Is Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal falling apart?
For millions of Arsenal soccer fans all over the world, this season has joined the rank and file of a once powerful club with no trophy in the wardrobe. The club has been trophyless since the “Invincibles” in 2003/04. There are many soccer pundits whose automatic thoughts speak of Arsene Wenger losing the touch that once touched the world. The flair, fluency, youth exuberance and maturity that made Arsenal as the icon of the world have disappeared. It appears the canons in the guns are faulty and cannot fire. The cylinders are dysfunctional and in operational. (Photo: Ibrahim Sourie Mansary, author)
The fans of Arsenal are like “Abiku”. An “Abiku” is a traditional name for a spiritual child that comes (born) and goes (dies) at the detriment of the family members. As the mother is pregnant, every family member is hopeful and happy that a child is on its way to join the family, only to die and return to its spiritual world. As a Nigerian poet, J.P.Clark puts it in his poem, “Abiku”, “Coming and going these several seasons, do stay out at the baobab tree, follow where you please your kindred spirits.” At the beginning of the league, the entire Arsenal fans are hopeful of winning quadruple; the Carling cup, Premier league, F.A cup and the Champions league. The hopes are high but as the season progresses, the hopes fade like the mother of a spiritual child that gives birth to a spiritual child, only to die and join the spiritual world.
The “Professor” as Arsene Wenger is called arrived at Highbury in 1996 after a notable success at Monaco and a stint in Japan. His appearance as the first manager from outside the United Kingdom shook the entire premier league with superb football. Arsene Wenger revolutionized his players’ lives away from the pitch, implementing cutting-edge training regimes and dietary systems. The squad of 2003/04 was superfluous, magnificent, classical players at the highest scale in world soccer. The squad set a new unbeaten record between May 2003 and October 2004 with 49 games played, won 36, drawn 13 and lost none. The wins at Stamford Bridge, Elland Road, Anfield plus some great goals along the way were memorable. The team was comparable to any strong team in Europe. Arsene had built a team of Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Lauren at the back, whilst Patrick Veira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmas and Pires in midfield and almighty Theirry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp up front. Arsenal had too much steel and too much flair of fluency to upset any defence in the premiership. It was during those days when Thierry Henry would have an undershirt celebrating a goal even before a game started. It was during those days when Arsenal fans would sleep and predict the scores with relative ease and supreme confidence in the team. The team was a fortress and an institution of knowledge and flair. It was during those days when supporters of Arsenal would occupy a particular location in places like China house, Portee, Village Beach Bar at Lumley Beach, and even Jaiama Sewafe community center in Kono (all these are places in Sierra Leone) and sing praises of the team even before the team sheet is out. Those days were real Arsenal days.
Arsene Wenger did not only build a team but world class players with exemplary qualities. Ian Wright flourished under Wenger hitting his 179th goal against Bolton Wanderers on September 13, 1997. In August, 1999, Wenger signed the little unknown Thierry Henry. At first, Henry’s ability to adapt to the rough- and –tumble of the Premier League was questioned, but after failing to score in his first eight games, the former Juventus star plundered an impressive 26 goals that season. In 2001/2002, Arsenal finished 12 points clear of Liverpool in the Premier League. Arsenal sealed the title with a win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, just days after dispatching Chelsea 2-0 in the F.A Cup Final.
Arsenal quickly became one of the most revered sides in Europe. The European finals with Barcelona eclipsed the pedigree of the team. Since the likes of Patrick Veira, Thierry Henry, Wiltord, Bergkamp, Petit,Overmars left the club, the team of Arsenal has been living in its shadow.
Arsenal is now the weeping boys at the hands of clubs like Blackburn, West Brom, Fulham, Stokes and even Everton. With no disrespect to these clubs, but the psychological warfare in the minds of these players confronting Arsenal team was hellish. That aura is gone. Arsenal club has boys instead of men to confront the Premier League.
The questions are : Is Arsene Wenger just too arrogant to listen to other soccer managers and players who have insisted on buying experience players? Is Arsene Wenger becoming a Financial Director of the club more than a Manager? Is Arsene Wenger aware of the suffering of defeat experienced by millions of supporters who would sit all night long just to watch Arsenal being disgraced, bundled and mesmerized by a low rated team? Why didn’t Arsene Wenger use the sales of Adebayor, Kolo Toure and William Gallas to bring new players? This sin is unforgivable.
It is a pity that Arsene Wenger’s past glory is haunting him now. The January transfer window came and went with high hopes of buying top defenders and a goalie. Just as the expected fans were watching the sun go down and waiting to hear his latest transfer policy of snatching a top player, Wenger disappointed the whole Arsenal fans by insisting on a formidable team. What a mess and excruciating defeat this once icon team has become?
This season is almost done and as usual, the team won no silverware. Will Arsene Wenger change his youth policy with experienced players? The Arsenal world is waiting to see just as the Youruba community of the Abiku mother anxiously waiting to see whether the child born by the mother will stay for good. Our present team has the weakest central defenders. The team lacks consistency.
Where is Arsene Wenger taking this club to? Is Arsene Wenger happy of being bullied by the 19th premier league title holders, Manchester United?
Thank God, the celebration of the Sierra Leone Independence coincided with the week of Easter and the defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers did not take its effects on me. The celebration of my country’s independence saved my week of agony.
Arsene Wenger, the global family of Arsenal fans are watching and waiting to hear your response for next year. We hope you see the reality of experienced players and compensate for the psychological headache the fans have gone through.
We hope you listen to our pleas.
By Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, California, USA
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