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Dave O’ Rourke, a Manchester United fan, professes his love for Arsenal and the confidence they have placed in Arsene Wenger despite the club not winning a trophy in over eight years.

Firstly, I’m a United fan; always have been and always will. However, I still have a soft-spot for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal Football Club.

For much of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Arsenal FC had been the fiercest rival of Sir Alex,  right up until a certain Mr. Abramovich set up shop on Kings Road in July 2003. Things have gone slightly pear-shaped since then, with the 2005 FA Cup the Gunner’s most recent piece of silverware over 8 years ago. Let’s not forget though, they were a team winning league titles and cups and went unbeaten in one league campaign; a miraculous achievement.

My fondness of the club is mainly due to Wenger’s uncanny ability to unearth and nurture high calibre talent. As well as this, their stadium is arguably one of the finest in Europe and the pitch resembles a perfectly manicured putting green or fairway that you’d normally only see at Augusta for the Masters.

What I like most however, is that the fans, or Gooners, have realistic expectations when it comes to trophies and success,something I believe is all down to Wenger. They haven’t got on his back too often over the years either which takes pressure off him and as a result the squad is allowed perform without too much scrutiny.

Don’t get me wrong, I too get fed-up of listening to the old cliché of “young squad with great potential”, yet when the club is forced into selling their top players like Vieira, Henry, Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, there isn’t much else they can do other than keep grinding away. They even lost their groundsman to Real Madrid a few years back if I’m not mistaken.

The reality of the situation though, is not half as frustrating as it appears.  In fact, what the club has managed to do over the past 10 or 15 years in my opinion is fantastic. They have created an identity on the pitch of a free-flowing possession game that has lit the Premier League alight. Although falling short on the trophy front Wenger has managed to recruit players for a small fee and has sold them on for ridiculous money, main examples being Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor who cost £150,000 and £3m respectively and were sold to Man City in 2009 for a combined £42m. That on its own deserves a round of applause.

I do understand however that when Fabregas (£28m), Nasri (£25m) and Van Persie (£24m) were sold, it looked as if the club were not trying hard enough to keep a hold of their top stars and were taking a step backwards. The thing is, why would the club want to keep a player who does not want to be there? Of course Wenger did try his best to persuade them, however Cesc wanted to play for his boyhood club Barcelona so he departed on good terms, Van Persie had the opportunity to work under SAF and play for Manchester United so he left, while Nasri in all honesty was going to an ambitious project with shedloads of cash on offer; who could turn that down?

On occasions he has had teams that should have produced more and done better. Despite assembling a cast of gifted players, having a glorious stage in the Emirates as well as suave technical ability and skill, they have been bereft of inspiration and confidence to go that extra step, ploughing familiar terrain past the point of tedium to impatience. It’s the scenario where they build us up to let us down, a far cry from the days of Vieira, Keown, Adams, Bergkamp and Petit.

In saying all that, Wenger has never failed in his quest to guide his side to Champions League football, not finishing outside the top 4 in 16 years at the helm. The money generated from the group stages alone would be enough to assemble a new squad for any mid-level side.

I think the last 4 or 5 years has been a crucial period in the club’s development. On the financial side of things, their magnificent £390m Emirates Stadium at Ashburton Grove is almost fully paid off, which will hopefully allow the clubs hierarchy to relinquish control of the cheque-book to Monsieur Wenger. Fans will be hoping that he will target players of an elite level rather than those ‘B-class ballers’ we have seen over recent seasons. The likes of Sebastian Squillaci, Denilson and Andre Arshavin have been released after their contacts had been run down. All three have contributed very little in the past few years and will free up a decent chunk of the annual wage budget, rumoured to be about £10m for the trio alone.

Andre Santos, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho have not justified their own price tags and need to be shipped out soon. I really think many of these signings were made out of necessity rather than Wenger actually believing they were good enough for his side. Arsenal have not been able to compete in the transfer market for some time now and have had to make do with chasing after the bigger clubs’ 2nd or 3rd choice players and in some cases, players no one has even heard of.

At the beginning of the 2011/2012 season I genuinely felt the club would challenge for a trophy, but that opinion soon vanished when Nasri and Fabregas left and the club failed to bring in any decent replacements, apart from a deadline-day deal for Mikel Arteta. This year there is real cause for optimism I believe. Gonzalo Higuain is one player who could be on the way to North London  with Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis suggesting Wenger will have vast amounts of cash to spend on the right players. Couple this with the fact all three teams above them in the league, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have been slightly disrupted with managerial changes, the future looks bright for Gunners fans.

When you look at the financial turmoil of clubs around Europe as well as the millions being washed away at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, Arsenal are in fact sitting in a very cosy position. With the new financial fair-play rules set to be implemented in the near future, few would argue that the Gunners are in prime position to take advantage of the situation. I think they are now a beacon of progress and patience, and I believe they will have the opportunity to win some trophies in the next campaign.  They have built their house the right way.

I am now seeing the real hidden success of Arsenal and their wonderfully intelligent French manager. The club’s board should also be praised for not losing confidence in Wenger, no matter what circumstance they found themselves in. Both parties are obviously on the same wave-length with greater ambition for the long-term. First stabilise the club, stick by the manager, build him a new home, create an identity and culture, then the silverware will come.

Sport Is Everything. Dave O’ Rourke.

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