From the Dial Square to The Arsenal, we have traversed through countless ‘seasons’ of footballing prominence achieved with great players, magnanimous managers, unforgettable memories, incredible rivalries and all the Arsenal fans, whom we amorously call ‘The Gooners’.
If we dive deep into the incredible pages of Arsenal history, we can be proud to be a part of that supreme ‘Institution of Arsenal Football’. We hold the record for the longest uninterrupted period in English top flight and that must be some achievement considering the number of years we have spent in the top flight since 1904, nine years before we moved to our cherished home ground, The Highbury. In this time span, we have collected 13 Top flight league titles, 10 FA Cups and 2 European Honors along with a massive reverence from about 27 million fans as it stands today. We have had our troughs with dry runs during different periods of our illustrious history, most memorable being the 18 years wait for a league title which culminated at Anfield, when Michael Thomas’s excellent finish within the dying seconds of the final match of the season gave us our victory and the championship. We’ve had our overwhelming highs too, most unforgettable being the 1970-71 and the 2003-04 seasons. In 1970-71, Arsenal flying high after their Inter-Cities Fairs Cup win would go on to win the league double, narrowly beating Leeds for the league title while triumphing over Liverpool in the FA Cup under their legendary captain, Frank McLintock. In 2003-04, ‘The Invincibles’ would go on to complete an entire season without losing a single league game highly inspired by their sensational club legend Thierry Henry who would score 30 goals and assist his team with many more. The Premiership table at the end of the season would read ‘Played-38, Won-26, Drawn – 12, Lost – 0.’
From the highly influential Herbert Chapman to the extremely meticulous Arsene Wenger, we’ve had our share of brilliant managers who have given us wonderful seasons of Arsenal football through their divergent philosophies of the ‘beautiful game’ (a termed coined during the latter’s rein at The Arsenal naming the brand of football he created).
In both the Chapman and Wenger eras, we saw a substantial change in the style of football from the one previously deployed. While Chapman mostly believed in the WM formation, Wenger has been a preacher of the Johan Cruyff inspired ‘Total Football’ or the ‘Beautiful Game’ as it is called today.
Under Chapman, Arsenal would go on to win their first league title in 1930-31 and make themselves a force in English football from there on. Arsenal would narrowly miss out the league title and FA Cup the next season but would go on to pick up top league honors in 1932-33. Herbert Chapman would leave behind an unmatched legacy with his untimely death in 1934. He, like Wenger, was a complete manager who would pick his team, decide on training facilities and kits for the side along with other things associated to the club. He was the one who had installed flood-lights in the Highbury training facility. Most importantly, the tradition of two clubs walking together for a FA Cup Final was started by the great man and which is followed to this day. Jack Lambert, Alex James, David Jack and club legend Cliff Bastin are some of the inspiring footballers to have played under Herbert Chapman.
It was Gerrard Houllier (who would manage Liverpool club later for many years), the man who would recommend Arsene Wenger to David Dein, the vice-chairman of Arsenal football club in 1996. After finishing third in the first season of his reign, he would go on to win the league double in the 1997-98 season. That team consisted of a Back-Four which read Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn and an attacking force comprising the legendary Dennis Bergkamp, the flamboyant Marc Overmars, the technically solid midfield partnership of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit and the teenage striker, Nicolas Anelka. After some near misses in the following seasons, Arsene Wenger would achieve a league double in 2001-02. Missing the league title in the next season due to some late-season losses, Arsenal would go on to achieve the unthinkable, the League Invincibility in 2003-04, where they would steamroll oppositions and attain the ‘master’ level of football before ending the season as champions and the pioneers of a No-loss-season in Premiership football. Thierry Henry (who would later be voted as the greatest footballer to play for Arsenal), Robert Pires, club-captain Patrick Vieira, Ashley Cole, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljunberg, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure were the finest exponents of ‘The Invincibles’.
As I write this article today, we are at a point of Arsene Wenger’s tenure, where he sits atop an esteemed chair of rich history, trying to emulate his own achievements, trying to ‘live up’ to the standards he set for himself and for us, trying to corroborate Arsenal’s capability of winning the league title despite all the odds against them. We are at that very crucial juncture of Arsenal Football Club which can make or break our belief in the team and manager’s capability. There are fans who are frustrated with the manager’s adamancy at not buying players and trying to find a prize-winning solution from inside the club’s talent-pool. There are fans who still believe in Wenger’s philosophy and are waiting eagerly for season-end when they can watch with pride and reprieve the alluring site of their beloved captain and club symbol, Cesc Fabregas lifting the English Premiership trophy.
To all the Gunners out there, irrespective of whether we win the league this year or not, whether Cesc leaves the club or not, whether Wenger decides to end his managerial career or not, this is not the end, this is The Beginning of a new journey for Arsenal fans with more ambition, more drive, more passion and more love like never before.
WE ARE THE ARSENAL.