By Shane Thomas
“Wilshere is a top player. He is an excellent player, not just Arsenal, but
also for the national team. But I guess he is lucky because [Barca] have many players in the second
team like him, but he plays every game because there is no pressure at his club to win titles.” - Pep Guardiola
Many news outlets used this quote in their build-up to Tuesday's game between Arsenal & Barcelona. But the focus was on the merits of Jack Wilshere, rather than on the perceived pressure (or lack of it) on Arsenal to win trophies.
However, it is a topic that bears some scrutiny. Jose Mourinho has also pointed out how the pressure on Arsenal to fill their trophy cabinet is non-existent in comparison to other big sides in Europe. Would a coach of any other club with designs on the major prizes in the game be given five seasons without tangible success and still be in a job? So are the Arsenal board simply being lax in their duties or is there a greater understanding of what Wenger is trying to achieve?
First, it has to be remembered that Wenger has bought himself a great deal of grace at Arsenal due to the successes he has attained whilst being manager at the club. When he arrived in 1996, Arsenal hadn't come close to being in contention for the title in six years. In his first full season, Wenger rectified that by winning the double. Not only were there trophies in the cabinet, but it was achieved with a panache never before seen at the club. Never has a goal been more symptomatic of a manager's philosophy than Tony Adams's volley in the 4-0 win over Everton that secured the Premier League back in 1998.
Two more league titles and three more FA Cups followed, as did the entertainment. And going the 2003/04 Premier League season unbeaten is a feat that will probably never be seen again in our lifetimes. So when we hear, "five years without a trophy", it has to be remembered why the expectation surrounding Arsenal is at such a high level. Arsenal would probably have sunk into mid-table mediocrity without the coaching skills of the urbane Frenchman.
Also, while Arsenal have always been a well supported club, they don't have the global fanbase of a Manchester United, AC Milan or the Spanish giants of Barcelona & Real Madrid. And there's no financial "sugar daddy" in place, like at Inter Milan or Chelsea to supplement the squad, without having to worry about the inevitable financial losses incurred in the process.
So, much like Nick Clegg before the last General Election, Wenger proposed a "third way". Eschewing placing the club in financial strife, he decided to rely heavily on the youth system at London Colney, and add the odd cut-price signing where he can.
Now this completely goes against the grain of football in the modern age. In this 24 hour, Sky Sports News, non-stop Twitter stream of free information we live in, opinions fluctuate at an exponential level. You can be a genius one minute and a dullard the next.
Patience on the other hand is non-existent. It doesn't matter that Arsenal are one of the most financially secure clubs in Europe, "Five years without a trophy!" It doesn't matter than they play some of the most progressive football in the world, "Five years without a trophy!" Or that they are often held up an an example of how to run a club. "Five years without a trophy!"
And this lack of patience shouldn't be surprising. At other big teams, lose a couple of matches and the press scream crisis. Both the fans and the media have a slavering desperation for instant success. And people such as Roman Abramovich & Sheikh Mansour have taken advantage of this, trying to buy glory as if in a supermarket. Wenger on the other hand, is trying to grow his own from scratch. He's planted a seed and hopes that the fruit it bears will prove ripe enough to match the best the world has to offer.
So yes, Guardiola and Mourinho are right. There isn't the pressure to win trophies at Arsenal compared to their rivals. Because what Wenger is looking for is more than baubles. He wants a legacy, something that will endure long after his time at The Emirates is over. Similar to what Johan Cruyff did at Barcelona, he wants Arsenal to be the envy of the football world in years to come. It may be an impossible dream, but it's also a noble one.
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