Erik Ian Larsen: Wembley, winning for Arsenal, winning for Wenger
Written by Erik Ian Larsen on January 26, 2011 19:00
Holy crap. We’re in a cup final. Arsenal, the meek and meager little brother in the eyes of the new cash-waving titans of the Premier League, have made it to Wembley for the Carling Cup final. Go ahead, let the pundits try to minimize what this means. Say it’s the “Kid’s Cup,” that we got a lucky draw. Tell us that it’s not important. That’s what I want to hear. And I’m sure that’s what the players want to hear too. Because when it comes down to it, success in football is measured by one thing: Trophies.
Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal side haven’t seen silverware in half a decade. And many writers, broadcasters, and fellow coaches have thrown Wenger under the bus in recent years for his trophyless drought. But winning a trophy now, within this money-driven climate that’s changed the game of football forever, would do more than just validate Wenger as Arsenal’s manager. It would validate the players he’s put so much faith in, oftentimes too much faith at the expense of the team’s success.
But that’s Wenger, his stubbornness is his greatest asset and his greatest liability. And while most fans around the world, myself included, have doubted the sanctity of his philosophies and methodologies, winning a trophy would justify the struggle.
When Wenger began to dismantle the Invincibles, the unbeatable Arsenal side that ate silverware for breakfast (ouch), I knew that clinging to the strands of past success left you gutted in the future. I understood that he had to start rebuilding, had to start letting go of the foundational building blocks that made up that strong team and redesign the side once more. It’s not an easy task, and while Wenger was essentially starting from scratch (only one player remains from the Invincibles side now), he kept the club competitive.
Yes, we’ve had our frustrations, and we still have a long way to go as a club to become true juggernauts of both England and Europe, but through it all, Wenger kept the club afloat: Both financially and competitively.
Beating Ipswich at home to make it to the Carling Cup final is something most of us would’ve expected if presented the opportunity when the season started. But after falling 1-0 away to the Championship strugglers in the first leg of the semifinal, and the tremendous inconsistency this club has shown even throughout January, to watch the club come together over the past three matches leading up to the 3-0 romp was an absolute pleasure to see.
And they said we can’t keep a clean sheet.
Wenger showed that winning a trophy is more than a footnote to a team’s season with a renewed commitment to the domestic cups. He fielded strong sides throughout the competition and brought a reinvigorated spirit to what was always considered a throw-away cup for our club. We knew we’d fall out of the tournament eventually, it was just exciting to see how far the kids could go. But this year, the manager listened to what fans have been calling for: Commitment to ultimate success. Wenger has shown he can bring that to the club still, and with personnel, he’s also shown he knows when to sell and who to sell.
Our manager has great patience in the transfer market, oftentimes at his own expense, because he isn’t the type of manager that’s going to run a club into debt for short-term success and leave when the owner has to pay back his loans (Mourinho). He cares about the club as a whole, about the stability of the franchise, about the story he can tell the fans every match. And I respect him for wanting that story to be epic.
The cornerstones of a successful club are beginning to emerge now. Finally. After years of wondering who was going to step up and fill the golden boots of so many Arsenal legends. The stars are shoving through the crowded halls of squad players and glory hunters and bringing Arsenal back to where they were not so long ago. Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. They’re all fundamental to our success now. And none of them would be at this club if it weren’t for Arsene Wenger.
As easy as it’s been in the past to knife into Wenger and his cut-and-dry philosophies, today, more than any other day in a while, I want to stand up and applaud our manager for giving this club hope. I am hopeful that this team can win a trophy. I am hopeful that this team can win the league. And I am hopeful that we can do it, with this tremendous core of still developing young players, for many years to come. He dismantled a perfect machine, and I’m starting to think Arsene Wenger, half a decade later, has finally managed to build it back up again.