At the end of it all, Arsene Wenger seemed relieved. As he walked up the Wembley stairs to accompany his team accept the FA Cup, it seemed as if all the pressure was now off. The tie was off, presumably too strangling to still be kept on while the coat was nowhere in sight, presumably too heavy to wear. The top button on his shirt was open, the heat presumably too much.
A relief as cumulative years of pressure culminated into one defining moment. After nine years of trophyless seasons, here at last was a trophy to celebrate. By doing so, Arsenal stepped into a new era.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Wenger had done it his way; that Arsenal had done it their way. Indeed, even in those trophyless years, there was always a peculiarity to Arsenal’s play. Sublimity followed ingenuity as silky football was spread across pitches in England and Europe. Technique over power with fast paced passing and fluid movements have always been Arsenal’s modus operandi. Arsenal games thus are rarely dull affairs.
But the reason why other years had not brought with them much needed successs was an issue of quality. Indeed, Wenger is a master tactician and a born developer of youth talent. He can spot potential, provide a platform for that potential to thrive and in turn produce world class players. Of late, those methods had not been as swift as previous years.
It is why in the season that Arsenal finally ended their trophy drought, they had earlier signed Mesut Özil — the sort of world class talent Wenger prides himself in producing rather than purchasing. In turn, by the time the Community Shield had been won, three squad players were already World Champions and Alexis Sanchez had been brought in after having had an impressive World Cup for Chile.
Not surprisingly, this represents a change — and a good one at that — with previous times. It could in actual fact be moving with the times. As sad as it now seems to be, football has simply just reached a point where expensive purchases of quality players are a huge pre-requisite for competition at the highest level. Anyone who does not follow suit is left behind.
No wonder the mood at Arsenal is now lifted, the sense of optimism much higher than it has been ever since the Invincibles season. With two trophies to boot in the year 2014, many more are been expectantly awaited.
For that to happen however, then big game mentality must be added to the quality now at hand.
It does seem surprisingly unique, but Wenger’s big game mentality seems to be his Archilles heel. It is why he has reached three European club cup competition finals without ever clinching any. Subsequently, over the course of the trophyless seasons, Arsenal took the lead in every cup final in which they were involved in. Somehow, their opponents managed to find a way back.
Even last season, it was no secret of how meek Arsenal sometimes seemed in the big games. In games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, Arsenal shipped in a huge amount of goals and this is probably why they finished below each of these three. Even the seemingly psychological hold Manchester United have over Arsenal managed to show in a season when the Red Devils were clearly average.
The microcosm of it also seemed to show in that FA Cup Final. Arsenal started sluggishly and found themselves two nil down. Luckily, their quality still showed as they managed to overturn it. But had it for example been a final against say Chelsea or City, 2-0 down would probably have seen the game finish early.
This probably explains why Arsenal reach the business end of seasons knocked out in various competitions or merely holding on to the thread of hope. Against games where the opposing clubs carries a grand stature, or where the context of the game itself requires a dig in attitude, Wenger rarely manages to lift his side. As a natural consequence, a style of play that requires amounts of confidence (and when Arsenal are purring, they are a sight to behold) reduces to humble defeats.
That therefore remains the key caveat to Arsenal’s seasons. Whereas all the other ingredients are in place, a big game mentality still needs to be addressed. If Wenger manages to sort that out, then Arsenal’s brave new era will surely gunner the results it deserves.