Arsenal’s ambition to make next season more rewarding starts now
There had been so much talk about the nine years, the wait that had become such a burden on everyone concerned with Arsenal Football Club. But an equally extreme timeline concerned exactly nine months. As the FA Cup was hoisted it seemed crazy to recall how much rancor there was on the opening day of the season, when the team lost their opening match against Aston Villa, the supporters raged with furious discontent, and Arsene Wenger’s future looked highly volatile.
What a contrast between those stormy images and the scenes over the weekend as Arsenal relished that trophy feeling. Wenger was awash with champagne, and the euphoria seemed to transform the relationship between him and a crowd that has been strangely divided in recent years. Within the Arsenal community, the debates between the factions of AKB (Arsene Knows Best) and AMG (Arsene Must Go) were blown away by the feel-good factor.
For Stan Kroenke, the majority owner who enjoyed a prime view in the middle of the Directors Box at Wembley and merrily congratulated every player as they filed up to lift the silverware, there could be no clearer sign about this football club’s raison d’etre. Top four and a place in the UEFA Champions League? Fabulous. Financial viability, in this era when regulations are designed to attempt to curb over-spending? Great. Healthy profits? Fine. But the priority simply has to be competing as hard as possible to experience moments of the purest sporting joy.
Arsenal is one of the richest clubs in world football. Competing for honors has proved tricky over the last few years. But this is a summer when, if Kroenke and Wenger both decide to go for it, they can shift the vision up a notch. The owner is a committed fan of the manager, and his default position is to back Wenger unconditionally. The relationship has been perceived as a perfect one as Kroenke knows he can trust Wenger’s prudent housekeeping, while Wenger knows he can work without interference. But this feels like the perfect opportunity for the two men to agree that with boldness, they can aim with more seriousness for the trophies Wenger values most highly — the Barclays Premier League and Champions League. Itâs going to cost, though.
Wenger returned to his office on Monday morning for meetings about players before a short holiday, followed by a stint in Brazil as a TV analyst at the World Cup. If Arsenal act inventively and decisively to address the weak spots in their squad, they are in position to continue the progress they have made this season. If they donât, and they somehow stand still, the mood will turn again fairly quickly.
A dazzling striker is required to improve upon Olivier Giroud’s efforts. So too a physically imposing midfield anchor to ease the load on Mikel Arteta. There are three other positions that require attention to cover for the expected departures of right back Bacary Sagna, goalkeeper Lukas Fabianksi, and possibly defender Thomas Vermaelen.
These players do not come cheap and Wenger is acutely aware of the competition he faces from the clubs who tend to outbid them when it comes to salaries. Even though Arsenal make nearly $5million per matchday at the Emirates Stadium, playing catch up with the clubs who are personally bankrolled by their billionaire owners remains a sticking point.
Of course, Atletico Madrid are the shining example this season that the greatest strides can be made without the heaviest spending. Winners of La Liga, and in the Champions League final, they are a model that proves how outstanding management, energy and imagination can yield exceptional rewards.
One way or another, the goal for Arsenal has to be to use the FA Cup win as a launchpad. They have a core of players who have served them well, and it will be fascinating to see how they react to the monkey off the back in terms of wearying accusations of underachievement.
Phychologically, the impact of this shifting mindset, from being accused as "specialists in failure" as Jose Mourinho so spitefully put it, to winners, is potentially very interesting. Will Arsenal feel unshackled, liberated, more confident in themselves in the high-pressure situations?
The ambition, to make next season more rewarding that this one, starts right now.