There was never a time when Arsenal were ready to settle for the title of being second best. For the last 8 years, the trophy-less years, Arsenal have always had the belief that they are one of the best clubs in the world, going through a lean patch because of the budgeting required for the construction of the shiny new stadium.
Now that Arsenal are out of that conundrum and have a hefty war chest, Arsene Wenger is finding it really hard to attract top notch talent. If they still don’t contend for the title, they really won’t have an excuse anymore.
Arsene Wenger took the mantle in the September of 1996, immediately making an impact. Bruce Rioch had already signed Dennis Bergkamp from Inter for 7.5 million pounds which was then the English transfer record. On top of that, Arsenal had already signed Patrick Vieira on Wenger’s recommendation. Wenger added Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit and Dutch winger Marc Overmars in the summer of 1997. He also retained Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Bould.
Arsenal had finished 5th in the 95/96 season. They jumped up to 3rd in the year that Arsene took charge, taking the title in the 97/98 season. It had looked like Arsenal were out of the title race by December after losing 3–1 at home to Blackburn, but they overcame a twelve-point deficit to overtake Manchester United; with a 4–0 home win over Everton on 3rd May securing the title with two matches to spare. They went on to add the FA Cup to make it a double.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were now in a very strong position to attract talent and they didn’t squander the opportunity to strengthen the side. Freddie Ljungberg joined in 1998 and Thierry Henry a year later. Arsenal didn’t win for the next 3 years. They finished 2nd all occasions between 98-01. In the 98-99 season, Arsenal lost the title the very last day, In 99-00, United won comfortably with an 18 point lead and in 00-01, United again won with a 10 point lead. In this period, Arsenal notably lost the UEFA cup in the finals to Galatasaray on penalties.
By now, Wenger had to rebuild the Double-winning side of 98. Anelka, Overmars and Petit left. Bould and Winterburn had already gone to pursue new challenges. On top of this, Wenger knew that Adams and Dixon would only last one more season. Arsenal went on to sign the likes of Sol Campbell and Lauren in defence, as well as promoting Ashley Cole from the youth ranks. In midfield, Wenger added the talismanic Robert Pirès, as well as signing his compatriot, Sylvain Wiltord, in attack. In the meantime, Thierry Henry had adapted to the English game to become one of the Premiership’s best strikers. They went on to win another double in 2001-02. Interestingly, Arsene still realised the deficiencies in the squad and looked to rebuild before he had to face the consequences of a depleted squad.
In 2002-03, Arsenal came in second, with the squad still getting to know each other. The full strength of the squad came in effect in the 2003-04 season with Arsenal winning the premiership undefeated, winning 26 games and sharing the spoils on 12 occasions. Arsenal became only the second team to ever achieve this!
It’s been sometime since that day. A variety of situations have weakened the team and none of Arsene’s plans have worked out quite the way he wanted them to. Cesc, Ashley Cole, Nasri and Van Persie all left successively, weakening the squad year after year. Some of the signings to plug the gaps haven’t really worked as per plan, making things worse for the highly supported club. Arsenal have shown character in this period, having hung onto dear life the last couple of years in order to secure a top 4 finish, waiting constantly for the day when the finances would sort themselves out. Arsenal today are a very strong club with boosted revenues and new deals in almost every department, but the major hindrance in this year’s summer transfer market has been attracting talent.
Squad wise, the core of the team is really strong. Almost everyone except for Diaby, who is a sucker for the medical table, is fit and ready to go. However, re-inforcements are still very much needed. Adding Higuain to the squad would have solved all our problems in attack. Arsenal could have had their marquee signing, enforcing that with a defensive midfielder and possibly another centre back. Suarez might not come through and one really doesn’t really know whom to chase if this deal fails to materialise.
Arsene recently claimed that the market doesn’t have too much to offer except for 40,50 and 60 million signings, which is far from the truth. Players like Benteke, Soldado, Paulinho, Bony, Remy, Jovetic and many more such players have been available this transfer window and fall well within the 10-30 million price range. Over and above, if Arsenal have the capacity to bid 40 million for Suarez, then why couldn’t they have at least tried to go for Cavani and Falcao, who both went for a little more than 50 million.
To conclude, one must realise that this is the last year on Arsene’s contract and failure to be competitive in any way better than the last two seasons would seriously put his Arsenal career in jeopardy.