Arsene Wenger has legions of loyal fans. I don't count myself among them.
I am a worshipper.
Ever since the erudite Frenchman set foot in N5, London, in September 1996, I have followed every move, hung on every word and been awestruck by every masterstroke. In his first few years, he turned the club upside down, was nothing short of a pioneer and brought about a revolution in English club football. He did things his way. He swam against the tide. Above all, he won trophies!!
And when I look back, it was winning that applied the final seal of credibility to his every act. It was winning that added gloss to the signing of Nicolas Anelka. It was winning that ensured acceptability of the release of Ian Wright (legend!!) and the sale of Overmars and Petit. It was winning that ensured easy forgiveness for the signings of Francis Jeffers, Richard Wright and Kaba Diawara.
But now that winning is a distant memory, every poor decision is magnified, scrutinized and dissected. They are written and re-written about. We don't need reminding that it's been 6 years since we won anything. And the manner of last season's capitulation made it all the worse. So near, yet so far.
Take a look at our pre-season dealings. In the 'winning' era, the signings of Jenkinson and Gervinho for a combined £11 million would have been the toast of north London. Jenkinson looks like a proper defender, and Gervinho's impact has been nothing less than spectacular. But the focus has been on Cesc and Nasri (which is understandable), and more so on the fact that no one else has been signed. Is our squad that weak?? Mind you, this is the same group of players that beat Barcelona a few months ago without its best defender. But such is the air of negativity that surrounds Arsenal today that the focus will definitely remain transfixed on the club's failings.
Last week, Thierry Henry suggested that Wenger should remain Manager for life. I can't say I disagree. But the way public perception is today, I fear for his future. I wonder what might happen if our attendances dip after we have a less than decent start to the season. Or if we fail to qualify for the Champions' League proper. Or if we sell Cesc and/or Nasri and don't replace them adequately.
A week separates us from the commencement of proper football. What can Arsene Wenger do in the next 7 days to lift the dark clouds of negativity that seem to envelope every aspect of Arsenal Football Club like a melancholy shroud?
Here are five humbly offered suggestions...