It’s not often I take much from Arsene Wenger’s quotes, but something stuck with me in his post-match interview on Saturday.
After a comprehensive 3-0 win over West Brom continued Arsenal’s recent revival, the boss said: “When you see where we came from and how much we have suffered that is a good lesson for us to keep working hard. Not so long ago people were asking me whether or not I thought we would be fighting relegation, so let’s continue to work hard and not forget that.”
Relegation and Arsenal don’t quite go together, but at the start of the season it genuinely didn’t seem so crazy. I think for the players this has been a real wake-up call, and for the fans as well. Those of us, including yours truly, who have complained relentlessly about 3rd or 4th being an underachievement are perhaps now seeing how well Wenger has done to keep us up there despite spending a fraction of the kind of money our rivals can enjoy, and that includes Spurs and Liverpool who have continiously finished below us, never mind Chelsea and the Manchester clubs.
This season, more than ever, we have, on paper, seriously downgraded our team; losing players of the quality of Fabregas and Nasri is not something a lot of clubs could cope with, and yet the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey and especially Robin van Persie have taken their game to another level, and although we have all questioned Wenger’s motivational skills on many occasion, his record for getting supposedly inferior players to replace their big name departees is incredible. Let’s not forget that our former club captain and chief playmaker Cesc Fabregas was trusted with replacing Patrick Vieira at just the age of 18. Not many of us thought that was the best idea at the time either. So write off the likes of Song and Ramsey at your peril, and don’t forget we have yet to see the immensely promising Jack Wilshere so far this campaign.
Being crucified for losing a cup final and stuttering to 4th place last season is one thing, but being given the nasty reminder that football does not respect history or reputation with our early struggles this season might turn out to be one of the best things to happen to this group of players. Just because you wear the famous cannon on your chest, doesn’t mean you’re immune to 8-2 defeats, and doesn’t mean you don’t have to seriously up your performance to maintain the standards expected at this club.
It’s good to see that Wenger has used this to motivate his players. Perhaps it was a timely wake-up call for him as well.