Temps Monsieur S'Il Vous Plait

Last updated : 11 September 2003 By Bernard Azulay

Wenger: Worshipped
No matter their sexual proclivity, I am sure that there are some who wouldn't think twice about slipping off to Brazil to have their balls chopped off if they were so summoned for the purpose of bearing Wenger's babies. Even his less extreme admirers wouldn't dream of denigrating the Gallic demigod whose eventual departure from Highbury will doubtless signal the demise of the Arsenal's ability to corner the market in the cream of his compatriots.

Without enduring endless months of miserable Arsenal mediocrity at the latter end of the management eras of the likes of Bertie Mee and George Graham, you might not fully appreciate our fabulous fortune. We've witnessed a total transformation during Wenger's tenure, as the Arsenal have turned into one of the most entertaining football teams on the planet. And of those poor masochistic buggers who were present every week when we were plumbing the depths of the bottomless pit of 'Boring, boring Arsenal', many of us struggle to believe our luck.

On an almost weekly basis, I find myself sitting in the West Upper with my jaw on the floor, dumbfounded by the wonderful footballing feats taking place before my very eyes. According to Buddhist principles, I cannot imagine the number of reincarnations it must have taken for us to attain our Arsène inspired nirvana (not to mention the dreadful deeds which must have condemned our colleagues down the road at White Hart Lane to their lifetime of suffering!). By comparison to the relative dross that went before, why not a Wengorian calendar with everything that occurred AW (After Wenger) dated from the arrival of the footballing Buddha who is responsible for our current state of sporting enlightenment?

Arsène's Gooner account is in such credit with the entire Highbury co-op that even the most obvious cock-ups with calamitous consequences (e.g. Stepanovs, Upson) appear to have an insignificant negative impression on his Arsenal account. However as disinclined as we might be to do it, I've actually lost count of the number of times I've heard the most faithful of Wenger's followers mouth the following phrase or some form of the same "If I have one frustrating criticism of Arsène, it's his failure to further the Arsenal careers of some of our homegrown youngsters".

At the start of every season we always hear wishful whispers, wondering whether this might be the moment for the 'big-time' arrival of the latest in a long line of eagerly anticipated 'great white hopes'. In truth Arsène has been in an invidious position in seasons past, damned if he does and damned if he don't, where the Worthless Cup is the one competition without the pressure cooker circumstances which permit a punt at the unknown. Even then, should we progress in this tourney, there comes a point where Wenger is obliged to bring out the big guns. Elsewhere absolutely every bloomin' encounter has become so crucial. Arsène is invariably forced to count on less inspiring known quantities. Their deficient killer instincts don't often achieve the comfort zone necessary to offer the young bloods brief opportunity to shine on the big stage. What's more without the cushion of at least a couple of goals, a sink or swim chance to impress for some, might be a career wrecking occasion for others, carrying with it the risk of a ricket that might haunt them to the grave (as in Igor getting hung, drawn and quartered at OT)

As the club strives to fly the Ashburton Grove kite (where currently only the sky-high costs are soaring!) there was one silver lining to the resulting lamentable financial climate. Wenger wasn't able to bolster our squad with the usual assortment of Garde & Grimandi type "does a job" journeyman during the close season. He assured us that this would be the ideal carrot for the kids. As the season progresses and injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll, our financial circumstances should present a fillip for us all, as for the first time Wenger is forced to plug the gaps with some homegrown Gooner protégés. Perhaps there will be nothing more for us to moan about (although true to type, I am sure we will find something)

Possibly a mite misleading but Mihir Bose's maths in the Telegraph was nonetheless mortifying. According to him from our squad of 31 players, six are out on loan, including Jeffers, Pennant and Volz to Premiership sides. There are four goalies in the remaining twenty-five and and five who've never played a first team game, which leaves a scant looking squad of only sixteen!

After Aliadière's impressive pre-season outing in Scotland, I had hoped to see the likes of him, or David Bentley on the subs bench from the start. Three-nil up after only twenty minutes on Teeside, I am sure there won't be many better opportunities for giving them a risk free run-out than at Boro. However if the strict hold of the Highbury purse strings has prevented Wenger replenishing the squad with the odd million pound purchase of ageing but reliable pros, it hasn't put the kibosh on him pilfering the odd prodigy or two from across the continent. Apparently Gio has been loaned to Barca partly to placate them. It appears they were in the process of reporting us to UEFA for purloining Cesc, one of their academy's most exciting midfield prospects.

With Cesc joining the Swiss centre-back Senderos, someone of whom I've heard so much without having seen hide nor hair, my biggest concern is that there might be quite a bit of consternation amongst the homegrown ranks should they see their big chance given to a couple of new queue jumpers! When Wenger was questioned as to the opportunities he'd spoken about for Arsenal's own academicians to shine, he rightly set us straight. Both Pennant and Volz are being given a chance to prove themselves at the highest level every week and what is Kolo Touré if not an Arsenal youngster. Moreover unlike some of his contemporaries, Wenger said he doesn't feel it's appropriate to begin meddling with our winning formula. As we stride along the opening steps of another marathon, it is more than evident that Wenger will have to call on the kids during the course of a long winter "when the time is right". I only hope that some of Brady's bairns are included in this number.

The inevitable day of Martin Keown's retirement draws nearer, every time he mows down another no.9. While poor Ray Parlour seemed to be proffered as the makeweight in all the tabloid transfer tittle-tattle throughout the course of the summer (only to receive perhaps a conciliatory but confusing captaincy for the Celtic friendly?). Unless Liam Brady's esteemed efforts bear fruit in the immediate future, there could conceivably come a time when Ashley Cole remains the sole surviving homegrown representative amongst the regular first-team. Heaven forfend!!

Suppose the Spaniard (whose father has conveniently taken up residence in the capital) Cesc is all he's cracked up to be and Senderos the best thing since sliced Gouda, there remains absolutely no substitute for several years as an Arsenal apprentice, the drip fed daily influence of having the heroes of yesteryear staring down at you from the walls every time you walk through the building, daring you to show the spirit and desire to deserve the honour of wearing the same hallowed shirt.

If/when we move home, the hardest task will be to recreate the tangible taste of history which assaults the senses on entering the Marble Halls. In the days before the depth of the digits on a contract cheque decreed whether a club was worth signing for, impressionable youngsters would arrive at The Home of Football and their signature would be secured the second they stepped inside the Arsenal and smelt the atmosphere. There is an instinctive desire to be associated with this ancient bastion of British football and by comparison the the bland concrete lobbies of many modern clubs, any player entering Highbury is immediately so aware of the sense that they've "arrived" that I am sure many kids would have once been quite prepared to pay the club for their apprenticeship.

However in the current mercenary era most young prodigies are undoubtedly prone to becoming prima-donnas from a very early age. They all have a phalanx of agents. managers and advisers feeding their egos from the moment they managed more than three keepy-uppies. Personally I would confine all new arrivals at the Arsenal to the cinema in the museum, preventing them from leaving until they've learnt the club's history by heart. How can we possibly expect today's teenage millionaires to trot out in an Arsenal shirt, with their efforts meaning anywhere near as much as it does to those of us on the terraces.

People respond to my prissy complaints about Robert Pires shirking a challenge by skipping up in the air in anticipation (leaving the ball behind) by rightly pointing out that Wenger doesn't play (pay!) him to take and make tackles. Mind you I am concerned that it might be his half-hearted tackles and his obvious tension when being tackled that could well be the most likely cause of another awful injury! Although it is not just the conservation of Pires' cruciate ligaments that has me concerned about his occasional lack of commitment. I remain the sentimental sod who hopes (mostly in vain these days) that while they are wearing an Arsenal shirt, our players priority first and foremost is winning the ball for the cause. As far as I am concerned, self-preservation should be nothing more than an incidental after thought.

There are obvious exceptions to my outdated rules. For example Henry and Vieira didn't have to imbibe the Arsenal spirit over a period of several seasons to produce performances of true Gooner passion. Additionally in a team of eleven you can afford to carry a couple of talented selfish stars with a preponderance for putting themselves first. Nevertheless in British football, grit and determination can be such a leveller that the only teams to win a championship are those with a central core of players prepared to roll their sleeves up and get down and dirty when ability alone just ain't gonna win the day.

I am afraid that we soon won't have enough players within the Arsenal squad to set the example to the others of the commitment expected from them. And if Ashley Cole doesn't get some company quickly from one of the kids who has grafted his way through the ranks and whose appreciation is reflected in his work rate, who will our prospective stars have as their role models? Who will help to rein in the temptation for excess and prevent them from painting the town red in preference to earning their massively inflated salaries and pleasing us Gooners with an insatiable greed for medals.

Whether it be the French Aliadière, the Irish Bradley, or the English Bentley, it doesn't matter where they originate from, so long as wearing the red and white of the Arsenal means as much to them as their efforts do to us. There is nothing more demoralizing than doubting whether one of our own is quite so devastated as we Gooners when a game doesn't go our way. Similarly there needs to be some signs of some Brady schooled successors if Ashley Cole isn't to become the solitary homegrown standard bearer of the future of the famous Arsenal spirit. Otherwise future Gooners might come to know of it only as another tacky product, bottled and waiting to be sold alongside the Arsenal champagne in the event of us ever having anything to celebrate.