Here it is then; the football season has begun. Yes, I know it began weeks ago, but it never feels real until the transfer window closes. Teams are still to be decided, big name signings and sales can still destroy the equilibrium. We battle through the opening rounds, hoping for damage limitation from our side before the real big guns are settled. I am sure that is what Arsenal fans were thinking. Benzema, Cavani, Reus, Draxler, Verratti, Rabiot, Ibrahimovic – the names went on. All of the potential incomings swirling around North London, the heady, intoxicating list of superstars. This was it; after the promise created by Ozil and Sanchez, this was the summer that Arsenal went for it. A few signings away from a title winning team; this was where they would fill in the missing pieces and join the elite once more.
You often get the feeling that Arsene Wenger is wilfully becoming a parody of himself, and he pulled his ace card by being the only manager in Europe’s top 5 leagues not to sign a single outfield player. Arsenal desperately need a defensive midfielder and a striker; an injury to Coquelin or Giroud and their whole season will capitulate, yet Wenger continues to be Wenger. He is a fascinating man, an enigma that I admire hugely, and simultaneously want to slap. He seems such a noble, principled figure, a lone ranger sticking to his beliefs in the ugly face of modern football. Other clubs throw obscene money around, the social media age means more than ever clubs and fans are desperate for a quick fix, for instant results. Managers, players and clubs can go from hero to zero, or vice versa, in the space of a few minutes, let alone a few weeks. Yet there he stands, putting in bids £1 above buy out clauses, sticking to his guns about value, refusing to use the money available at one of the world’s richest clubs. He is determined that his beliefs will prevail, that even in the largely reprehensible modern game he can nurture and develop players, and build a winning team without compromising his values.
However, it is equally frustrating, because it seems clear to everyone that his principles will not win him titles any more. The transfer market has evolved, and to get the best you have to pay obscene money. It is sad, but it is true. Certainly, you can develop world class players, and it would be deeply upsetting if Arsenal stopped doing that, but there are clear deficiencies at Arsenal that have been obvious for years, and no one in their ranks can solve them. He is now not even buying young talents, he just isn’t buying.
Gary Neville was right, it is either arrogance or naivety, and I think it is probably the latter. I am continually astonished that, for such a successful, experienced manager, Wenger seems to lack nous in situations. I understand that he doesn’t want to compromise, but he seems to have such little tactical awareness. Last season against Monaco was the prime example, and while he corrected it in the victory against Manchester City, it is still evident. We have seen it already against West Ham this season, when it was so clear that Arsenal needed some width. Wenger’s obstinacy continued, determined to pick holes through the middle of a compact defence. Yet you have to love him for it, his steadfast commitment to aesthetics and enjoyment, knowing that once in a while it will culminate in a glorious, dare I say perfect, moment like this:
He has huge flaws, and even as a non-Arsenal fan he leaves me tearing my hair out, but I know that I will miss him when he’s gone. I hope I am wrong, but he seems like the last bastion of what made football beautiful. There he is, swimming against the tide, trying not to drown in the morass of amorality and greed that permeates the game that he loves. He is an easy figure to ridicule, indeed he often warrants criticism, but try to imagine English football without him. It is not a happy thought. Whether openly or not, I believe we collectively dream of one final hurrah for Wenger, just one signing or moment that will give them the required extra spark. All football fans must hope for a 2003-04 type Wenger side, there has been nothing more joyful in the Premier League era.
Plus, Wenger royally pisses off Piers Morgan, and that can only be a bonus.