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Friday, 30 August 2013

Sticking up for Arsenal

BREAKING NEWS: Arsenal FC have not won a trophy since May 2005!

This is roughly the sentiment that has been repeated in headlines and articles within the British press every few months for the past five years.

THIS JUST IN: A year has passed by and a sports team have not had the success that they had initially been predicted to!

There are a lot of things published by the media that I look at and am forced to ask: 'Why is that news?'. Yet the old chestnut of Arsenal's continuing and apparently fascinating trophy drought is one that leaves me particularly puzzled.

The facts are unarguable. Since the end of the 2004/05 season, Arsenal have failed to win any of the three major trophies for British teams: the Premier League, the FA Cup or the Champions League. For a club that in the eight seasons up to and including 04/05 won a total of seven major trophies, this quite clearly represents a serious decline.

But is it really all that bad? Let's take a look at how the other 116 clubs currently playing in the top five leagues in England have fared in the past eight years. Out of those teams, six have succeeded in winning at least one major competition. Considering that Arsenal have continued to qualify for the Champions League every year since their last trophy, once reaching the final, it still seems fair to count them amongst the most successful of those 110 trophy-less teams.

And yet year upon year the papers recycle their favourite headline buzzwords: 'crisis', 'collapse', 'failure', along with a photo of Arsène Wenger looking solemn. Sometimes it is raining in the photo. Often he wears a coat.

Undoubtedly for a club that ten years ago went an entire season unbeaten, recent campaigns have been underwhelming to say the least. But teams don't go on winning forever.

From the mid seventies until the late eighties, Liverpool FC were the greatest team in England, arguably in Europe. During that time they won domestic and European competitions on a yearly basis, but since 1990 have won just three FA Cups. In the past Aston Villa, Everton and (a lot further back) even Huddersfield Town have been at the top of the English game. Now they are not and people do not expect them to be.

And therein lies the reason that people refuse to stop talking about Arsenal as an 'underachieving' club. Because in reality those people still expect Arsenal to succeed. And why? Because unlike Liverpool. Everton or Villa, Arsenal have stubbornly clung onto their status as one of Europe's top teams.

Despite lack of silverware, in recent seasons Arsenal have transformed their home ground into one of the largest and most impressive in Europe. Their financial stability is rare and enviable within the football world. They have developed their style and played some of the most attractive and exciting football ever seen in this country.

For a few years at the start of the 21st century, Arsenal were able to match Manchester United, the biggest and richest football club in the world, in terms of trophies and success. This was not always the case. (In fact from 1979 to 1989 Arsenal failed to win any major trophies at all). They should be remembered as the first team to seriously challenge Alex Ferguson's incredible strangle-hold on English football.

But this gets forgotten now that Chelsea and Manchester City have risen above Arsenal during the last eight years despite the fact that both these clubs required takeovers by foreign billionaires in order to do so.

They have been overtaken, first off the pitch financially and consequentially on the pitch and they are now vulnerable to being outcompeted when signing and keeping players. The club, like every other in England, has struggled to deal with the rising dominance of billionaire-owned teams.

This is hugely frustrating for a generation of fans that had become used to seeing their team lift silverware every year but there is a need to remain rational. It could always be worse. As mentioned, Liverpool are a lot further off their former glory than Arsenal; likewise teams like Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. Fans should therefore not be totally disheartened by the lack of trophies but encouraged by the fact that we have not dropped completely out of contention.

This does not mean that we should lower our expectations, or not feel justified in ranting if we get knocked out of a cup but we should at the very least be able to laugh when someone tells us their favourite 'since Arsenal last won a trophy' line. Would you rather have won the FA Cup, like Portsmouth and Wigan have, and be where they are now or be playing the best teams in Europe every year?

Not everything is measured in silver.

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