Whatever anyone says or thinks about the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, his underachieving side rarely fail to entertain. Always easy on the eye, they have been the unofficial '2nd club' of many fans of the beautiful game for the majority of his tenure; ever since picking up the 'entertainers' baton from Kevin Keegan's Newcastle (Mk I) at an undefined point sometime in the 96/97 season. The Gunners were always a team that were worth a flick over to Sky Sports on a miserable Sunday afternoon, no matter who they were playing.
However, the times they are a-changing and Arsene's moods have become a metaphor for the fall from grace of the three-time double winners. Where once the gawky Wenger was placid, laid back and sagacious, over the last half-dozen seasons he has become ever more tense, tetchy and uncharacteristically argumentative. His decisions not to shake hands are as enigmatic as they are ill-mannered. This is as alien to us Brits as diving or feigning injury.
Perhaps Wenger was a casualty of the Jose Mourinho years more than any other foe of the suave former Chelsea-boss. Whilst somehow Sir Alex Ferguson and Mourinho have maintained a mutual respect, the Arsenal manager seemed to be the most unappreciative of the verbal fisticuffs that entertained Mourinho so frequently. The only other manager who the self-confessed 'Special One' got under the skin of was Rafa Benitez, and we all know what happened to him.
Ever since that last trophy (the FA Cup in 2005), Wenger's powers have waned each and every year that they remain trophy free. Lest we forget that it was that season in 2005 that the 'invincibles' were finally beaten. Wenger had built an incredible side that could and perhaps should have gone on to become a legacy of his tenure. Pires, Henry, Reyes, Ljungberg, Viera, Campbell and of course Dennis Bergkamp were the big names in that team and since that time Wenger has looked increasingly lost, clinging on to the nostalgia of that era, watching on as his team slowly slip out of the football firmament. Enjoyment of nostalgia is only for people that find reality too uncomfortable.
Wenger has looked increasingly impotent of late, particularly in the transfer window. With Clichy leaving, an already depleted back line was looking fragile. I recall a radio phone-in, where Gooners were calling in their droves in response to the presenters' prompt that Gibbs deserved his chance. Caller after caller reasserted that Wenger had a back up plan and there would be many new arrivals in the summer. They were confident that the Clichy money would add to an already ample transfer pot. However, it appears as though Brazilian left back Andre Santos was only brought in reluctantly after the infamous drubbing by Manchester United.
Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas's departure in the summer was no less obvious than night following day, but Wenger still managed to give the impression of being caught on the hop come 31 August by signing Mikel Arteta and Youssi Benayoun, not to mention the slow starting Per Metersacker.
Wenger gave the impression of spending the whole summer mowing the lawn and pruning shrubs whilst the roof had a great big hole in it. Unfortunately he did a cheap patch up job just as the rain lashed down. Clive Dunn may as well have been in charge of the transfer kitty.
It's disappointing watching this fall from grace. I can't see another team of the class of 97/98 or 03/04 ever hailing from the Emirates. Sadly for Wenger and Gooners everywhere, the style baton has been passed to Roberto Mancini this season. Manchester City are the team everyone wants to watch, they have style, pace, strength; not to mention the coolest manager in the Premier League.
Mancini's 'Barcelona Blues' remain one of only four unbeaten teams in all four divisions and are the highest scorers in the top flight. Yes they still need to learn how to win ugly, but their football has been scintillating. David Silva has been a revelation playing behind the strikers, and if Dzeko is off-colour, there is always a rejuvenated Mario Balotelli. Then there is Sergio Aguero, the most naturally talented striker I have ever seen in this country.
Move over Wenger, there's a new entertainer in town.
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