It's a bad time to be an Arsenal fan

Last updated : 31 October 2007 By Kevin Archer
While the lads are stroking the ball around the park, echoing the great Brazilian teams of the 70s and destroying all in their path, those of us who languish on the waiting list can only stare open-mouthed at our TVs, devouring every newspaper or internet report that comes our way and dreaming of the day when we too will be there to witness the magic unfold.

In reality, that much-anticipated moment is unlikely to be any time soon. Personally, I find myself sitting at number 27,888 in a queue that isn't going to shorten in any great hurry. Will you be giving up your seat at the end of this season? No, I didn't think so. Can't say I blame you.

Then again, watching from afar does give you a slightly different perspective on the way the season is unfolding. Away from the stadium, it's less about the raw excitement of the game itself and more about the vitality of the club as a whole. And from where I'm sitting (yup, a long way from the pitch itself) Arsenal FC is looking very healthy indeed.

And here's the reason why: Arsène Wenger. For the umpteenth time, Wenger has confounded his critics and dumbfounded the 'experts'. Against a backdrop of boardroom uncertainty and further big name (Thierry who?) departures, he's put together a team that is capable of taking on the best in Europe, and he has done so on a budget that is not dissimilar to Chelsea's annual expenditure on HobNobs.

In fact, we're not just talking about a team, but an entire squad. Tonight's Carling Cup game will feature 9, 10 or maybe even 11 different players to the one that faced Liverpool on Sunday. Yet Wenger's distinctively entertaining style of play will still be there, seamlessly transposed from the first team to the supposed 'reserves'.

Once, not so long ago, fielding your second string in led to a chorus of complaints that the good old League Cup was being devalued. Now, when Arsenal do it, lots of people pay good money to watch, TV crews turn up in their droves and new life is breathed into a tired competition. Such is the depth to Wenger's pool of talent.

Meanwhile, ex-players are queuing up to lavish praise on Le Boss. Most recently - and perhaps most surprisingly, given that his last act for the club was to traipse off disconsolately from the Champions League final - Robert Pires has joined the Wenger fan club. Bob is in no doubt where the responsibility for our success lies: 'The club has a magic and it is called Wenger', he says.

Earlier this year, when Wenger turned down the opportunity to spend some of the club's reported £70m transfer kitty (things are pretty healthy off the pitch, too), football writers around the country thought he was losing his marbles. When Spurs started to spend big, the pressure mounted - but Le Boss stood firm, claiming repeatedly that his crop of young players was up to the task. He was right.

Nuff said. Wenger's understanding of the game and intuitive appreciation of the true abilities of his team is unique. But football fans being what they are, arguments over the 'best' manager in Premiership history always rage long into the night. Purely in terms of silverware, the front-runner is clearly Ferguson. However, when you factor in the amount of money each manager has spent over the years, Wenger is unparalleled. I haven't done the calculations because I know I don't have to: no one comes close to matching Wenger for his ability to succeed a (relatively) minuscule budget.

If one player sums up Wenger's talent for unearthing diamonds, coaching the beautiful game and instilling proper values of commitment and fair play, it's Cesc Fabregas. Barcelona may have their 'Fab Four' in Henry, Ronaldinho, Eto'o and Messi, but Arsenal's own fabulous No.4 is the one making the headlines. Some are already saying that he only has to stay on his feet for the rest of the season and the Player of the Year award is in the bag. That's probably an overstatement, but he certainly controls the game with an ease and elegance that has rarely been witnessed on English pitches. And now he can also score goals. Boy can he score goals.

Which brings us back to the excitement in Arsenal's play. I had the dubious honour of watching the Anfield game on Sky, with three lifelong Liverpool supporters. All three were desperate for a Liverpool victory. All three jumped to their feet when Gerrard's opener went in. And all three were left gasping with admiration at the slick passing and astonishing movement of the entire Arsenal team. And I mean gasping out loud, like 13-year old boys at a Britney Spears concert. I can't recall that happening before. Ever.

Yes, we want to win something. Yes, it will be disappointing if the trophy cabinet remains empty. But, when you are watching the mesmeric movement of Cesc and Co, are you thinking that far ahead? Or are you happy to immerse yourself in the moment, and to revel in the sheer beauty of football from the gods?

If not, it's time for you to hand over that ticket…