Although the league is over for another year, we still have one more delicious morsel of English football to look forward to before attention turns towards this year’s showpiece tournament in Brazil.
On Saturday, Arsenal will take on Hull for the FA Cup, and whilst on paper that doesn’t sound like the most exciting prospect in the world, when one considers the intricate subplot surrounding this fixture, it should certainly go up in any prospective viewer’s estimation.
Make no mistake, Arsenal need Saturday to be all about them.
Having not won anything since 2005, failure to beat Hull at Wembley would definitely result in the Gunners having gone at least a decade without adding to their trophy cabinet, and for a club of Arsenal’s magnitude, that’s not a particularly acceptable return.
Okay, so the Gunners have moved into a new stadium in that time and have consequently had to cut back on transfer fees and player wages, but the reality is that the Gunners’ fall from grace has been rather abrupt and embarrassing for the red side of North London.
In the time since Arsenal last won a trophy, the footballing landscape has changed unalterably. No longer is it acceptable for a top team to endure several fallow seasons. As we’ve seen with Manchester United and Tottenham this year, failure simply isn’t a concept that is deemed okay at the top clubs, and this is a viewpoint that is only likely to grow as the amount of money in football increases and the amount of billionaire owners multiplies.
The point I’m making is that although in the last nine years ‘failure’ has been considered as semi-acceptable at the Emirates, with the Gunners now possessing newfound wealth that was showcased in the signing of Mesut Ozil, disappointment is no longer an option. Although the Gunners managed to finish fourth once again to sneak into the Champions League qualifying stages, the reality is that another season without silverware must constitute a failure for the club that spent the most money on an individual player last summer.
In short, Arsenal must win on Saturday. Gunners’ fans are – for the most part – patient to the point of absurdity, but for all patient people there comes a time when it grows very thin. Were Arsenal to lose at Wembley, it seems likely that the patience that has characterised these transitional years may finally run out.
For Wenger, an awful lot depends on Saturday’s result. He has stalled on signing a deal that would extend his 17-year stay at Arsenal, and it is a fair assumption that he is delaying his decision until after Saturday’s game. What is intriguing is that a win or a loss could result in him both staying and going.
Just imagine it: Wenger’s transitional team finally win the trophy that has eluded them for so many years. Wenger has been proved right – it is possible to win things without spending big bucks (Ozil aside). Would the Frenchman not be tempted to retire on a high at that point?
Conversely, a win against Hull may well seem like just the start of something else exciting, and may prompt Wenger to sign on the dotted line and try to win bigger and more impressive trophies before he finally calls it a day.
If his team lose, will it make it more determined to win something before he hangs up his whistle? Or will he think that enough is enough, and head over to Bordeaux to live out the rest of his days?
There is certainly a lot riding on Saturday’s game, but one thing is for certain, the numerous excuses that Wenger has become an expert at delivering will not apply on Saturday afternoon.
The signing of Mesut Ozil indicated that money really isn’t a problem for Arsenal anymore, and for that reason, any excuses about lack of squad depth should be discarded for the nonsense they are; while concerns about injuries may have had some validity in the past, once again Wenger had the funds to deal with his injury problems in January and decided against it.
As we wrote on Commentary Box Sports once, Arsenal could well have had a genuine chance of challenging for the title if they had purchased another striker in January, and the blame for their failure to do so can only land on Wenger’s doorstep. If they fail to beat Hull, no amount of excuses will exonerate the Frenchman.
However unglamorous the opposition, Saturday’s game will be one of the defining games of the Wenger regime. Let’s hope the football lives up to the hype surrounding it.
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