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In Arsene We (Still) Trust?

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In Arsene We (Still) Trust?
(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

Prologue: Nov. 15, 2008

Dear Monsieur Wenger:

You have spent 12 years at Arsenal and during that time you have achieved much. Much more than we could ever have imagined. You started your managerial career at Arsenal with a bang, winning the premiership and the FA cup in your second season at the club.

This would be the second Double in the club's 110-year history at that point in time. It was a season during which we made up a 12-point deficit on Man United and won the league with two matches remaining. Those were the days of Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, & Tony Adams.

In total, Arsenal have won three premier league and four FA cup titles with you, deservedly making you our most successful manager, at least in trophy terms. I also recognize that under your tutelage, Arsenal have set several records in English football.

We have the longest run of unbeaten league matches (49) including the 38 matches of our title-winning 2003-2004 'invincible' season. We also set the record for the longest match stretch without conceding a goal in the 2005-'06 champions league season.

The 10-match record ended with your first and only appearance in a Champions League final: Against FC Barcelona, where we conceded in the 76th minute and eventually lost the game.

You are a genius Mr. Wenger, and your love for the beautiful game is not in doubt. Your record with current and previous football clubs proves it. Your uncanny ability to recognize and develop young talent is also known by all.

While at Monaco, you tapped George Weah from an unknown Cameroonian side and he later became FIFA World Player of the Year with AC Milan. You signed Victor Ikpeba from FC Liege and 'the prince of Monaco' would later become African Footballer of the Year and one of Nigeria's best international players ever.

Arsenal have also benefited tremendously from your unmatched talent of transforming relatively unknown players into world-class talent. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fàbregas, Robin Van Persie, and Kolo Touré are living proof.

However, the English game has changed tremendously over the last couple of years, and my fear is that you don't just get it. It's always a pleasure to watch a bunch of young talents string together a number of beautiful passes, but the bottom lies with winning the game.

It looks good on paper to be tagged "the best footballing team," but what does it profit the club playing the best football and winning no trophies?

It's pleasing to the ear to hear football commentators shout "this is vintage Arsenal," but wherein lies the beef?

Arsenal have not won a single local trophy in four years and the champion's league trophy remains very elusive to us. Other top teams keep fortifying their squads in their attempts to build teams with physical strength and mental character but you would rather pally with talented but inexperienced and often spineless youngsters.

You have the resources at your disposal to build whatever kind of team you want. You also enjoy tremendous support from the club management and our passionate fans. You know what to do, but you will not.

You remain adamant in the staunch defense of your practice. The problem lies not with your footballing philosophy, but with how you approach it. You don't just get it.

Chris Whyatt of BBC Sport describes your overall philosophy as that of building teams that combine the accumulation of silverware with a desire to entertain and attack. On the accumulation of silverware, may I remind you once again Mr Wenger that we have not won any in four good years.

Talking about entertainment, I know for sure that you have filled the players with the desire for this. With regards to attack, our quality can actually be predicted by tossing a coin. On a good day, it pleases the eye to see a team win a match by attacking the opponent in an entertaining way.

You know as well as I do, that this is not always possible and that a good team always needs to adapt in ways that ensure that the game is always won or at least not lost. That is the essence. That is the endpoint. On a bad day, even a fool would know that it makes no sense repeatedly trying to walk the ball into the opponent's net through a very tight defense. Do you have a plan B, Mr Wenger?

Each time we put together a string of victories, you always talk about your youngsters 'gelling' and about the bright future you foresee. Then we lose and it's either the fault of the water-logged pitch or the third referee. I've gelled more with my ghost than your boys have done in four years with each other.

At the end of each trophy-less season, I have kept my trust in you Mr Wenger and hoped that somehow you would turn the page on thinking that we could always waltz our way to victories and trophies.

We may have done that in the past but things have changed Mr Wenger. Are you blind to what other people see? There is absolutely nothing wrong with building a team of men and boys who not only walk the walk but can also fight the fight when the chips are down.

Perhaps you do not understand what it means to be a fan of you or a fan of the club you manage. Perhaps the mental anguish of not having anything to brag about in four years and not knowing when the barrenness would end is something you cannot imagine.

The sleep I lose after working hard for seven consecutive days and staying awake on a cold Saturday morning to watch Arsenal go down to Aston Villa on Fox Soccer Channel is lost to you. Twas Fulham, then Hull, and now Villa.

Mr Wenger, the Gunners can still fire on all cylinders but something has got to change. You remain the only person to affect that change, and I look forward to those changes.
Perhaps it's time to leave, Arsene. The question is: Where will Arsenal be at the time of your departure? Top four? Midtable? or bottom three?

In Arsene WE (still) trust, but for how much longer?

Epilogue: May 6, 2009

It's been five months since this note was first written and so much has happened in Arsene's fantasy football world. Arsenal's fairy tale season is effectively over. We were dumped by lowly Burnley in the league cup quarter-finals, out-muscled by Chelsea in the FA cup semis.

The premiership was never within reach from the onset and just yesterday our colossal failings were exposed by Manchester United as we crashed out of the Champions League in very embarrassing circumstances.

Yet again and for the fifth consecutive season, Arsenal would be without silverware. With hopes dashed and hearts broken, its now time for some serious rumination and soul-searching. This is painful.

More than ever, the answer to the question begs. In Arsene we still trust?

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