Is this the moment when the self-appointed Messiah realises no-one else is drinking the Kool Aid – those fleeting moments after the final gulp when the leader discovers that whilst everyone was happy to make the right noises and endorse his outlandish beliefs, when it comes to the crucial moment, on balance they’d rather continue with living their lives – even if it does include the occasional episode of My Family. Once they lapped it all up obediently but now thoughts like ‘maybe the spaceship following the comet won’t take me to a distant utopia’ or ‘what if these cosmic visitors have already determined Wolverhampton is the ideal place to spend eternity?’ become impossible to ignore.
Arsene Wenger’s vision for Arsenal is under threat like never before. For so long his beliefs were the unquestioned way and his work given almost sacred status and space to flourish, but as the new season rolls around, his key players are abandoning it like Hollywood actors fleeing Scientology just as Jesus gets Judgment Day into full swing. Barcelona have shown that pretty can cohabit with gritty and trying to playing an attractive brand of football needn’t mean your trophy cabinet is merely a dust magnet for years at a time. Wenger is still fully committed to his values, but a wave of scepticism seems to have crept into his disciples. After enough summer transfer sagas to seriously sap your will to live through another football off-season, it looks like Cesc Fabregas will finally make the move back to the Camp Nou. Whilst that’s somewhat understandable, Samir Nasri’s ongoing flirtation with Man Utd seems to be more than just making the right noises to get his inflated wages pumped up to even higher levels and Gael Clichy has already made his way north.
A lot of it has to do with the modern footballers’ relentless appetite for vast wealth, but how much of it is down to players losing faith? Arsenal have never been renowned for their whopping pay cheques, so why should it be now that Nasri et al starting making a fuss about earning power? Is it all about the money or is there an element of abandonment of Wenger’s ideals about it? My far from comprehensive research into the subject suggests the sale of Clichy to Man City has generally been well received by Arsenal fans. ‘Good riddance to a bad attitude’ and ‘he hasn’t performed for a couple of seasons’ were the general gist of the fond send-offs he was getting, but you have ask why was there this apparent indifference and drop-off in form. Since breaking into the first team 8 years ago, he’s had far more good seasons for Arsenal than bad and at times showed the type of form that would merit inclusion in the ever theoretical debate about who is the best left back in the world. Why is he not performing? Is it down to the player individually or is it something to do with losing faith with what was happening at the Emirates? If it was an isolated case, fans may be able to write it off, but is it possible that the move represents the early stages of the players abandoning Wenger’s philosophy? There can only be a certain amount of second half of the season damp squibs followed by insufficient strengthening that a player can take before they start to question what’s happening.
As insignificant to the Gunners’ hopes of making the group stages of the Champions League as it is, Man City’s leapfrogging of Arsenal in the league standings was a watershed moment and maybe one that’s only being realised now. To the players, it meant an earlier start to pre-season and but more importantly showed that a project can work – albeit a project backed by virtually limitless resources and no particular commitment to attacking football. It’s a vision with little of the beauty envisioned by Wenger, but no longer can the project be blithely dismissed as one destined to end in expensive failure and a club in ruins. The FA Cup can be disregarded to suit your ends, but the cliché of the league table not telling lies holds true. An expensive failure and a club in ruins might still happen at City, but at least the project has had some success and looks to be moving in the right direction. Not too many Arsenal players will be coveting the FA Cup winner’s medal, but the way in which their season petered out from having four trophies to play for towards the start of the year to slumping to 4th in the league must make alternative options more tempting.
Maybe Arsene can pull it out of the bag again to unearth some rough diamonds who’ll slot seamlessly and cheaply into the side and this will fall into the ever-growing category of premature predictions regarding the imminent demise of Arsenal. Or maybe he’s taken Arsenal as far as he can and we’re witnessing a long goodbye.
What do you think? As ever, stick your thoughts below.