“Your sovereigns born on the throne can let themselves be beaten twenty times and return to their capitals. I cannot do this because I am an upstart soldier. My domination will not survive the day when I cease to be strong, and therefore feared.” –Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was a brilliant strategist and calculating statesman, conquering most of Europe in a series of military campaigns that astonished the world. Using his military successes to consolidate his political leadership as Emperor of France, Napoleon managed to militarize and mobilize the French nation. After being appointed consul for life, Napoleon set about reforming French law and created the Napoleonic Code, which had the universality to overcome the difficulties presented by the confusing laws of the past. Upon his arrival in the English league in 1996, Arsene Wenger took advantage of France’s emerging talents, capitalizing on his knowledge of the French market and skills in recognizing and developing gifted players to bring in players who would go on to become legends at the club. Napoleon was defined by his army’s successes as Wenger is defined by his legacy of trophies at Arsenal FC. With that legacy comes the burden of expectation; if Wenger was able to compete at the very highest level in the past, he should continue to do so.
Napoleon was exiled twice, first after being disgraced by his defeat during the invasion of Russia and second when he was unable to defeat those who wished to weaken his vast sphere of influence in Europe. Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo forced him to abdicate the throne for the final time. Wenger is also very much under the gun; so much seems to rest upon the outcome of Arsenal’s race to reach the top four that it must be extremely difficult for Wenger and his squad to remain focused on the task at hand. Then again, perhaps an increase in pressure is just what Wenger and his team need, an opportunity to prove that they are made of greater mettle than the critics believe. Just as we saw in the win at Bayern, they seem to play best when there is nothing to lose. The race for the top four is Wenger’s Waterloo, and for the sake of all involved, Gunner’s fans should pray that he is victorious.
Although the recent run of positive results has helped to quell most of the animosity surrounding Arsenal’s inconsistent campaign, a consensus exists that Arsenal’s charge is in danger of stagnating. Arsene Wenger took pride in his sides’ “physical effort, spirit, [and] determination”. Indeed, though the days when Patrick Viera roamed the pitch and squared up to even the most intimidating opposition may be gone, members of the current squad (Read: Jack Wilshere) don’t seem to shy away from a fight.
At the Emirates on Tuesday night, Arsenal’s raucous fans howled angrily at referee Neal Swarbrick’s decision not to send off Darren Gibson, a key cog in Everton’s cavalry. This perceived injustice allowed Everton to continue with their physical approach uninhibited. David Moyes said afterwards that his team was “not here to let Arsenal pass 600 passes around”. Swarbrick may not have adequately protected the Arsenal players in the eyes of the fans but its Wenger who they should be examining. Despite his abilities as a masterful motivator, Wenger couldn’t spur his troops on to victory, allowing Arsenal’s fate to slip from its own hands.
Whatever the outcome of Arsenal’s battle for the Champions League places, Wenger’s management this season must be questioned. The owners of Arsenal seem to support rather than control Wenger’s actions, and in that sense he has the job security of a “sovereign”; defeats are nearly inconsequential in the eyes of the forgiving Arsenal board. Wenger will well aware that the substantial revenue from participation in the Champions League is hardly inconsequential in his quest to protect his legacy. With that in mind, Wenger has been able to collaborate with his second in command Steve Bould to inspire the fringe players to hit peak form just at the right moment.
Rather than being shunted out to the wing or temporarily filling in for Gunnersaurus, Aaron Ramsey has been shockingly deployed in central midfield. He adds energy to the Arsenal midfield and competes well in the middle of the park. Wojciech Sczczesny featured for the first time in several games and performed admirably. The Gunners’ lack of strength in depth can at times be striking, and must be addressed with the arrival of world-class talent at the Emirates this summer. Until the end of the season, even those Arsenal players unsure of their future at the club must do everything possible to achieve a strong run-in at the end of the campaign to overtake Spurs and Chelsea and qualify for the Champions League or attracting that talent will become far more difficult.
The greatest general of his time, Napoleon Bonaparte placed a new emphasis towards the destruction of enemy armies in his path. If Wenger makes use of the same ruthlessness, not only will Arsenal be viewed as strong, they will inspire fear in the hearts of their rivals. Fear that their confidence will continue to grow from game to game and fear that this “upstart soldier” and his loyal followers will return from exile to rule their rightful domain once again.