Four seasons without any silverware, still reeling under the financial implications of the switch to the Emirates from the Highbury, Arsenal celebrated Arsene Wenger's 14th year in North London in the fall of 2009 as the Frenchman reached a remarkable milestone of becoming their longest-serving manager, surpassing former manager George Allison.
Unlike Allison, who stepped down after growing increasingly disillusioned post the World War II, Wenger had both job security and a will to impact Arsenal's future for the better, even while a section of Gunners supporters were turning cynical of the Frenchman's tactics and transfer dealings.
On one end of the spectrum were Chelsea and Manchester United, battling neck and neck for the Premiership crown; while on the other end were Arsene Wenger's charges - devastatingly brilliant on some days, inadequately appalling on some others. As the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie flourished on the domestic front in the 2009-10 season, dismantling opponents like Birmingham City and Tottenham Hotspur with incredible ease, Wenger's refusal to resolve the club's defensive woes in successive transfer windows meant that the Gunners could only finish third.
At a juncture mid-season, Arsenal were such prolific scorers that Wenger even entertained speculations about his team netting a century of league goals, proclaiming "it shows that the way we play football, the way we are organised and the way we go forward suits our players." In the end, it would be their derby rivals Chelsea who would go on to score 103 goals in that very season.
The season after, Arsenal would once again claim the 'Fourth-Place Trophy' as a newer power began to emerge in the Premier League – Manchester City. Spurred on by a cash-rich owner from the Gulf, City were still taking baby steps in this bolder, bitter bout of European football. Wenger, an experienced campaigner and even an initiator of change, when it came to the dynamic nature of football in Europe, led the charge for the Premier League title for the majority of the season, as Arsenal garnered hopes of the rare feat of a quadruple haul.
For the man holding the unparalleled record of managing The Invincibles, the 2010-11 season could have been a legacy-defining one. Yet, staying true to his two decades of reign at the North London club, Wenger's Arsenal failed to shatter the glass ceiling. A defensive error in the League Cup final resulting in a defeat against Birmingham City led to a string of poor results with just the two wins in eleven Premier League matches, which was followed by elimination in the FA Cup by United, quashing all hopes of Gunners fans and constraining Wenger to yet another trophy-less season.
Arsenal were not faring any better on the continental front, eliminated by Barcelona in the nascent stages of the knockout fixtures of the Champions League for two consecutive seasons. The recurring theme for Arsenal in these strangulating years would be Wenger's repeated failures to address the shortcomings in his squad - his inability to draw in an elite player or two to contest at a higher level, instead choosing to spend a limited transfer kitty on youngsters – a move which drove away players of top calibre like Fabregas and Samir Nasri in search for greener pastures.
If the summer of 2011 was hard on Wenger, as the Frenchman was dealt repeated blows in the transfer market, the first month of the new season was a catastrophe of epic proportions as Arsenal hovered a point above the relegation zone following a humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of United.
In arguably his darkest moment as the Arsenal manager, Wenger was forced to sit through the ignominy that the Red Devils dished out at the Old Trafford, a stadium where he once orchestrated the reversal of monopoly that United heralded over the Premier League in the 1990s. Broken in spirit, disgraced on the pitch, vilified by fans, Wenger's Arsenal were never as close to teetering on the edge as it was in 2011-12 season.
The Gunners ended up finishing the season in the third position, above arch-rivals and bogey side Chelsea for the first time in a decade. But there was no joy in this finish, for the momentum had already shifted to the Roman Abramovich-owned club which one-upped Wenger to become the first club in London to secure the Champions League.
Wenger, grasping on straws to change the course of the tide, delivered yet another season of despondency wrapped in the garb of his doctrine of aesthetic football – the man who was instrumental in alleviating 'boring, boring Arsenal' to an art form had fallen prey to his own methods. Arsenal rehashed the same old story every season – a promising start, a four-pronged challenge, exhilarating displays of skill on occasion, a string of dedicated displays with their backs to the wall to finish the season strongly and qualify for Champions League.
As the world around him shifted to newer challenges, as clubs like City staked claim to the status of an elite club while traditionally glorified clubs like Liverpool began from the scratch, Wenger seemed stuck in a loop of time - finding comfort in familiarity of his ways, seeking solace in Arsenal's status quo but struggling to move forward with his ideas and meet the club's aspirations.
Wenger's stutters and the ever-expanding trophy drought led to calls for his dismissal. The Arsenal supporters who once venerated him now disdained him. For the legions of Gunners supporters worldwide, it was the ultimate fall from grace – the man who once bravely ushered in a new era was the one holding them back. Arsenal's account books were well balanced, but at what cost? Wenger provided the Gunners with a cushion of stability, but desperation reeked from all corners of the Arsenal Football Club.
Even the staunchest of Arsene Wenger's supporters could no longer defend their beloved manager, as it seemed increasingly probable that Wenger would leave Arsenal without adding to his managerial honours. The Frenchman, however, would soon add his two cents to the debate as he embarked on another trail of his Arsenal career.
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Updated Date: May 03, 2018 13:34:55 IST