Much has been written regarding the evolution of the current Arsenal squad. It is generally accepted by pundits and supporters alike that they are not at the same level as ‘The Invincibles’ squad of 2004. But how far can this current crop of players go? Can they emulate the success of their illustrious forebears? How much more can they develop? Is Arsene Wenger ’s team building exercise the future of football, or an experiment that needs locking away in the cupboard and forgetting about?
The current team are, in my opinion anyway, not as direct as previous Wenger teams. Whilst they might have a few more tricks up their individual sleeves, collectively they are not at the same level as the teams of old. They play with more cohesion and the collective pressure that they put on opposing teams are more concentrated than it ever has been before, but there isn’t the same kind of incisive team movement as there was in yesteryear. But why? What has changed? Well, there are several factors to consider, but I shall focus on, what are for me, the big two.
Wenger is becoming more and more lambasted by supporters as each season comes and goes without a trophy. I don’t think it’s fair. As far as I’m concerned, he has taken this club to the next level. True, we haven’t won anything of note for a while now, but let’s look at the bigger picture. We now have the Emirates Stadium and the increased revenue that comes from the extra 20,000 seats, as well as the increased club level facilities. We play in the richest, most competitive league on the planet. So, we haven’t won the title in a while, but we’ve remained competitive whilst teams above and below us have spent vast, vast sums of money.
Supporters question some of Wenger’s transfer dealings, but it can’t be denied that he has kept us firmly in the mix and on a fairly strict budget. I would argue that moving into the new stadium and giving ourselves a solid foundation on which to build for the future is more important than a couple of potential league titles and cup final days out. In thirty years time will supporters look back and say that this period of austerity was a waste of time, and that Wenger should’ve compromised on his long-term vision for short-term returns? I think not.
With a levelling of the economic playing field in the form of FIFA’s financial fair play regulations, I see Arsenal as ideally placed to push on and establish themselves as one of the elite clubs in world football (I’d say we’re not far from that status right now). This enforced financial parity will see, in my opinion, a gradual decrease in the price of player transfers and, with our increased financial stability, put us in a position where we can compete with any team in the world for any player.
Every season other clubs are wising up to the way that we play. Arsenal are at their best when a team puts the ball down on the ground and tries to play them. More often than not this is when we put our opponents to the sword. Managers have seen this and now even the more ‘footballing’ teams are starting to play much more aggressively against us. Anelka, Henry, Pires, Overmars, Bergkamp – these players all played at their best on the break, finding gaps in retreating defences and exposing them with power and precision. But teams don’t let us play this game any more. They don’t come to the Emirates to play football, they come to keep clean sheets and hopefully nick a goal (and more often, they play that way when we play them away too). Our football has had to develop into a pressing game, based on constant possession and patience, with our playmakers always on the look out for a chink in the opposing teams armour.
Arsenal play some of the most attractive, and at times, devastating football in the world. That isn’t going to change and nor are the tactics employed by the teams that we play against. As football fans across the globe have witnessed over the last fifteen years, to try and play us at our own game often results in us handing out a spanking. We can’t blame teams for ‘parking the bus’ and thus avoiding an embarrassing score line. We’ve got to get over this and find a way of breaking down these teams, because it’s up to us to change and improve.
Are Arsenal as good as they were a decade ago? Player for player, pound for pound, you’d have to say no. But the game has changed irrevocably and it’s never going back to the way it was.
This current team is arguably better equipped to deal with the contemporary challenges of the Premier League than the teams of old, and it was put together on a very strict budget.
With our escalating financial clout and the curbing of the spending power of the rich clubs (City and Chelski), I see a very bright future ahead for us. I just hope we have the nerve to see these difficult times through to the end, because then, and quite possibly only then, will things start to get better.
Read more of Mike Holmes’ articles at Gunnersphere
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