that, all things proceeding accordingly, would have potentially made Arsenal football club one of the biggest in Europe. As we speak, their new 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium is in its final phase of construction. Financially, the club is in a better position than ever before, with increased gate receipts and higher television revenues bolstering the coffers with which Wenger can continue to astutely acquire the talent he needs to succeed. However, the squad itself is suffering a period of silent crisis. Discontent is now brewing amongst the foreign legions of Arsenal's playing staff. The loss of Patrick Vieira last summer has created a leadership vacuum at Highbury. There is a danger that this young squad, now bereft of the role models that have so long characterised Arsenal football club, will not be able to adhere to the positive mantra of Arsene Wenger's doctrine, and may not fulfil the potential that they were bought for. Likewise, seasoned professionals such as Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole may not find this eternal game of catch up terribly endearing when the option exists for them to challenge for silverware at any of Europe's top teams.

It now remains for Arsene Wenger to stem this tide of discontent, and no doubt he will be aided by some of the true remaining pillars of Arsenal football club, such as Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell. Wenger has long spoken of his desire to lead Arsenal into a new era of far reaching glory and achievement in their new stadium. If he is to do so, he must eradicate the petulance and restlessness that has crept into his squad before his Arsenal project comes apart at the seams.

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