Sunday, September 27

Fifth season looms without trophy but Wenger believes


LONDON: The supporters of most clubs would be happy if their team won a trophy every few seasons, but for a rich, driven club like Arsenal five seasons without silverware represents a famine of major proportions.However, unless Arsene Wenger’s men can overtake Chelsea and Manchester United in the last stages of the race for the Premier League title, they will end this season empty-handed. Again.

Their defeat at Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on Tuesday when Lionel Messi scored all four goals in Barca’s 4-1 victory left them chasing an improbable, but still possible, league title.

Their last honour came when they won the FA Cup in 2005. Since then Wenger has rebuilt his side with young players capable of dazzling, exciting football — but so far without any tangible reward.

With his current side balanced around the prodigious talent of Cesc Fabregas, out for the rest of the season with a cracked fibula, Arsenal frequently play some of the most attractive football in the Premier League.

But there is no doubt they lack the cutting edge of some of Wenger’s earlier sides at the club. No one has quite matched the influence Tony Adams used to exert in defence or Patrick Vieira in midfield or Thierry Henry in attack.

Despite some wonderful approach work, and dazzling goals from such talents as Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and occasionally Theo Walcott, Arsenal have lost the killer touch that they once possessed, most notably in their Premier League and FA Cup Double-winning campaigns of 1998 and 2002 and when their ‘invincibles’ went through the league season unbeaten in 2003-04.

In 2007, the year after Arsenal moved from Highbury to Emirates Stadium, Wenger explained his philosophy for the immediate future.

“When we decided to build the stadium I wanted to anticipate the possibility of financial restrictions, so I concentrated on youth,” he said at the time.

“I also felt the best way to create an identity with the way we play football, to get players integrated into our culture, with our beliefs, our values, was to get them as young as possible and to develop them together.

“I felt it would be an interesting experiment to see players grow together with these qualities, and with a love for the club. It was an idealistic vision of the world of football.”

That vision is also not that far from fruition. Arsenal have suffered badly this season with the loss of Robin van Persie out injured since November after a brilliant, explosive start to the season.

Aaron Ramsey, another great prospect, is out for the season with a broken leg, Fabregas missing the final matches is another major blow.

Although their famine may yet continue, Arsenal fans should remain excited about the future.

Only rarely, towards the end of last season, has their faith in Wenger wavered.

They believe in him and he believes in his youngsters. The prospect of them ending this season as English champions is unlikely but possible.

If it does not happen this season, they seem set to be close to honours again next time around.

The fans of most clubs would not mind an honour every six seasons. Arsenal fans do mind of course but they may not have to wait too much longer. — Reuters