Apologies for not writing for a while. Depression and soul searching post Blackburn and a short family holiday are my excuses, but in reality even had I the time, I had no clue what I wanted to say. Well that also is untrue because as some of you know I sort of had in mind what I wanted to write and say but was unsure whether I should go ahead. Why? Because the subject matter is quite personal and I did not wish to write this blog whilst angry after my team’s pitiful exit from the oldest and best club competition in world football.
Nevertheless here we are, this is not for the faint-hearted and many ultra positive Wenger supporters may find the theme objectionable. However those who have followed my developing blog for a year of so will know two things about me. One is that I have always strived to keep my lager glass half full and secondly that I don’t tend to blast from the hip, but prefer the comfort of extensive research to reinforce my view is possible.
Before I get to the main thrust I should first set the background. It is clear that I am from a different generation to many, in fact the majority of my readers and many of those I interact with on twitter. The modern game has changed I accept and for many priorities have changed as well. Even it would seem for our club and our manager. I have to accept this but I do not have to endorse it, appreciate it or welcome it.
You see I am of a generation that grew up watching no league games live all season and dodging the results to watch all the highlights on MOTD. Or when the weather allowed I went to the woods with my mates on a Saturday afternoon in the 70s. (Joydens Wood Wrighty.) We had made a secret camp and we all sat eating sweets and listening to the live commentary on our portable transistor radio. If I was lucky it would be Arsenal but I was just grateful to be away from my family who just did not get my passion and listening to live football. However watching live club football was something else entirely, because you couldn’t. In fact barring the occasional England match or the Home Internationals there was only one live match to enjoy all season.
That match was of course the FA Cup Final. Always the last day of the domestic season, and always extra special. It took over the whole day and the programming started at about 10 am for a 5 hour build up to the big kick off at 3pm. The players of the 2 sides would have been filmed doing something silly during the build up. Players snooker, player Mastermind or even player’s interviewed with their families. All mangers and stars were accessible and all entered into the spirit of the biggest day in the football calendar. We followed both teams from their hotels having watched them eat breakfast or lunch to Wembley and there was a camera on the coach. We followed them off the coach into the changing rooms and we saw their kits laid out. We then watched the highlights of each team’s progression to the final and chatted to them in their new Cup Final suits on the hallowed turf.
For me it was double pocket money day and Cup Final Saturday. Down to the sweet shop at 9am and back in time for the long and fabulous build up and trying, whilst almost certainly failing to make the huge while paper bad filled with shrimps, cola bottles, jelly snakes, foam mushrooms and the like to last until the big match. You need to understand that it was brilliant if your team was one of the 2 finalists but the whole country watched regardless. This was the biggest day of the season and the only club game live on television.
The first I recall well was Liverpool defeating Newcastle in 1974, when I was nearly 8. I was an Arsenal fan but had not been to Highbury and the FA Cup Final was a thrilling day for me who ever played. 75 West Ham Fulham, the Alan Taylor Final, 76 2nd Division Southampton stun the world beating the mighty Manchester United and in 77 United return and inflict their own shock on the all conquering Liverpool. So two shocks in a row to be followed by a third. By now I had been taken to Arsenal twice in 1976/77 and Arsenal were resurgent under Terry Neill and I was obsessed with all things Arsenal. My walls were covered with posters and sticker, my Arsenal shirt was never off my back and we were in the 78 final and favourites to beat Ipswich.
For those who moan now feeling we the mighty Arsenal have a divine right should cast their eyes over 1974 to 76. Bertie Mee’s double winning side had gradually broken up. Although Mee still had some old glory campaigners in the team he had lost his mojo and 3 years after achieving the League and FA Cup Double we had 2 successive campaigns in the bottom 6 surviving relegation only just. In reality he had broken up the team too early, sound familiar?
But in 1978 we were back and glory beckoned. Neil’s combination of youth and experience whilst not threatening the Division 1 title certainly had what it took to be a cup side. Macdonald, Jennings and Hudson combined with Stapleton, Brady and O’Leary should have had enough for Bobby Robson’s Ipswich but it proved not to be. Brady later revealed his immaturity in telling the management he was fit to play when he patently wasn’t cost us the match. We lost 1 Nil but I was hooked still further. This was the tournament and it was the grand finale of the season. At 12 years old I knew Arsenal would be back.
On that glorious day, 12th May 1979 I watched one of the greatest ever FA Cup finals in my front room with my best friend. We scored after 12 minutes and we both ran out and did a lap of the garden screaming at my parents that Talbot had scored. We continued to dominate, Brady majestic this time and on 43 Stapleton makes it two. Another lap of the garden shouting with joy and back for the few sweets left in our bags at half time. (At 13 we had more restraint.) Of course United came back incredibly in the 86 and 88th minute. This was not in the script, we had dominated a class United team full of internationals only to be pegged back. I recall nearly walking out again to the garden to inform my parents of the disastrous events that had unfolded but thankfully we decided against it. A minute after the world had seemingly ended the might red and whites found some reserves of energy, Brady surged through the midfield, laid an inch perfect pass into the stride of Rixie who sent the most delightful cross from the left flank into the path of the on rushing Alan Sunderland to bury at the far post. Another mad dash of joy around the garden of course followed but this time one of victory. We returned to see the players climb the steps and for Pat Rice fittingly the only survivor of our last triumphs in 71 left the FA Cup aloft.
My love affair with the FA Cup was cemented on that day in 1979 and despite many highs and lows it has continued ever since. I apologise for the long scene setting but it is important that younger readers understand what the Cups mean to me. I was not fortunate enough to see Arsenal victorious in the great competition in the flesh until 1993. However before that pleasure I had been to 3 Wembley Finals with Arsenal all in the League Cup. In 1987, 1988 and also in 1993. My blog was named after the semi final and final of 1987 and April 5th when we beat Liverpool. 1987 for Arsenal, despite the surprise defeat to Luton in 88 was the spring board for a George Graham side to go on to bigger and better securing 2 league titles.
The league Cup was also the first trophy for Mourinho in time at Chelsea and that success in the spring 2005 saw his side march on topple Wenger’s Invincibles in the Premier league. Many present day Gooners laugh at Liverpool and mock them. I do not. I would have given anything for Wembley glory against Birmingham in 2011 and have tasted that winning sensation once more as they did in 2012. Will history remember that Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League for many seasons whilst Arsenal and Wenger qualified year on year? Or will history record one Champions League win, one FA Cup win and one League Cup win since Wenger’s Arsenal last lifted silverware?
Poor old Arsenal being forced to compete with Manchester United’s wealth and the oil tycoon’s money behind Chelsea and Manchester City. How can Wenger possibly have won silverware since 2005 when not being able to compete on a level playing field? Perhaps in the same way others have by being true to the traditions of English football and the long suffering fans of our great club. We may not be able to compete over 38 games with the squads and money of the big 3 although I still believe with a fair wind and the right tactics we can but there are 4 major trophies and 2 of them are domestic cups. They may not mean as much to Wenger but they certainly do to a 46 year old traditionalist who fell in love with the proud heritage of English cup football.
I have turned a blind eye to Wenger disrespecting the League Cup and to some degree the FA Cup for years but every year I find it harder to condone and 2013 has been the last straw for me. I know that for the majority of Gooners in the pub before last Saturday and in the Emirates if asked which game was the most important Blackburn or Bayern 99% would have answered Blackburn with no hesitation. The Champions League is beyond our capabilities this season but the FA Cup was not.
I was one of the 3000 on that freezing night in Bradford in December and that gutless display will live long in my memory. However poor we were that night Wenger at least played a full strength side. They did not play well and the rest is history however painful but to rest his 3 best players for Blackburn was unforgivable. Play your best 11 from the start get the game won and then rest players if you can. If not play hard for 90 minutes and win the game for the fans craved of success. Don’t tell me he fielded internationals or the referee was to blame as Wenger did because it does not wash with me. Blackburn also fielded internationals and respected the tournament.
At this juncture many of you are thinking that hindsight is a wonderful thing. Wenger put out a side that should have beaten Blackburn but the players did not perform. Well it is not hindsight with this writer and you will just have to take my word for that. Every year on from 2005 I wish Wenger would take the wishes of the fans that pay good money more seriously and play to win ties in the latter stages of the domestic cups. It was one thing fielding the kids to blood them in 2006 when we were a year on from our last FA Cup but now it is inexcusable. We have the loan system for that and we use it actively. Wenger has been disappointing me for years in this way and those who genuinely feel it is the riches of other clubs that have caused our barren run read on and have that ludicrous myth dispelled.
League Cup Semi Final 2006 v Wigan – Well done our second string have played well to get us to the two-legged final. However this is our last year at Highbury and a final in Cardiff would have been a perfect end since the opponent would have been Manchester United.Wenger played only 3 first team regulars in Ljungberg, Pires and Gilberto in the first leg at the JD which we consequently lost 1-Nil. Lesson learned I am sure by Wenger but no in the return whilst bring back many stars such as Henry and Bergkamp he still rested Toure, Lehman, Fabregas, Flamini and more. We took a 2 nil lead but the make shift defence could not keep out Jason Roberts at the death and the away goals to Wigan into the final.
As I left Highbury who was I blaming? An oil tycoon or Arsene Wenger? Oh well we were Invincibles 2 years earlier and FA Cup winners a year earlier so we took it on the chin. Lesson learned though right?
NO League Cup Final 2007 v Chelsea – This time we made it to a final and our Young Guns has performed admirably with only 3 or 4 first team regulars defeating the old enemy in the semis. However this was the final and we were playing one of the strongest teams in Europe. Surely knowing Chelsea would put a full side out Wenger would do the same and go for glory. Oh no Wenger knew best. Obvious that Hoyte, Traore and Senderos could deal with Drogba, Shevchenko, Lampard & co! NOT
Have you ever seen such a mismatch? I am sure this knocked the youngsters back years rather than helped their progress. Yes these guys had beaten Liverpool and Spurs but come on Arsene. We were lucky to lose only 2-1. Walcott scored his first for Arsenal but Drogba score twice. His 27th and 28th of the season so who saw that coming????? So I ask again was this loss entirely down to Abramovich’s millions or do we think Hleb, Adebayor. Gliberto, Henry, Campbell etc might have given us a shot at a trophy? Sorry but for me it is down to wrong selection and priorities AGAIN.
Oh well we were Invincibles 3 year earlier and FA Cup winners 2 years earlier. Lessons learned and move on wiser and more understanding of the fans wishes?
NO! League Cup Semi Final 2008 v Spurs – Now as we are playing the old enemy not only was a place at Wembley at stake but also North London pride and bragging rights. We have now not won for 3 years so the club and manager MUST go for this one surely? NO Remember this is our best side since 2004 with a dynamic 4 man midfield of Rosicky, Fabregas, Flamini and Hleb were tearing up the league? Yes well Mozart has just been injured and the other 3 weren’t selected for the home leg which we promptly drew 1-1. No matter we had the second leg to go. Wenger brought Hleb in, dropped van Persie, played Bendtner and Walcott up top and we lost 5-1. Well that was an all time low and Wenger threw away our best chance of silverware in 3 years.
Guess what to add salt into the gaping wound Spurs beat Chelsea to lift the trophy and oddly both sides played full strength teams!!!
Oh well we were Invincibles 4 years earlier and FA Cup 3 years earlier. Lessons must have by now been learned. The penny must have dropped with Wenger after 3 seasons of handing trophies to our nearest rivals?
Err NO!! FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley 2009 v Chelsea – Wenger has taken the side to this stage combining second string with regulars and it has worked but let’s be honest, a mushroom under soil in a darkened room might have suspected Chelsea at full strength a sterner test than Plymouth, Cardiff, Burnley and Hull. Apparently not our enigmatic leader once again knew better. The thing to do says Arsene is to rest our two biggest signings in Nasri and Arshavin for the FA Cup Semi Final against a full strength Chavs. Who on earth would we need our second and third most creative players? Far better to play Diaby on the left and Walcott on the right! The date was the 18th April 2009 and something happened quite unusual 3 days later after we had been knocked out of the Cup. A certain tiny fully fit bemused Russian stuck 4 past Liverpool at Anfield. Call me old fashioned and we have established that I am, but I would sooner has seen him on fire at Wembley shooting Arsenal into the final. Obviously I don’t need to tell you that Chelsea went on to beat Everton and claim another trophy for the cabinet.
Those dastardly oil tycoons have somehow forced Wenger to play reserve teams costing us 4 cracks at trophies in 4 years. How very dare they? Any way you will be relieved to hear Wenger after 4 years of disrespecting the fans, the domestic cups and the other teams finally decided to go for broke in 2009/10. Oh no sorry he didn’t my mistake 2009/10 was actually the lowest point in our French leaders disrespectful team selections 2009/10 An all time low
In December 2010 in our 3rd League Cup outing against a full strength Manchester City away Wenger selected this 11 that got thrashed 3 Nil: Fabianski, Eboue, Traore, Song, Silvestre, Ramsey, Wilshere, Eastmond, Rosicky, Merida. Vela A slightly different team from that that he fielded 3 days earlier in the Premier League: Almunia, Sagna, Traore, Gallas, Vermaelen, Fabregas, Denilson, Song, Eduardo, Arshavin, Nasri Just when I believed Wenger’s disrespect of the fans and the domestic cups could not get any lower he fielded this weakest of weak sides in January away at the Britannia v Stoke. Needless to say we got the spanking our selection deserved: Fabianski, Coquelin, Campbell (about 40 by now) Traore, Silvestre, Eastmond, Fabregas, Denilson, Vela, Walcott, Emmanuel-Thomas So having not won a trophy for 5 years Wenger fields the reserves v Premiership opposition away in the FA Cup 4th round and from memory vehemently defended his decision to do so.
Conclusion This has gone on for far too long I know. Wenger did appear to learn his lesson in 2010/11 fielding a stronger team making the final of the League Cup only to be out thought by Birmingham and Alex McLeish. This is far too personal and lengthy and for that I apologise but after the old Wenger returned last Saturday I have been so angry I need to get this off my chest.
In summary: –
Please don’t blame the big money spenders with bottomless pits for our lack of silverware these past 8 years when much of the blame lies closer to home
– For me the domestic cups mean so much and for most of my generation and older the end of season finale is a huge day to rival any occasion.I want us to be there and Wenger for so long; this season included decided our priorities lie elsewhere. Well for this Gooner they don’t and I have no wish to have supporter’s priorities determined by one man.
– I would never swap and FA Cup Final for 4th place and I firmly believe that whilst many may not have agreed 2, 3, 4 or even 5 years after the Invincibles they do now.
– We may not compete for the very top players or pay the top wages but Cup competitions are not always won by those teams.
– They other top sides in the main always play stronger sides at least in the latter stages and Wenger choosing not to do likewise has cost us trophies in the past 8 years. For me this is indisputable.
– I will always back my team and I will back Wenger but I will not be told he can do no wrong and hear everyone but him blamed for our malaise.
– To quote Peter Hillwood today “Whilst we have our sights set on a 16th straight season in the Champions League, our aims are higher; our ambition is to win trophies.” WELL SORRY PETER BUT FROM WHERE THIS BLOGGER IS SITTING, FORGETTING TRANSFER OR WAGE POLICY I SEE NO EVIDENCE THAT YOUR MANAGER SEES IT THE SAME WAY. FOURTH IS NOT A TROPHY ARSENE, NEVER WILL BE AND THIS GOONER WANTS TO WEAR A YELLOW RIBBON IN THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY BEFORE HIS 50TH BIRTHDAY
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