I think that full disclosure is required for the following. I am a Manchester United fan. If you wish to stop reading then now is the time… My good friend J.A. is away covering the J-League in Tokyo and so the onus for this week’s Arsenal missive falls to me, to offer an outsider’s perspective of the match this weekend.
Arsene Wenger versus Alex Ferguson was the season’s highlight for a long time, now it is no more in more ways than the obvious.
I realise that I am preaching to the converted if I moan about Monsieur Wenger’s reluctance to purchase a new midfielder. A midfielder who will sit, but a midfielder with pace. A midfielder who can pass, but who knows when to run. A midfielder with an eye for a goal, but who values stopping them just as much. So I won’t.
I would also not be offering anything new if I were to give Monsieur Wenger the lesson we all learnt playing Championship Manager 2 (98-99 of course, one for the purists)… which states that you need more than 4 bloody defenders to see you through a season. I believe even Keven Keegan and Ossie Ardiles went with more cover than Arsenal, even if they only intended to play two at the back… So I offer you nothing here either. It’s basic stuff.
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Where I want to let out an impassioned cry is that Wenger is destroying his legacy. His lofty position as a respected hate figure. I admire his principals. We all have them. We even all try to stick to them on our very best Berocca-fuelled days. However, there comes a time that you have to take an even harder step, and that is to admit that you are wrong, and to start again, and he has undoubtedly got it wrong for the best part of a decade.
United fans used to love and fear playing Arsenal in equal measure, now we don’t care. I realise this is a chance to bait us over our current predicament but take the higher ground… please, I can only take so much… This malaise, where United fans don’t mark the Arsenal game in the diary at season’s beginning has crept in over the last decade, and it is Arsene Wenger’s fault.
He cannot (will not?) see that the side will not win playing their football with the team that they do. You can if you like compare them to the great Barcelona team of 2009-2011, they had that same adherance to a certain style, that unwavering belief that their philosophy will bring them glory. However, Barcelona also weren’t afraid to employ, for want of a better word, footballing arseholes. They had Sergio Busquests who is a horrible, disdainful, ludicrous, cheat of a footballer, but he was needed. They had Carlos Puyol, a wonderful defender, as brave as a lion, but I wouldn’t trust him to dribble down his chin. These players complemented the Messi’s, the Xavi’s and the Iniestas. There was a mixture of heart, skill, and that vital element missing from every one of Arsenal’s teams for a decade, the uncommon ability, to be a bastard.
It is this lack of a bastard that frustrates me. I am a football fan first, perhaps even ahead of United, and I love great games, and now I miss the atmosphere, the pulsating action, the throat grabbing, the Vieira swinging, the Keano-vein bulging matches that we used to play. There was quality, but there was passion, and for some reason this is missing from Wenger’s blueprint for success.
I am also a traditionalist. I want to see teams built from the ground up, with one voice as manager. Please give me Brian Clough’s Derby and Forest sides over Mancini’s City. Allow me Leeds United’s skilfully gritty handmade title winners from 1992 over Blackburn’s shop-bought side in 1995. All great teams, but there is something so satisfying about the team which has grown together, that is bonded together through more than a transfer fee. This is why I loved Arsene Wenger, he wanted to build a team, a team with an identity, and a soul, and with a purpose. However, he is failing. Perhaps the reason I am so frustrated is to see him spending a fortune on new players, to betray his philosophy, yet still getting the wrong players, or the ones he doesn’t need. Maybe his heart just isn’t in it anymore.
Arsenal need players in certain positions, but they also need someone that the opposition will hate. They need someone with North London pumping through their veins. They need someone who when they score at Old Trafford, will rip his shirt off his chest, and thunder to the Stretford End and say look at me, I AM ARSENAL. You hate me, and I don’t care.
I just can’t fathom why Wenger fails to see this. It mystifies me, and frustrates me, and hence I am falling out of love with Arsene, because he is destroying his own legacy. He is softening the way United fans feel about him. I loved him because I hated Arsenal. He makes me no longer hate his teams and he owes Manchester United much more than this…