JAMIE CARRAGHER: Why I want us all to be Arsenal fans for a season

September 29, 2013 12:46 pm 0 comments Views: 90

This view will not be popular at White Hart Lane. I don’t expect too many people will agree around Stamford Bridge, in Manchester or on Merseyside, either. But this season, we should all be Arsenal fans.

If they are successful, that will mean Arsene Wenger stays in the Premier League. And we need him to stay.

This man has had a profound impact on British football and the game here would be poorer without him.

Visionary: Arsene Wenger has guided Arsenal to the top of the Premier League after five gamesVisionary: Arsene Wenger has guided Arsenal to the top of the Premier League after five games

Where would the Premier League be minus Wenger? Clubs would not have been so quick to look for foreign coaches if he had floundered. His success opened the floodgates and since he arrived at Arsenal in 1996, 47 managers from overseas have been appointed by top-flight clubs, compared to 120 British. That is a remarkable figure.

There is a case to argue that without Wenger, we might not have had Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini or Carlo Ancelotti managing here.

Without Wenger, we might never have been dazzled by Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robert Pires, and so many other brilliant players who have enhanced our game.

Wenger was responsible for some of the most harrowing and unnerving days of my career.

Arsenal conquered all before them from 2002-2004, culminating in them being called the Invincibles after going unbeaten for a whole season. Outstanding  footballers and also supreme  athletes — they had everything. When you stood next to them in the tunnel before a game, the panic would roll in.

They were the best I ever faced, the only team that left me feeling technically and physically inadequate. From goalkeeper to striker, they were built like tanks. If you tried to tackle them, you would bounce off them. 

Arsenal were the first team to start using creatine — a supplement to help increase strength and power and aid muscle recovery — and we used to hear how they had changed their diets and took the right vitamins. You couldn’t outmuscle Wenger’s sides, nor could you outplay them.

Playing right back against that Arsenal team was the most difficult job in football at that time. Henry, Ashley Cole and Pires would terrorise you from the left flank, moving the ball at dizzying speeds. So quick was their movement, you didn’t have time to think. It was an awful feeling.

Wenger’s reputation was at its highest then. Having won the Premier League twice, as well as two FA Cups and a pair of Community Shields in a three-year period, you would have been laughed out of town had you suggested he would add only one more prize in the next nine seasons.

Arsenal have fallen away because of the huge amount of money at the disposal of Manchester City and Chelsea. Other sides have copied Wenger in buying young players from abroad.

The foreign legion: Managers such as Roberto Mancini (left) and Rafa Benitez (right) followed Wenger's route into the Premier League after building their reputation abroad The foreign legion: Managers such as Roberto Mancini (left) and Rafa Benitez (right) followed Wenger’s route into the Premier League after building their reputation abroad

Patrick Vieira
Robert Pires

Conquerors: Wenger built a team of stars like Robert Pires (right) and Patrick Vieira, who dominated between 2002 and 2004. Thierry Henry (below) spearheaded the Frenchman’s attack to devastating effect

Thierry Henry

‘You couldn’t outmuscle Wenger’s sides, nor could you outplay them. Playing right back against that Arsenal team was the most difficult job in football’

On Friday, there was vocal support from majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, but his praise of Wenger should be saved until after Christmas. It’s too early to judge Arsenal, even if they are the League leaders on Saturday morning.

Do not doubt that they still have a lot to prove and the most accurate gauge of their potential will be when they lock horns with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. One victory over Tottenham — the only side of substance they have faced — is not enough.

Arsene should not have a job for life just because of who he is. He wouldn’t expect it to be that way. He phased out Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, remember, when they stopped hitting their numbers.

The run of qualifying for the Champions League for the past 16 years has been impressive but why haven’t they been able to add a League Cup or an FA Cup while they have been finishing in the top four? It has not been good enough.

Struggle: Jamie Carragher (left) trails Henry as the Frenchman clips home his hat-trick goal back in 2004Struggle: Jamie Carragher (left) trails Henry as the Frenchman clips home his hat-trick goal back in 2004

The inevitable result has been  discontent in the stands. I’m sure some Arsenal supporters are fed up with hearing people saying ‘Wenger has done this and that’ — they know their club better than anyone and if they want him to go, fair enough.

Those who are frustrated could easily turn on him again — do not forget the angry scenes after they lost to Aston Villa on the opening day, prompting a fans’ group to express their ‘deep concerns’.

I was also very critical of Arsenal. It appeared nothing had changed. They looked weak. 

The arrival of Mesut Ozil,  however, coupled with progress in the Champions League, has been revitalising. Ozil was the only  top-class player who arrived here during the last window and he has helped make Arsenal the most impressive team in the opening weeks, though things are going to become trickier now, given they have assignments against Swansea and Napoli to negotiate.

Revitalised: Summer signing Mesut Ozil (left) chats to Pires during Friday's training session Revitalised: Summer signing Mesut Ozil (left) chats to Pires during Friday’s training session

Olivier Giroud
Wojciech Szczesny

Cover needed: Arsenal may struggle if goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny or Olivier Giroud (left) pick up an injury

Certain areas of the squad must be addressed. They will be in trouble if Olivier Giroud picks up an injury, while surely they should bid for either Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas or Victor Valdes of Barcelona in January to secure the quality goalkeeper they need.

I would expect them to finish in the top four again but I would like to see Wenger go for it in January and bring in more quality, so they can really challenge. 

We should want him to stay, so we can see more of the great  football Arsenal play and the players he always produces.

We should all be rooting for  Arsenal this season. Wenger needs another glorious moment and we should all wish him well. English football owes him.

Tough break: Arsenal now turn their attentions to Swansea before bidding to stop Napoli striker Gonzalo HiguainTough break: Arsenal now turn their attentions to Swansea before bidding to stop Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain

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