Part 2 -The Emirates years
In Arsene’s last 10 years there have been a lot of low points at the club. There has been a long drought without a trophy and Wenger’s team been have been seen to bottle it under pressure. After moving into the new Emirates Stadium in 2006, Wenger saw this as the start of a new era at Arsenal, an opportunity to attract bigger players to the club, but things haven’t quite gone to plan.
It was the summer of 2006 and Wenger knew he would have to offload some familiar faces. Players such as Pires, Campbell and Lauren departed the club with Ashley Cole making a move across London to Chelsea in a swap deal with William Gallas. Wenger knew he would have to bring some of the youth players through, like Walcott and Song. Arsenal’s first game at the new Emirates Stadium was on 19th August 2006 as they welcomed Aston Villa. Over 60,000 attended the game hoping Arsenal would put on a good performance. Unfortunately, it finished 1-1, with Gilberto Silva scoring a late goal to salvage a point. This result would be the start of things to come and it finished as a disappointing season for Arsenal. Wenger had already ruled out the chances of winning the title after a defeat to Bolton on November 6th 2006 and Arsenal eventually finished 4th, only just clinching Champions League qualification. They did, however, reach the final of the League Cup, where Wenger’s team, with an average age of just 21, was the youngest ever to play in the final of that competition. Wenger knew this was a risk and it didn’t pay off, with Chelsea winning 2-1. The summer of 2007 was a sad time for Arsenal. Having had a poor season, things got even worse for the Gunners as their club captain and all-time record goal scorer Thierry Henry went to Barcelona. Wenger knew something had to change and his position as manager was in jeopardy.
But Wenger signed a new 3 year deal, showing his commitment to the club, and talks of his departure began to fade away. With the experience of Henry gone, Emmanuel Adebayor knew he had to step up. Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas knew that they would have to be more prominent players for Arsenal in the 2007/08 season, and it started off in the best way possible. Wenger’s men went on a 22 match unbeaten streak and Arsenal were looking in pole position to become Premier League champions after building a 5 point lead over Man United. But that run sadly ended after a loss to Middlesbrough. A big turning point in Arsenal’s season came in February 2008 when Arsenal played Birmingham. Eduardo suffered a broken leg after a horrific tackle from Birmingham’s Matty Taylor, with Wenger calling for Taylor to be banned. This left Eduardo side-lined for about a year and from there onwards Arsenal’s form deteriorated dramatically, leaving them to finish 3rd and Man United to retain the Premier League crown. Adebayor lived up to expectations as he finished 2nd joint top scorer alongside Fernando Torres, scoring 24 goals.
Wenger knew there was a lot of reshuffling to be done in the next summer as fans started to get on his back. Arsenal saw Lehmann, Hleb and Gilberto depart with Nasri, Ramsey and Silvestre joining. Nasri was a significant signing as he had a big impact on Arsenal’s next season and Wenger knew that Welshman Aaron Ramsey would be a big player for the future. In reality, this season just provided more of the same. Man United won the league again and Arsenal finished 4th. Wenger had stripped Gallas of his role as captain after criticising his players and given it to Fabregas. He also broke the record transfer fee at Arsenal after signing Andrey Arshavin but that didn’t stop fans from criticising Wenger after exiting the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup.
Now fans were really on the Frenchman’s back and after years without a trophy people around the club were getting impatient. But little did they know that they would have to wait another five years from here to end the wait for a trophy.
The 2009/10 season was very similar: no trophy and a 3rd place finish in the league. Adebayor and Kolo Toure left for Manchester City, which didn’t go down well with fans, but we also saw the signing of unknown Belgian centre back Thomas Vermaelan, who actually went on to prove to be a star, scoring eight goals in his first season from defence. The following season was again similar, but Arsenal dropped a place lower in the league to finish 4th, but did manage to reach the Capital One cup final, where they played Birmingham City. Most Arsenal fans were confident, as Birmingham had endured a poor season in the league, but Arsenal seemed to bottle it again, with a mix-up in the defence late on leading to a Birmingham winner. Questions among the fans and the national press were being raised about Wenger’s time at Arsenal but he stayed on for another season.
Wenger started preparations for the 2011/12 season insisting that none of his top players would leave the club. This wasn’t the case as Fabregas left for Barcelona and Manchester City nicked more of Arsenal’s players, including Nasri and Clichy. With injuries and suspensions at the start of the season, Wenger had to experiment with the team but what happened next was the worst possible start to a season as Arsenal lost 4 out of their 7 opening games including an embarrassing 8-2 trouncing at the hands of Man United. The season did pick up, though, and Wenger brought in experience in the form of Mikel Arteta. The end of the season saw Arsenal finish 3rd and saw Robin Van Persie have his best scoring season in an Arsenal shirt, only to leave to rivals Man United in the summer of 2012. But still there was no silverware and the 2012/13 season was similar with Arsenal making a few signings but finishing 4th.
The 2013/14 season started with huge excitement, as German playmaker Mesut Ozil signed from Real Madrid for £42m. This looked as though it could be the year for some long awaited silverware. Arsenal had reached the final of the FA Cup and were playing Hull City. The first 10 minutes were a travesty as Arsenal went 2-0 down, but they pulled it back to 2-2 and Ramsey’s winning goal in extra time sent the Arsenal fans into ecstasy. The 2014/15 brought more of the same with Arsenal clinching Champions League qualification again and making another big signing in the form of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona. Wenger also got his team to the FA cup final for the second year running, thumping Aston Villa 4-0 to retain the trophy.
Last season there wasn’t much to shout about. We did, however, finish 2nd, and above Tottenham once again, a feat Wenger has achieved in every year of his reign. He still has his critics and some people still want him out, but perhaps this isn’t such a good idea. Man United had Sir Alex Ferguson in charge for 27 years, but have emphatically failed to hit the heights since his retirement. Wenger has just signed Granit Xhaxa and Arsenal fans are asking themselves the same question they ask themselves every year: “could this be our year?” Hopefully the next season for Arsenal will be a bright one and with any luck they can get their hands back on the Premier League trophy.