Date: 26th April 2018 at 2:10pm
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Arsenal legend Thierry Henry has admitted that the club missed their moment to potentially rule the Premier League following the ‘Invincibles’ title win back in 2003/04.

Having romped to the title with 26 games won, 12 drawn and zero matches lost in the league campaign, Arsenal became only the second side in history to remain unbeaten across a whole season – Preston North End became the first back in 1888/89.

Following that hurrah, Arsenal were well placed to really kick on and dominate in the way that Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side did in the 1990’s. Unfortunately for us, despite being United’s main rivals across that period, we saw ourselves usurped by Chelsea and Roman Abramovic’s pile of roubles.

Many have their own thoughts on what went wrong at that point and for some, the finger is laid at Wenger and our long-standing defensive issues.

One further potential reason has always been the disparity of spending over the summer of 2004 and in years since. Arsenal spent a reported £4.4million and across the season we saw Robin van Persie, Manuel Almunia and Mathieu Flamini arrive through the doors.

The departure list featured players of varying importance; Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Nwankwo Kanu amongst others. The season after saw Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira move on.

Chelsea are credited with spending £89.4million that summer investing in the likes of Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Arjen Robben and Petr Cech. Manchester United themselves splurged a reported £40.9million on Wayne Rooney, Alan Smith and Gabriel Heinze.

Clearly investing in the group and improving on that basis was an Achilles heel, but Wenger didn’t have an open chequebook. He never really has with the ‘sustainable’ nature of the Board and back then he also had to balance squad finances with our move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium.

Even for those who miss Highbury, the tradition and the Clock, undoubtedly it was a move we needed to make and an infrastructure development the club needed to undergo.

Hindsight, however, implies it was the right move at the wrong time when we should’ve given ourselves greater leeway in first-team affairs to consolidate our position as title challengers. Especially with the arrival and new attitude of Abramovic and Chelsea.

History now also shows it was the last time Wenger lifted the Premier League crown, and although statistics imply that in the most part Wenger’s win percentage per season has been largely steady, Arsenal have continued slipping down the pecking order as others improved and consolidated their base.

Clearly, we have in our own way, but without the necessary additional improvement to keep pace with others. Manchester City’s spending has been a further nail in the coffin.

Our record goalscorer told Sky’s Monday Night Football football programme that not building on our dominance at the point was as close to a regret as he could get in the game.

“I always have a, not a regret because you can’t regret what happens in life as it happens for a reason, but a slight disappointment. We never took advantage of our dominance. For example, we were the attractive club but because we were moving into a new stadium and leaving Highbury, which was apparently important and it had to happen. We all understood that but we didn’t take advantage of our dominance. We can all speculate now and say: ‘Yes we would have dominated’ but all I know, and it is a fact, is that we didn’t take advantage.”

The money question is more than adequately explained when you look at top six spending between the summer of 2004 and the summer of 2013.

Manchester City – £410million
Chelsea – £390million
Manchester United – £170million
Liverpool – £169million
Tottenham – £92million
Arsenal – £20million profit

Figures for the summer of 2013 through the summer of 2018 will add a different reflection, but it more than shows that baseline to which we fell away on first-team affairs and are playing catch up whatever we do on a financial investment front.

“Not only that, we were not adding what we were losing. So you are losing Patrick Vieira and you are losing Robert Pires. I’m not going to name everyone but you are losing quality, winners, and voices in the dressing room. I understood where the club was going and Arsene and the club did an amazing job to maintain being the club that the club was at the time. However, we didn’t take advantage of that and the rest is history. We can be here speculating on what we would have been if we’d stayed at Highbury but at times I look at it and go grrrrr.”

Difficult to disagree with Henry’s assessment of how we inadvertently held ourselves back, but with the curtain due to come down on Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign at the club, undoubtedly some will believe he should’ve been stronger in the moment with the infrastructure balance whereas others will use it as proof of exactly how well he did with far fewer resources to keep us in and around the mix – to the point where a section of fans clearly feel we should have been doing better against our league opposition.

For what it’s worth, I’m in the second camp. In relation to others, he did a remarkable job but it’s fair to say he also held himself back at points with decisions. However, no manager is perfect but Wenger is as close to it on a consistency front along with a few other managers I can think of.

With a generation of fans who have only grown up knowing we are on the cusp but not quite getting over the line, the next appointment is going to be absolutely massive in the life of the club. With some of the criticisms, lack of sentimentality and sense shown towards Wenger in recent years if our new man doesn’t hit the ground running how long will he get as unrealistic expectations come to the fore?

Three months?

 

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