Matt Fortune: It's been the same old story at Arsenal for the last eight years
00:15 GMT, 25 October 2012
The first eight games of this season have been a microcosm of the last eight years of Arsenal Football Club.
From the sublime (Santi Cazorla) to the ridiculous (Olivier Giroud) to the abject surrender at Norwich.
They currently sit eighth, but no one has pressed the panic button. History tells us they are England’s third most successful club, now housed in the country’s third largest football stadium.
Style: Santi Cazorla has been a superb acquisition
Last season they finished behind the Manchester clubs in the Premier League after their worst start in half a century.
At a time when two of their nearest rivals are benefitting from billion pound investment, and another is led by the greatest manager in world football, third is no bad thing.
From a personal point of view I have been spoiled growing up lavished by success – five league titles, five FA Cups, two league cups, a European Cup Winners’ Cup, plus a handful of finals, including the Champions League in 2006, all of which has been achieved with a style revered around the globe.
My poor old dad, on the other hand, in the first 26 years of his life, ‘endured’ one league title, two FA Cup triumphs and a European Fairs Cup win. And the 80s.
So why is the overriding feeling at Emirates one of frustration Why will Thursday’s AGM feel more like a public execution, with questions becoming progressively more contentious – if indeed they’ve not been vetted – and the roars of the masses ever more disapproving
Have Arsenal fans – perhaps the most patient in the Premier League – persevered with ‘the project’ to the point where entitlement has set in
Who would have thought that when Patrick Vieira slammed home the final penalty in a smash-and-grab FA Cup triumph over Manchester United in Cardiff, that Arsenal’s trophy cabinet would remain under lock and key for the next seven years
Just a memory: Patrick Vieira with Arsenal's last piece of silverware
Driven by the admirable philosophy of a man more desperate for vindication than any of those who used to pack the state-of-the-art stadium in north London, Arsenal have been there in body at times but sadly lacking in spirit. Dwindling attendances show the fight is dying in the fans as well.
Of course, the goalposts were moved first by the arrival of Roman Abramovich and then Sheik Mansour in 2008.
Chelsea Russian gold rush seemingly sucked the life out of north London. Champions in 2002, careless in 2003 but still FA Cup winners, and in 2004 all the pieces came into place for an unbeaten season that must be ranked as the finest achievement of any English team in the modern era. Arsenal were Invincible. Now they’re inconsequential.
There have, though, been other excuses. The season before Manchester City were accelerated back into English footballs elite, Arsenal finished four points off the top having led the way until late February, when their season was derailed by the sickening injury suffered by Croatian striker Eduardo.
As the old phrase goes, it’s the hope that kills you.
Derailed: Eduardo suffered a shocking injury
Wenger has seemed like a man swimming against the tide from within yet somehow kept his side in the slip stream of the leaders. There is, though, no overtaking. For all he and his band of young and hungry stars have thrown at those around them, they are forever coming up short.
Yet what the Frenchman has achieved against the backdrop of key player departures and the financing of a 400million stadium is nothing short of remarkable.
Liverpool, Everton and rivals Tottenham have all taken temporary residence of the top four, yet all finished outside the top six as well. Arsenal, by hook or by crook (2006 Lasagne-gate), have never dipped below the elite.
From the outside, the shortcomings seem so simple to fix. Speculate to accumulate, throw a bit of caution to the wind. But when Wenger has, he’s been bitten. Andrey Arshavin and Jose Antonio Reyes, his most lavish expenses until recently, both let him down. His caution, therefore, seems understandable.
But at the same time there is a feeling that Wenger treats players and the club like a personal project; the fans come second.
Project: Arsene Wenger does not always operate in what would be the fans best interests
Take the recent trend of playing Aaron Ramsey, a one-paced creative central midfielder, on the right of an attacking three. The manager will say it gives the Welshman a greater understanding of the game for later down his career. The same was done with powerful centre-forward Nicklas Bendtner, deployed wide. Whatever it was the Dane learned, he is now putting into practice elsewhere.
At the top, Alisher Usmanov makes all the right noises and comes stocked with a wallet to dwarf even that of Abramovich. Stan Kroenke makes no noises at all.
Having been labelled ‘that sort’ by current, ageing and forever putting his foot-in-it chairman Peter Hill Wood when the American first began buying his way into the club, Silent Stan is now the leading shareholder and none of the fans have any idea what ‘sort’ he actually is.
When someone from the club does speak out, the sound bites are the same: belief, progress, mental strength. The club even temporarily changed the motto to ‘Forward’. How ironic, then, that last season represented the biggest step backwards of this seven-year drought.
Sales: Robin van Persie is the latest big name to leave
It’s getting tiresome, my red-tinted glasses are steaming up and my patience is at an end. Ivan Gazidis is the focus of much of the wrath, trotting out lines straight from the media training handbook.
Wenger once said he could write a book about the frustrations he experienced during the summer of 2011. So why doesn’t he No-one expects him to air his dirty laundry, just some crumbs of explanation as to why the tweaks so patently obvious to those on the outside have not been made. Only then might patience be restored.
Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than seeing Wenger on the steps of Islington town hall come late May, hands full with silverware, smile plastered across his face. My joy would be for him, not for me. It would be the perfect ‘two-fingers’ to those who doubted him. Including me.