That Arsène Wenger marked his 20th anniversary of taking charge of the Arsenal with a scrappy, George Graham style, 1-0 win at Burnley was an irony I feel sure the Frenchman will have appreciated.
Gone was the champagne football, which saw off Chelsea and Basel respectively. Gone was the cohesion and the fluidity and the vibrancy of our play. But still we won.
Clearly, Burnley felt aggrieved at our winning goal. You can’t really blame them, can you? They’d taken the best we had to throw at them and dealt with it so comfortably that Tom Heaton in the Burnley goal was rarely tested. And to concede a goal like that in the last minute, cloaked in the vague shadow of offside (it wasn’t) and the much larger, er, shadow of handball (it wasn’t) will have felt impossibly tough to take.
There again, they did allow Özil and Alexis to work a short corner and they also allowed Theo Walcott to win a header (his second in a week), so despite my sympathy for them, you have to say they could have done a little better there. Having defended so well for 92 minutes, they switched off for that last, crucial, five seconds and it cost them.
Welcome to the Premier League.
For us, I guess we just have to look at a team who had played three games in eight days with a minimum of rotation. David Ospina replacing Petr Cech in midweek and Granit Xhaka replacing the injured Francis Coquelin were the only changes made to the starting line up across the week.
On one level, it seems to me that a drop off after the heights of the previous week was perhaps inevitable. Particularly on a journey to “THE NORTH”, perhaps some rotation would have been in order. However, as we discussed on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast, despite the depth of the squad Arsène has assembled, it feels as though his room for rotation in this particular fixture was limited.
For me, this was probably the sort of game for Aaron Ramsey to make those lung busting runs from deep, breaking between the lines. It definitely felt like the kind of game Olivier Giroud would have been an extremely useful option, whether as a starter or from the bench.
All that being said, it should be recorded that Alexis was very definitely our most likely source of a goal, particularly in the second half. It also has to be said that sometimes a manager just can’t legislate for a player having a bad game; Alex Iwobi and Mesut Özil were far from the standard that they had set earlier in the week. We can let them off on this occasion, I think. Game won, let’s move on.
Coming back to where we began, which was (for those of with an attention span shorter than a goldfish’s) considering that Arsène’s 20th anniversary win was achieved in a slightly Grahamesque fashion. It actually wasn’t. Okay, the set piece coup de grace in a 1-0 win was very George. However the manner of the game – Arsenal having all of the ball and restricting Burnley to two decent chances in the match was as far from those, backs to the wall and get the ball to Wrighty, performances as it’s possible to imagine.
This consideration seems a logical jumping off point to think about how far Arsenal football club has come over the last twenty years. There may be concerns, some of them legitimate, about how the club is run now. It may worry people that one man is so entrenched into every level of the football club, and has been so for many years. It’s also legitimate, I think, to question some of the decisions that Arsène Wenger has made over the years.
However, one thing is abundantly clear, whether you think it’s time for Arsène to move on or not. Simply put, he has transformed the club on the pitch, and off, beyond expectation.
It barely needs repeating, but on the pitch, we have now become a football club where genuinely world class talents are happy to come and ply their trade. Put it this way, before Arsène Wenger, Anders Limpar – for two seasons- was about as exotic as it got. Okay, yes, Bergkamp. But at the time he signed, Bergkamp was very much an exception. Vieira, Overmars, Henry, Pires, Campbell, Gilberto, (Emirates Stadium), Cazorla, Özil, Alexis and Cech became the rule.
Almost all of these players have come to north London precisely to play for Arsène Wenger.
We now live in a world where Arsenal finish every season in the top four and people cry for their Arsenal back. Which Arsenal? The one that finished 12th in 1995? 10th in 1993? On the top four thing as well, Wenger may have (rightly) been mocked for describing it as a trophy. However, if you consider that we went through a period of having to sell one star a summer, it’s sobering to think where’d have been without that money earned from Champions League participation.
The infrastructure around the club, as we all know, has been improved beyond all recognition. When Mr. Wenger arrived here, we didn’t even own our own training ground and we played in a beautiful but cramped stadium. Now the players train at first class facilities, play in a world class stadium to 60,000 people every fortnight.
Along the way there have been some brilliant memories. Everyone of you reading this will have their own, the Invincible season stands out like a shining beacon for obvious reasons. However, that first double season may be my favourite of Arsène’s title wins. It’s forgotten now, but Arsenal were a second leg semi final defeat in the League Cup – Chelsea, obviously bloody Chelsea – from a shot at the domestic treble.
I’ll never forget the night we knocked West Ham out of the FA Cup on penalties, having played with 10 men for an hour plus. That was the night I knew. It’s a funny feeling, I haven’t had it much since, but Arsenal that season were a locomotive called Inevitability and they were going to win the double.
Four years later, a series of hurts, the Bergkamp penalty miss, the Cardiff mugging at the hands of Liverpool, we won the double again. We did it in style too. Unbeaten on the road, scored in every league game, the FA Cup secured by beating Chelsea and then, just days later, taking the league title off Manchester United in their own backyard. Not just beating them, but resisting their attempts at intimidation and handing out a footballistic lesson.
Does it really get any better than that? I’m not sure, to be honest. I think the Invincibles would say that it does and I certainly don’t feel the need to argue it.
But for these memories, and many more, so many more, I would echo the sentiment beautifully expressed in Turf Moor’s away end on Sunday and simply say to Arsène Wenger, thank you. Thank you for everything.
— RickyGee (@GeezyPeas) September 30, 2016
And, please go and win the league title this season.