No-one likes us, it was the chant of Millwall fans but until a decade ago it applied equally to Arsenal. From 1926 when Herbert Chapman, at the insistence of Charles Buchan, introduced the stopper centre-half to football, Arsenal have not got the credit that their achievements have warranted.
Between 1930 and 1953, and let’s not forget a chunk of that era was lost to the Second World War, the Bank of England club landed seven titles and three FA Cups, and was despised for its success. Even during the sixties, when Billy Wright signed wonderful forwards but awful defenders, the legacy of envy continued.
When the double was secured in 1971 the artistry of Armstrong, George, and Graham was ignored. According to popular view we bludgeoned our way to success through the twin battering rams of Radford and Kennedy, and the physical approach of Mclintock and Storey.
Even when Liam Brady lit up the late seventies there was no love lost for the Gunners, and George Graham’s triumphs in the eighties and nineties owed everything to the ‘famous five’ at the back, or so we were implored to believe.
For those of us who have endured the mid decade slumps of the last fifty years the Wenger years have been a journey into territory only before experienced by our fathers and grandfathers. The decade of success and exhilarating football has also won over all except the most one-eyed followers of other clubs.
So how strange it is that now we are being universally acclaimed, question marks are being raised amongst the Ashburton faithful. Trawl the forums and you will even find the Pythonesque plea, “What has Wenger ever done for us?”, or words to that effect.
There are some valid points being raised. Yes, we do have a notoriously soft underbelly at present. Not too surprising when you look at the loss over the last couple of years of the likes of Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires, Edu, and Campbell. The switch to 4-5-1 has been designed to strengthen the midfield, but at what cost?
Henry is starting to miss a few more games than previously. Yes, he has had a long summer with the French advance to the World Cup Final, and his insistence on coming back for the Bergkamp testimonial , effectively ruling out a summer break to recharge his batteries. It’s more pertinent however that as the lone forward he is starting to see more of the ball with his back to goal, and for the first time defenders are gleefully whacking into, rather than only seeing, the back of him.
The 4-5-1 formation is most effective when wingers are providing genuine width and menace. The only true winger in the squad at present is a seventeen year old who is quite rightly being introduced gradually and sparingly.. While in Europe, where you are given time to play in midfield, we have made the formation work, on the domestic front we have been worked out.
And now everybody loves us. “They play the best football in the country”. How many times have you heard that in the last year or two. I wonder how loved we will be when we start beating teams who are nicking points off us with no more than discipline and honest hard graft? That time will come, Gooners, but there may be some more departures and arrivals before we get there. Have faith, and a little patience.