On Saturday, I did the unthinkable. I left my open beer sitting on the table next to me untouched for 75 minutes in the second half and stoppage time of the FA Cup.
Like many soccer fans, I tend to enjoy a cold adult beverage during my favorite soccer teams’ matches, primarily to calm my jittery nerves. However, during the FA Cup Final, I was too nervous to even think about enjoying the cold one sitting next to me as I watched Arsenal almost choke again in a cup final.
It was more than just the idea of extending the trophy-less streak or having to deal with the taunts of my Manchester United-loving friends. It was the thought that regardless of what happened, Arsene Wenger would be back. The club would again spend money on a few players but lack quality depth, and Arsenal would go into the 2014-2015 season as a team more likely to struggle for fourth than first.
In a way, the FA Cup is a curse almost as much as a blessing. Taken one way, it can be seen as a justification for the club’s practices. Look, the blind faithful can say, we were atop the table most of the season and we won a trophy. If it were not for those free spending clubs like Manchester City, we could win the league. However we play in an unfair system where good citizens like us are doomed to be at an inherent disadvantage to teams throwing around obscene transfer numbers.
But this view is wrong and a dangerous one to have. It is apparent to most fans that Arsenal are a flawed team. Yes, injuries hit the squad particularly hard this season. However, it was in the areas where injuries were not as much an issue where the lack of quality depth was exposed. Theo Walcott’s injury robbed Arsenal of an experienced speedster who could break teams that stacked the midfield and pressed Arsenal to turning possession over; why does Arsenal only have one such experienced player? Olivier Giroud is a quality forward in this league, but what was available when Arsenal needed a different skill set? I think Yaya Sonogo could one day be a top notch forward, but not now and not for a title contender. Thankfully for Arsenal, the midfield was reinforced, otherwise the battle for fourth may have been much closer.
I will not rehash the tactical criticisms of Arsenal or Wenger’s style except to say I am discouraged to hear that regardless of Saturday’s outcome, he would have returned. In one regard, the true faithful are correct in that the Gunners cannot compete completely with the finances of Chelsea or the two Manchester sides. But that does not mean they cannot compete. Arsenal have a global brand and new lucrative sponsorships that free up cash not previously available for investment. The club may not be able to spend £50 million on a couple of players, but they can spend an almost equivalent amount on multiple players that would push into the starting XI or provide little drop off during squad rotation and injuries. The scouting acumen that made Wenger’s legacy still has a place in the modern game, it is just the cash amount that accompanies it has risen.