Was The Emirates worth it?
The date is May 17th 2006, you may find yourself sat in the Stade De France in Paris or in your local pub down the street, or possibly you may find yourself at home. Whatever your possible location one thing is certain, you are watching the Champions League final clash between Arsenal and Barcelona.
In the first half Arsenal have swagger they have poise they are dominating but on the 17th minute Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann is contentiously sent off for bringing down Samuel Eto’o just outside the box, as players debate and contend the decision, you are left fearing the worst, is this the end of the game for Arsenal?
As if like a ray of light England international Sol Campbell leaps like a salmon on the 37th minute, to head home a free kick from just out side the box by Captain Thierry Henry. Is this Arsenal’s day after all, could the sending off just be an Arsenal way of doing things the hard way?
The game is so finely poised with both teams having chances although Arsenal seeming to dominate still, even though playing with one less player. Then on 76 minutes with the ten men of Arsenal tiring the speedy Samuel Eto’o scores an equalizer in the bottom right corner of substitute Manuel Almunia’s goal.
A nightmare 4 minutes for Arsenal are compounded as Barca right back Belletti scores after being picked out by Henrik Larsson, it looks like the nail in the coffin for the London clubs hopes of winning the cup.
Although Arsenal are still a threat with club legend Thierry Henry on the pitch doing everything but score, he is unable to inspire his broken down, exhausted team to a fight back.
At the end of the match there is a feeling of what might have been if Lehmann hadn’t been sent off, a feeling of being cheated, but yet also a feeling that your team went toe to toe with the best team in the world, who had the best player in the world, Ronaldinho and took them all the way with 10 men for most of the game.
You feel almost optimistic thinking that with this performance, Arsenal have finally announced themselves on the big stage, sure you finished 4th in the league but now everyone knows you mean Business. Next season your team move into their brand new shiny 60’000 seater stadium “The Emirates”. Finally your club will compete financially with the big spenders, the future is bright?
Back to present day what an 11 years it has been, club legend Thierry Henry left a year or so after that final in the June of 2007. Arsenal didn’t manage to win a trophy until the 2013-14 FA cup, despite two appearances in the league cup finals of 2007 and 2011 respectably. Arsenal have since won the FA cup in 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons but disappointingly no other trophies besides that.
The past decade has seen players come and go for bigger pay cheques elsewhere to pay off the Emirates stadium building bills. Who will forget the likes of Robin Van Persie, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor all jumping ship for either ambitious reasons or bank balance reasons to rivals?
Even now we see players like Alexis Sanchez looking to end their Arsenal career in pursuit of playing for Man City and all that brings to one’s trophy cabinet.
In 2011 we saw the American Businessman and sports franchise magnet Enos Stan Kroenke purchase the shares of Danny Fiszman (16.1%) and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith (15.9%) adding to his remaining 30% shares, meaning he had 62% shares. Following the purchase recently of more shares, Kroenke now has 67% shares of Arsenal and only makes an appearance on Arsenal turf for AGM meetings and the odd FA cup final.
Stan Kroenke has cast a shadow over the club in his leadership or indeed lack of. Every season the fans look for “silent Stan” to show some ambition, spend a load of money, or even say he wants to win the league. Arsenal currently only have Arsene Wenger to look to as any sign of leadership, any sort of figurehead.
The Kroenke family’s current focus is building the most expensive NFL stadium ever built, for his newly established LA Rams NFL team, in Inglewood, California. The area which is 3 and half times the size of Disneyland, is estimated to cost around £2 billion, although with delays already meaning they are a year behind schedule, it costs Kroenke £115 million every year in lost income and then renting an alternative stadium.
For a man that’s allegedly not spent a penny on Arsenal to be spending this much money on another sports venture almost slaps the face of every fan that begs the owner for investment in the Arsenal transfer market.
Mr Kroenke aside there is a divide in the Arsenal fan-base, there are those who want to sack the now under-performing, Arsene Wenger and those who still trust in him to improve the sides under-performing ways. There are so many people that fit in-between those two groups, as social media, YouTube and the media all intensify the tension that’s created by the differences of opinion.
As the premier league changes to be more about money, so do football clubs, out goes the old traditions of clubs like Arsenal, which are cashed in for shiny stadiums and expensive over paid players. Out went the fans that knew what it meant to be an Arsenal fan, in came fans that supported Arsenal merely because they were doing better than many others.
Looking forward there are a number moments that could change Arsenal to the core, these are: next summer, how will Wenger etc. replace the out contract rebel stars? Next summer, will Wenger choose to stay at the end of the season? When Wenger actually does leave, who replaces him, of his plate spinning duties? When Josh Kroenke takes a bigger role at Arsenal as he does at Colorado Rapids, what will be his vision moving forward?
In conclusion looking back you could never foretell the future that awaited Arsenal following the final of 2006, but would you stay at Highbury stadium knowing what you do now?