The plight of a modern Arsenal fan is an amusing one. In Arsene Wenger they are saddled with a stubborn and previously successful manager, who showed them what greatness looked like, only to take it away. In just his second season, Arsenal did the double, winning the league and the FA Cup. Between 1997–2005 Arsenal won 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups and 4 FA Community Shield trophies under Wenger. Now, almost a decade after that last FA Cup triumph against Manchester United, Arsenal are enduring the type of trophy drought the Sahara Desert would be proud of. Once in a while Arsene’s Arsenal teases its fans with a cup final, like the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona and the 2011 League Cup final against Birmingham; giving their fans glimpses of trophies they were ultimately destined not to win.
On the one hand Arsenal fans are grateful to a man that brought unprecedented success to Arsenal. A man that revolutionized not only Arsenal as a club, but English soccer as a whole. He changed preconceived notions about diet and exercise, while at the same time exhorting an ethos of attractive, attacking football never before seen by the Arsenal faithful. In the process he, albeit briefly, disrupted the stranglehold that Manchester United had on the Premier League, discombobulating all previously held beliefs about the status quo. In 2003-2004, his Arsenal team went an entire season unbeaten in the league – a unique feat that had never before been achieved in the Premier League, and hasn’t been replicated since.
The problem with winning though is that it’s like an addictive substance. You can go your whole life without it, but once you’ve tasted it, you want more. Almost a decade on from their last major trophy, Arsenal fans are still going through silverware withdrawal symptoms. They are itchy and impatient, showing a heightened level of frustration with a manager that changed the culture of the club. Now being pretty is no longer enough. They want a taste of some of the success that Wenger’s early swashbuckling teams provided. They want to win again, instead of pretending to challenge for honors every year, only to drop out of the running in every competition by February.
To do that, Arsenal and their manager might need to take a step back in order to ultimately move forward. Lowly Wigan and possibly Hull or Sheffield United is all that stands between Arsenal and a FA Cup triumph this year. The path to glory seems relatively clear, although as they showed against Birmingham in that now infamous cup final, they are more than capable of tripping themselves up.
However focusing primarily on the FA Cup has its own perils. Arsenal will be nervously looking over their shoulders in their perennial race for fourth place. A determined Everton side are 4 points behind them with a game in hand, and Arsenal still have to visit Goodison Park before the end of the season. Focus on the league, and it might be to the detriment of the FA Cup. Focus on the FA Cup, and Arsenal might miss out on fourth place; something that Arsene Wenger has described as comparative to winning a trophy.
In reality though, the only thing that compares to winning a trophy is actually winning a trophy. Missing out on fourth place for one year might not be such a bad thing, especially if they end the season with a trophy parade. Since that narrow FA Cup win in 2005, Arsenal have finished in the top four every year. Missing out on the top four might increase their urgency to acquire and retain top talent that will have them not only back in the top four, but genuinely chasing major honors. So far they have been content with acquiring mediocre talents like Andre Santos and most recently Kim Kallstrom – talent that is willing, but ultimately incapable of producing the sort of trophy winning fairy dust that Arsenal need. It might also help them focus more on the league, as Liverpool this season have shown.
Winning something will instill the players with a belief in themselves and a hunger that coming fourth every year can never do. Unlike their fans, the current crop of Arsenal players do not have that addiction to success; that itch that only winning trophies can scratch. None of the 16 players from that FA Cup final winning squad of 2004-2005 are left in the Arsenal dressing room. Winning the FA Cup this year can be the boost they need. It might also help with the timidity that Arsenal players have shown against the other big teams in the league in recent years. This season alone they have been battered by the 3 sides above them in the league, losing 6-3 to Manchester City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea.
So in the end, to win or not to win is the question for Arsene Wenger. Settle for fourth place mediocrity and a place in a competition that they have so far shown no desire or ability to win, or go all guns blazing for the FA Cup and possibly miss out on his coveted fourth place. The decision is his and his alone, but Arsenal fans will be hoping that he chooses to give them a fix of their favorite drug.
Arsenal fans, if you can only choose between winning the FA Cup or qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, which do you want? And no, if you can’t have both! Share your opinion in the comments section below, and tell us why you want FA Cup success or Champions League qualification for the Gunners.