Nine years without a trophy. For 99.9% of the other football teams in the land, in any land, it doesn’t actually seem that bad. One silver success a decade would do them just fine.
The very top level of the game operates on a different level though, a level frequently condensed into 140 characters, into damning statistics, photoshopped memes, the same jokes. Just how many ways can you watch Steven Gerrard slipping over?
It is the modern football world, and following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson there is no top level manager who stands against that modern world in the same manner that Arsene Wenger does.
He is stubborn, but not in the headline-grabbing, opponent-damaging way that Jose Mourinho is. He believes in his own ability, but not in the misguided, in-over-his-head way that we saw from David Moyes.
Wenger is his own man, and the battle between him trying to protect his ideals and personality whilst all the time coming under pressure to win – just win, doing whatever it takes – has been the most fascinating fixture of the last nine years in which Arsenal have usually lost the bigger ones.
Is the way he has done things right? Certainly not all of the time.
Every single one of us who has ever written a word or two about football will have had an opinion on him in these past nine years, but does he care about that? No.
You could pass that off as arrogance, and perhaps some do, but there remains a great dignity about Wenger as he continually battles this modern football world. He could have resorted to the name-calling that we’ve seen from Mourinho this season, but he hasn’t.
That’s why there were more than a few neutrals smiling when he lifted the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday evening after the absorbing final against Hull City.
Of course those same neutrals would have loved an underdog to win the competition for the second year in succession following Wigan’s still extraordinary triumph over Manchester City last year. Hull were excellent in their devastating opening spell on Saturday, and this final deserves to be remembered for them as much as the Gunners.
There are always the plucky losers and there are always the feted winners though, and as Wenger clinched what it is easy to forget was his fifth FA Cup, the feeling of being back in the latter category washed over him. In an unprecedented act of wild celebration, he even took his tie off.
The touch of silver in hand would have been a relief to him – I’m not sure he ever wanted to pick up the Emirates Cup – and it will also have reawakened his desire. As the nine-year barren spell ended, thoughts would have turned to the seven major trophies he’d won in the eight years prior.
But given that it seemed to be widely accepted that Wenger was going to leave the Gunners were his side to lose this final – something it looked as though they were going to do just eight minutes into it – then to herald this success as the beginning of a new red and white dawn would be more than a little presumptuous. Manchester City and Chelsea will strengthen, Liverpool have dramatically improved and things can’t possibly get worse for Manchester United.
That talk is for another day though, as right now Wenger has a trophy to savour, an open-top bus to board and an army of critics to quieten.
They’ll be back one day, but who cares about that right now?
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