For a supporter of Arsenal Football Club, the period between mid-May and mid-August of each year could be the most frustrating and psychologically draining period of the year – a Groundhog Day that has a recurring nightmare theme. The rest of the year is typically hopeful, expectant and disappointing at varying points but the football off-season is surely the worst.
Worse than watching that fluid and sumptuous passing between defence and midfield that ends in no shot attempt as they Arsenal players attempt to walk the ball into the net.
Worse than seeing your team throw away a four goal lead against Newcastle United.
Worse than that anxious knot in the pit of your stomach as a set piece is taken by the opposition and Almunia, Fabianski or Szczesny leap into the air and flap frantically and fail to catch the ball.
Worse than that feeling of dread when the fateful words are uttered by Professor Wenger that “the injury is not serious and we expect *insert player name here* to be back in training within two weeks, because you know that means a minimum of six months on the sidelines for the player mentioned.
Worse than reading the Arsenal team sheet on match day and noting that the centre midfield pairing will be the dynamic duo of Diaby and Denilson.
Arsene Wenger is the type of person I think a lot of Arsenal fans would like to invite to one of those “which famous person would you invite” dinners that people like to ask about. He appears to be an intelligent sort of fellow, as one would expect of a multilingual man with a masters degree in economics. The type of man who might have a repertoire of amusing anecdotes about being randomly contacted by a father of a wunderkind in a remote Eastern European city and how the player was brought to Arsenal. Or perhaps the type of man who could tell a story recounting the difficulties of coaching in Japan and the communication barriers he encountered there until he learnt how to speak Japanese to counter this problem..
In short, the mental picture is not of a man who does not seem to learn from previous mistakes. It is not of a man who refuses to address obvious shortcomings in his team each and every single year. It is not of a man who does not adjust his football philosophy in order to get his team back to winning ways. It is not of a man who denies that his squad is mentally fragile and does nothing to redress this deficiency.
At times like this it would be fascinating to get inside “Professor” Wenger’s head and try to understand the internal workings of his brain on a couple of issues.
For instance, when Wenger watches an Arsenal game on DVD does he get a sense of trepidation when yet another set piece is launched into the penalty area? Do his palms get slightly sweaty and does he hold his breath as Almunia/Fabiansky/Szczesny confidently shout for the ball, only for the ball to be in the back of the net seconds later? At these moments, does Wenger swear to himself that his priority will be to sign a world-class ‘keeper for the 2011/12 season?
Does Wenger really believe that the transfer market is overpriced and that it would be foolish to (over)spend money to bring in that much needed experience?
When thinking about the possible departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, does Wenger think to himself that he has enough midfielders to ensure continuity of the team? Does he look at the names of Wilshire, Song, Ramsey, Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky and Nasri and think to himself – yes, these guys will be sufficient for us to sustain a championship challenge. The fact that they are somewhat mentally fragile and have no culture of winning trophies is neither here nor there.
If Samir Nasri approaches wanting to know whether there are plans to improve his present contract that expires the following summer, does Wenger think of breaking the club’s self imposed wage structure that ensures that Arsenal has one of lowest wages to turnover ratios in the Premier League? Does he think to himself that players can depart for higher wages at rival clubs because he can unearth another hidden youthful gem?
What does Wenger see when Abou Diaby or Denilson (both at the club since 2006 and with over 200 appearances between them) needlessly give the ball away, or concede a free kick in the vicinity of the Arsenal penalty area? Does he think of them as players who just deserve another chance and they will eventually come right in the next season?
Unfortunately for Arsenal supporters, what happens in Wenger’s brain stays in Wenger’s brain and it will only be at the start of the 2011/12 season that we shall discover whether it will be a “new” Arsenal or Groundhog Day Arsenal.
As a famous person once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome”. Guess we shall discover more about the insanity (or not) of Arsene Wenger soon.