Gunning for Glory

By , Posted on 19th November 2013 - Posted in: Sports And Design

For various reasons, a lot rested on Arsenal’s recent Premier League visit to Old Trafford to take on champions Manchester United. The trip north was seen as the acid test for Arsene Wenger’s table toppers. Lose and the flimsy veneer of superiority would surely be stripped from the Gunners. In contrast, for David Moyes and Man United it was an opportunity to lay down a marker; for the team to make a statement of intent after a relatively lame start to the campaign. Strange then, that given United did indeed win the game (1:0) it’s fair to say neither of these suppositions gained ground. Arsenal still look pretty good and remain at the summit unperturbed, while victory for post-Sir Alex Ferguson United convinced no one despite moving them up to fifth place in the table.

So, was United’s victory a harbinger of good things for them or was it merely a dead cat bounce? Probably neither if truth be told. My guess is that in the short term their fortunes will continue to slowly improve as the players come to terms with a new manager and his coaching staff because this is still very much Ferguson’s squad, and it’s a group of players inculcated with a winning mentality. The real problems will emerge longer term when the manager is forced to nurture his own team. Moyes has a lot to prove. Achieving relative success on a shoestring budget at Everton is not comparable to managing one of the biggest and richest clubs in world football. He’ll be given a period of grace of course but he’s at a club geared to winning trophies and that kind of thing is simply missing from his CV.

It may be that this is the natural end of this particular cycle of success for United. It seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that twenty plus years is the maximum period for an English footballing dynasty, it being roughly the same spread of years enjoyed by Liverpool’s ‘Boot Room’ empire prior to Ferguson’s recently ended reign. As for Arsenal, well history tells us that English football’s most enduring cycles of success invariably belong, mutually exclusively, to United or Liverpool. The Gunners have had their moments for sure, but in terms of dynastic dominance any success they’ve enjoyed has been fleeting, even less so for the other current big hitters, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs.
Arsenal can point to an eight year period in the 1930’s when they took five first division titles and that’s about it, a one off golden generation and something mirrored to lesser degrees at Leeds (1960’s/70’s), Nottingham Forest (1970’s), and Huddersfield Town (1920’s). Even during the glitzy early years of Wenger’s term, let’s say the first ten years (1996 – 2005), when Arsenal won three titles, one of which was powered by those fantastic ‘Invincibles’, they were regularly upstaged by Manchester United. In those ten years Arsenal won seven trophies, a number matched by United who actually won more titles (four). Even Liverpool, in a period of relative famine for them (after all they haven’t won the title since 1990) won six major trophies during that decade including most outrageously of all, the Champions League. Some famine.

It seems the more things change the more they stay the same. If United’s star is falling then maybe Liverpool’s is on the rise? The league table would at least suggest the possibility. Arsenal may be destined to be forever in the shadow of one or other of these northern giants no matter what they do. Additionally, in the not too distant future, they’ll have to face up to life without Wenger, the architect of their cultured Barcelona-lite passing game. When he moves on, what then?

The real game changer though is likely to be good old fashioned money. The influx of mega billions into the English game has already tinkered with the status quo. The sea changes wrought about at Chelsea and Manchester City have pretty much become seismic. In all honesty it’s difficult to see the Liverpool / Manchester United duopoly run on any further. Both clubs have wealthy American investors but not even the Glazers at United nor Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool can seriously go head to head with Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour.

Perhaps the truth is that we are entering an extended period when no one club will lord it over the rest? Away from the cities of Liverpool and Manchester that would be welcomed by most.

Meanwhile the Gunners have the whip hand. They top the Premier League but they should enjoy their time in the sun while they can. Too much about their game rests on the fortunes of too few players. They don’t boast the squad depth their rivals have nor it seems do they have much stomach for splashing the cash reserves they’ve been able to build following their move to the Emirates Stadium. That may have to change. It’s not just history they’re fighting against now.

Post Tags