Facing a tricky tie against giant-killers Burnley this weekend in the FA Cup, Arsenal's only realistic shot at a trophy this season, Arsenal fans shouting for Wenger’s head should only have one question on their minds—when did their expectations rise so high?
It wasn't in the George Graham era—Arsenals most successful manager prior to Wenger brought in six trophies during his eight-year tenure.
However, he never achieved the consistency that Wenger has. Despite winning the league with Arsenal in '89 and '91, Graham and Arsenal finished outside the top three on all other occasions, including 10th and 12th place finishes.
After the league successes, Arsenal transformed into a cup team, winning the F.A. Cup and League cup in '93 and the Cup Winners' Cup in '94, which they also ran up in '95. They also added another F.A. Cup to their haul that same year.
When a man by the name of Arsene arrived in '96, it seemed like he was destined for the club. However, his playing career and coaching record had much to be desired. With a masters in economics and 12 professional games under his belt it seemed like he was highly under-qualified for football.
Seven successful years at Monaco showed promise but the La Ligue and Monaco at that time weren't up to the same standard as the English League. Add to that a stint in the J-League and this was most definitely a step up for Wenger.
And step up he did. Like Graham before him, Wenger brought changes and new philosophies to the game. He changed players diets, improved the training facilities and promoted youth within the club. In his first season he missed out on Champions League football on goal-difference.
In his second he made no mistake. A league and cup double was achieved and the doubt in Wenger vanished. He arrived into a club with talent—Bergkamp, Adams, Seaman, Wright and Platt—who he got the most out of but it was the players he added that made the difference.
Vieira, Overmars, Petit and Anelka were bought for a total of 12.5 million and their quality galvanized Arsenals success for the future.
Manchester United's treble winning year in '99 could have been so much different. On the last day of the season, with United losing to Tottenham and Arsenal drawing with Aston Villa, both teams sat at the top of the table level on points.
The title could have gone either way.
In the end both teams won and United pinched the league by a point. The F.A. Cup was a similar near-miss. Arsenal met United in the semi-final and in extra time with both teams down to 10 men, Bergkamp stepped up to the spot to take Arsenal into the final.
Schmeichel saved it however and minutes later Vieira passed the ball to super sub Giggs who ran the length of the field to score THAT goal—possibly his greatest ever.
United went on to win the F.A. Cup and come from 1-0 down in the Champions League final in injury time to win 2-1 and complete the treble. Oh how the margin for error is so small!
'00 and '01 brought similar despair losing on penalties in the Uefa Cup Final the first year and losing the F.A. Cup Final the following year after Michael Owen scored twice in the last 7 minutes to win the game 2-1.
But then '02 brought the second double under Wenger and '03 had similar promise after Arsenal lead by eight points.
They faded in the end but still came away with an F.A. Cup win. No one should need a reminder of what happened in '04—a year previously people laughed at Wenger when he said he thought his team could play 38 games without losing.
The man was a year before his time and in '04 the 'Invincibles' achieved just that, playing a whole season unbeaten to claim the league title.
The following season brought something rarely seen under Wenger—winning a trophy undeservedly. It is more often than not the opposite—deserving to win but ending up trophyless.
But despite being outplayed by Manchester United for 120 minutes, Arsenal won on penalties to claim their 4th F.A. Cup under Arsene Wenger.
'06 brought a cup run that epitomized Wenger—a record was broken, the players involved were bought for peanuts, they beat the best teams in the world, yet at the end of it all, they finished empty-handed.
Ten games without conceding a goal in the Champions League against teams such as Sparta Prague (two games), Villareal (two games), Ajax, Real Madrid (two games) and Juventus (two games) finally brought Europe’s attention to Arsenal.
After doing it with a backline assembled for less than £5 million in third choice left back Flamini, third choice center back Senderos and second choice right back Eboue, along with a young Kolo Toure, heads began to turn.
However they were still underdogs against the mighty Barcelona in the final.
After Lehmann got sent off after 19 minutes things looked bleak, but Campbell rose high to head in a free kick to send Arsenal in at half-time 1-0 to the good. But once again Arsenal conceded twice in the last few minutes to lose the game 2-1.
Oh, if only football games ended after 75 minutes, Arsene Wenger would have a lot more trophies to add to his gunners CV.
With the departure of Henry and a dismal year in '07 things looked dark for Arsenal yet this time last year they were 8 points ahead in the league only to crumble after the injury to Eduardo and some crying over spilt milk by William Gallas.
Wenger can only be blamed for failure that season in the appointment of the temperamental Gallas as captain. The consistency enjoyed by Wenger from the start of his tenure where Arsenal finished in the top two for eight consecutive seasons was now fading.
The fans expectations though were moving in the opposite direction. A trophyless season was now a failure, when once it was quite acceptable as long as Arsenal were competing. For Millennium Arsenal fans, competing is no longer enough.
Still the man for the job
Wenger has his faults, every manager does. With a F.A. Cup semi final place a likelihood and every possible chance of making the last eight in the Champions League, Arsenal have a good chance of finishing the season off with a trophy.
However it'll be a couple of years to come before this Arsenal squad achieves their full potential. I understand Wenger's philosophy and unwillingness to add to his squad except for a central defender—the quality is there, it's just not mature enough yet.
However, if Wenger was to leave or be sacked where would that leave Arsenal? Cesc voiced this week that he would probably leave.
So would a handful of others who are so loyal to Wenger. The squad is already stretched. A new manager would come in, unlikely to have the quality of Wenger and will be left with a barebones team to rebuild in a club that is in good financial state but with little spending money.
Even if there is £30 million available, how can you buy four or five world-class players for that money?
Although if it was possible, there would only be one manager I know who could do it. And I think you all know who that is.
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