Welcome to part 2 of our look back at 2016/17! Today we pick up at the turn of the year and how we saw the club descend into maddening form before finally finding the light at the end of the tunnel…..
The developing soap opera was an absolute dream for the local tabloids, who churned out a never-ending production line of articles (hah) that aimed to cash in on a group of fans they had been stirring up for years as it was. And still we heard nothing from our administrators. No one came to the defence of our embattled manager who, swinging like a punch drunk and beaten boxer, showed his undeniable stubborn streak in stringing the pain out when it seemed far more simple to quell the frenzy with some refreshing honesty and transparency into what had become a whirlwind of speculation.
But no, Arsene and our silent board remained unmoved. The added pressure of the growing feeling of player disillusionment hung like another sword over the Emirates, ready to drop at a moments notice should one statement be made out of line with the company messaging. The Ozil, Alexis and Chamberlain contracts all came into the spotlight. Every mistake on the field or outburst of frustration was picked apart within an inch of its life, looking for an answer that was simply not coming.
Fortunately for us all, form is generally a temporary state and the end of this particular sticky patch coincided with a pointed change in tactical approach from the manager. Switching to a back 3 for Wenger felt like a watershed moment in the scheme of things. It was the first time in his 20 year tenure that we saw 3 centre halves marshalling the 18 yard line. At first it was a desperate act of a drowning man trying to save his skin, but then the results kept coming and the anger was replaced by cynicism. We were well out of the title race and hanging on to our hopes for a top 4 finish. We were still in the FA Cup but with Man City, Chelsea and Spurs still in the hunt there was little confidence of taking anything from that competition either. The ongoing speculation regarding the future of the manager continued though, at the whim of Arsene, who refused to provide any clarity or end the cycle of frustration with regards to his situation. Back in March the only audio bites we could take from Wenger were that we would know “very soon” or that things were “clear in my mind”. On top of this he also added statements that seemed only to wind up journos and fans everywhere.
From my point of view, I believe that Wenger has always been completely aware of what he says to the media and has a pretty good understanding of the impacts his comments will make. As fans, sometimes we like his cheeky digs at the desperate reporter angling for that big scoop about the new signing during the transfer window. On the flip side though, there are many more examples of comments made in the open forum, where many of us fail to see the point or benefit of his antics. In the case of his ongoing contract drama there was more than a hint of arrogance which only served to alienate him further from the fans when simple transparency would have taken an enormous weight off the shoulders of all involved. The maelstrom of malcontent eventually reached a point where the crosshairs moved from our embattled manager to our silent board.
Sure, we had all seen and heard Arsene beating the same old drum, time and time again. But never for so long and throughout such raw negativity that stretched from days to months on end. The further the speculation carried, the more the media, fans and populace in general turned to the Arsenal board to come to the defence of the man at the helm. Perhaps not even to defend his position but at least to give some inkling as to the thought process behind the scene, a glimpse behind the curtain. Stan Kroenke has never been a hands on owner. We know all too well our club is only another investment in his portfolio of sporting franchises. He has no interest in anything further than the bottom line on the financial statement and, while that is a shame, in today’s modern football world it’s hardly unique.
So while our leaders off the field sat (mostly) silent in their towers on high, the feelings that permeated the atmosphere at the Emirates continued. Even after the switch to the back 3 and the following upturn in form which saw us then close out the season with 9 victories from the last 10 games. A final run during which we witnessed, for the first time in Wengers tenure, the club fail to qualify for the Champions League and then a week later, secure a record-breaking 13th FA Cup Final victory.
There is no denying that, come the final analysis, a club such as Arsenal must be judged by the trophies that it wins. As a team with aspirations to challenge for silverware each season, a season without silverware will always be considered a failure in my book. Looking at the Cup win in isolation you can’t help but feel that sparkle of excitement, knowing what an epic game it was and how well we played to come away victorious. But then you look back at the plot we coursed on the road to winning that record-breaking FA Cup and you probably think to yourself, “fuck me, we do things the hard way” or something along those lines. For all the good vibes that last game in May brought about, there are still answers needing swift (lol) resolution this off-season.
Come back tomorrow for the final installment in our long awaited return to the Blog!
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