Love United, Hate Arsenal: But I Want the Gunners To Succeed

nigel smithCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

22 Nov 2000:  Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice of Arsenal on the bench during the Spartak Moscow v Arsenal Champions League match in Moscow, Rissia. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird/ALLSPORT

First, Emmanuel Adebayor was sold to City. Now, Kolo Touré is following the Togo striker "oop north" to Blue Manchester.

As a United fan, I should be grinning from ear to ear, feasting on the dismantling of a title rival. But I have to admit that there is precious little joy to be taken from the implosion now under way at the Emirates.

Put simply, Arsenal's decline is bad for football.

I know there will be Gooners who bridle at the mere idea that Arsene Wenger has released top talents—Mathieu Flamini, Aliaksandr Hleb, Adebayor, and Touré—without a thought in order to acquire adequate replacements.

They will tell you that the manager has a plan, and it will be revealed next season.

Yet, with one month left to go in the transfer window, it will be a tall order—even for a coach blessed with Wenger's brilliance—to replace a defensive lynchpin and a 20-goals-per-season forward in time for the new campaign.

If Wenger gets it wrong and Arsenal struggle next term, the whispers that, at 60, he has lost his mojo, will increase to full-throated shouts resonating at high volume from the stadium and the media pulpits.

It will be a shame if Arsenal are muscled out of football's annual silverware and Champions League pageant by Manchester City or the rival Spurs.

Under Wenger's careful tutelage, the Gunners have come to represent a footballing standard that can only be applauded.

The divisions are full of dullards sending their teams into action with more hope than a plan. Even in elite football, there are advocates of the same philosophy who are rewarded handsomely for squeezing the aesthetic beauty from the game, turning matches into little more than a spectacle of athletic prowess and negative tactics, designed to numb the adversary and spectator alike.

Yes, José Mourinho, that means you.

There is no such bloodless accommodation with Wenger. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, he is a manager who has produced teams that even the non-partisan can appreciate from afar.

The last great Arsenal side of '07-'08 gave United an almighty fright until the crash and burn of February and March put paid to their title chances.

Half the midfield has left since then but the capture of Andrei Arshavin and Arsenal's Champions League qualification last term showed that Wenger's genius should not be discounted just yet.

That said, the latest departures raise more questions than ever about the great conjuror's ability to produce again.

As a confirmed United fan, I retain a professional dislike of Arsenal. In the way I frown on all threats to United's trophies and run of glory.

I am still struggling to recover from the 78th minute of United's home match against the Gunners in 1998, when our title was snatched in the rudest of circumstances.

And don't get me started on Alan Sunderland circa 1979!

Nevertheless, I am happy to admit to a certain admiration for the club's football. The two matches with the Gunners are, to my mind, the outstanding fixtures in the football calendar, bringing together the great entertainers of the football league.

Chelsea's Roundheads have their supporters but the King's Road brand leaves me cold.

Liverpool's Gerrard-inspired resurgence under Benitez is more about tempo than artistry.

Arsenal bring a sophistication to the domestic league, which no other side can match.

Now that the north London treasury has been looted, Wenger is forced to talk up callow youths and hope they can keep his team competitive. United will doing much the same in the not too distant future.

The similarities don't stop there. Both Wenger and Ferguson have proved time and again their abilities to develop players. Indeed, their respective dynasties are built on polishing rough diamonds into crown jewels.

Players thrive when driven forward by Messrs. Wenger and Ferguson. Their candles burn less brightly when in the employment of new clubs. Think now of the floundering ex-Gunners Hleb and Flamini who shone under Wenger.

The Manchester City approach of signing tried and tested Premiership performers might prove to be a shortcut to success, but there is surely greater pleasure to be had from creating stars rather than buying them.

But it does take longer—much longer!

Already, managers are put off clubs who cannot offer a cash mountain for transfer market raids.

Take a bow, Sven-Goran Eriksson.

If Wenger's faith in young players is misplaced and the Arsenal board and fans grow tired of being patient in anticipation of future, sustainable success, this trend will continue.

Media generals have been telling Wenger for a year that he lacked the tools to win the top trophies. It was clear for all to see that the Gunners needed defensive reinforcements.

Wenger, his own man to the last, seems to pay scant attention. So far, he has signed a defender and sold one with more experience. Go figure!

Perhaps, this stems from the manager's bloody-mindedness, another trait he shares with Fergie, which comes to the fore as a commitment to the core beliefs of the world's greatest game.

Ferguson and Wenger uphold an instinct for attacking football which few other managers display in the makeup of their teams.

At a time when Mourinho is again touting himself for the United job when Ferguson retires, it should come as no surprise that Arsene Wenger would be an ideal pick for football's "mission impossible."

It won't happen, of course. There is still work for Wenger to do in north London and, hopefully, time enough for him to get the job done, as Arsenal are good for United and for football.


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