Who Deserves the Most Credit for Arsenal's Recent Resurgence?
One year ago, Arsenal were teetering on the brink of their seasonal crisis.
The Gunners had gotten off to a decent start but only managed to win two of their first six Premier League games. All the traditional defensive ineptitude seemed to have been knocked into remission by Steve Bould, but for the first time a team managed by Arsene Wenger could not seem to score.
In the space of about a month, Arsenal would suffer a catastrophic loss to Norwich City, take one point out of six against Schalke in the Champions League, capitulate to Manchester United and implode in horribly typical fashion against Fulham in a 3-3 draw.
The club dug itself a massive hole before people were finished taking down their Halloween decorations. Barring a highly improbable turnaround and the collapse of other teams, it seemed impossible for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League.
Yet as we know, Arsenal stunningly resurrected their fortunes during the second half of the season.
After falling utterly flat against Tottenham in February, they traveled to Munich and beat Bayern, the almost unconquerable side that eventually won the Champions League. Finally, Arsenal excruciatingly ground out every last point until they had finally bested Spurs and squeezed their way into fourth place.
How important that run looks now, as Arsene Wenger performs a Frankensteinian act on what sometimes seemed to be a moribund career.
For the first time in years, Arsenal sit atop the league and are legitimate title contenders.
The volume of vitriolic ink spilled in criticism of Wenger since the Gunners last won a trophy in 2005 could probably fill the Emirates Stadium. And some of the criticism was certainly merited, especially during a summer when it looked like he would not spend any money when he had more cash reserves than at any point during his career.
Wenger's infamous frugality now seems rational and economically justified. Arsenal needed to suffer through a painful period of thriftiness after the construction of the Emirates Stadium, due to the cost of the venture and the insufficiency of the sponsorship deals that were signed to partially finance it.
Of course, Le Professeur did not want to publicly declare that Arsenal were executing a long-term plan to steadily pay down the club's significant debt.
The club's brass had probably anticipated for some time that it would begin to alter its course (and placate rabid fans) in 2013, as new sponsors were signed on and reserves of liquid currency were finally freed.
What better man is there to lead Arsenal into this new age of competitiveness and restore the club as one of the true elites of Europe than Arsene Wenger?
Whatever improvement plans he had for this past summer almost totally exploded in his face, but he still managed to execute the most stunning transfer coup of his career by purchasing Mesut Ozil for the bargain price of £42.5 million.
In so doing, he restored both his managerial credibility and Arsenal's reputation as a club at which elite players wish to play. It was the sort of transfer that just might cause Gunners fans to forget about the years of summer suffering that they endured through the lean years.
Those seasons of fiscal austerity and footballing profligacy should be appreciated no less than the team's current revival. Wenger's penny-pinching was not a masochistic validation of his personal economic ideology, but, rather, the most significant accomplishment of his career.
More specifically, his teams' relative success since 2005 is incredible. Wenger worked with a perennially puny budget and managed to scout and sign young players who replenished those who were continuously being sold for profits. Arsenal were a factory for other prominent European clubs to a certain extent, but the fact that they were able to keep this operation afloat for so long is astounding.
Now Wenger is not inhibited by monetary constraints and able to fully unleash his managerial philosophy as he sees fit.
The purchase of Ozil demonstrates that he is prepared to stock his team with truly upper-echelon players who mesh with his vision for the team. More importantly, though, Wenger still possesses his trademark eye for talent and ability to coach foreign players into Premier League stars.
Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Flamini were all purchased during leaner times (though the latter was initially brought to the club in 2004). All have developed significantly under Wenger's tutelage, and one should consider whether each would be quite as good without the guidance of the professorial Frenchman.
Giroud, Mertesacker and Koscielny are particularly striking examples. When each arrived at Arsenal, they were hampered by timidity and unfamiliarity with the English game.
Giroud is now finally combining his special blend of physicality and finesse as he smashes in goals in nearly every match. Mertesacker has learned to use his massive frame to dominate some of the most physically robust forwards in the world. He has also formed a bond with the tenacious and dynamic Koscielny that serves as the foundation of Arsenal's defense.
Each player has contributed much to Arsenal's rise from the ashes of mediocre stasis.
But the fact that they and several others have done so is due to the managerial genius of Arsene Wenger.
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