Paul Scholes stands amongst his United teammates, bitterly regretting his missed penalty, as he is fully aware that Vieira’s last kick in an Arsenal shirt could mean another cup final failure, the first time in a penalty shootout.
Vieira explores the goal in front of him, and sizes up the man guarding it. Roy Carroll, the United keeper, looks into the eyes of Vieira and then follows them probing every corner of the goal, hoping to get a hint on where the Frenchman will be looking to place the ball.
The whistle goes, off goes Vieira’s shot, and with it, Manchester United’s FA Cup hope. Gooners all around the world revel in the rapture of the club’s tenth FA Cup triumph and fourth under Arsene Wenger.
What has ensued from then to now, even God has failed to come up with an explanation for it.
And all through the eight years, the once towering personality of Wenger has declined ever so gradually, with the bright bookish face getting increasingly wrinkled with each season of having to drag the team over the line to finish fourth, and the once admirably serene and collected persona having all but died away giving way to a sore, bitter looking one.
One could even say that Wenger is more a sore loser than the beautiful winner he once was. At least going by the standards he set in the late 90s and early 2000s at Highbury anyway.
And now, with the “In Arsene we Trust” losing its purpose and with a large chunk of the Gunners’ support turning against the Alsatian, the time seems ripe to pose the question : “Where does Arsene Wenger stand today?” Where indeed, does he come into the reckoning in today’s new world order where you can be a real genius at finding raw talent and manufacturing world class players out of it and it still won’t matter. Real Madrid or Barcelona or City or one of them are going to take them from you anyway, no?
Without a shadow of a doubt, Wenger revolutionised the way English top-flight football was played and is almost solely responsible for the enthralling brand of footy we watch today. But that doesn’t necessarily book his place as one of the greatest managers in world football or even English football. And neither can he be declared the greatest manager in the history of Arsenal, what with Herbert Chapman’s tragic legacy constantly hovering over his own.
Arsene Wenger has always believed in a much different form of success compared to the novae riche clubs like City or PSG, which is entertainment and achievement while balancing the books in the background, a gift of his which only Arsenal fans with a genuine loyalty to the club will be able to comprehend.
Although, when all the signings a club has made in the summer are on free transfers, with none of them promising to be much of a reinforcement (surely, you don’t consider Sanogo to be the one who guarantees you Champions League football for the next year?) to a squad which looks increasingly vulnerable to conceding that coveted fourth spot to Tottenham, it does get a little frustrating, especially when there was a decent transfer budget at hand.
It is not clear how or exactly when, but it does seem like both Wenger and Ferguson lost their midas touch when it came to making legends out of academy players somewhere down the line. Maybe the pressure of staying on top got to them, giving them far less time to go and watch a young prospect in the pouring rain, or to visit the prospect’s parents to gauge the player’s potential, physically and mentally, going on his genes and family background.
The fact that Wenger could not produce or discover another Thierry Henry out of the Arsenal youth squad has led to their recent (and by recent, I only mean the past two seasons) slump. Losing Fabregas and Nasri did not help. Losing Van Persie was like getting kicked while you’re already down.
No one could blame him for the departures of star names, I mean, each of the three aforementioned players left the club to become champions, and become champions they did, leaving their former club more deflated than ever before.
Did Wenger throw his hands up and say, “Well, I had a fantastic run, I got you trophies, I became revered in my field, and now that I don’t have my star personnel anymore I’ll just throw in the towel and save some face and not start venting my frustration on poor, undeserving water bottles”? No. Cazorla and Podolski along with Giroud brought in a revival of sorts at the Emirates, and Arsenal denied their North London rivals a Champions League spot. Yet again.
So what exactly can we call Arsene Wenger? Can we call him a genius? Hardly, as he inherited a prosperous and stable football club and met with the standards expected of him in terms of solid metal achievement (although sometimes he did far exceed them). And we cannot take into consideration his stint at Monaco, because no reasonable person measures a manager’s greatness going on his managerial career in France.
A legend? Well if this was 2005, the status would have been assured far beyond doubt. But the blips on the radar are far too many since that FA Cup final win at the Millenium Stadium and the sparks of genius far too less. To say he is a good manager would however be nothing short of spitting on his face. I mean, people consider Roberto Martinez a good manager for Christ’s sake! Surely Wenger is light years better!
So, for all his attractive football (okay Arsene, you have the ‘prettiest wife’ at the Emirates) and his ‘Invincibles’ season and his maximizing the services of Henry, Bergkamp, Fabregas, Van Persie and so on, or even his wholehearted preaching of financial fair play, his little trophy drought sealed a permanent black mark on what would have been a legacy to envy.
Fate just chooses to pick people from translating gigs and give them league titles in England, Spain and Italy, and yet let a man of Wenger’s ability and talent to endure eight years of torment of the highest order.
So where stands Arsene Wenger? In the eyes of true Gooners, a cut above the rest, towering over them as they look up to them with awestruck eyes. To the rest of the world, a great manager who seemed to have lost favour with fate.
Will he ever taste European glory with Arsenal? Well, I’d hardly take the risk of antagonizing myself at the end of the article by jinxing it, would I?