The names of Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Bould, Adams and Winterburn are etched, not just in Arsenal history but in Premier League history as well.
Those six players allowed Wenger to set himself the task of making Arsenal more solid in the midfield, which he did with the signings of Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit; and more scorching in attack, which he achieved with the signings of Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka and, of course Thierry Henry.
‘Boring, boring Arsenal’ became the entertainers of the English game and also the first team in the Premier League era to launch a sustained challenge to Manchester United’s supremacy.
Trophies followed and the previously unknown Frenchman became the toast of England, credited for improvements in diet and philosophy.
Now, fifteen years later it is those philosophies that are threatening to bring down the Wenger era. The chorus of boos that greeted the players at the end of the FRIENDLY match with the Red Bulls was a sign for concern.
There has been growing discontent amongst the Arsenal faithful about Wenger’s reluctance to spend big money married with his belief that he can nurture players from youth to full team. One such player, Denilson has recently been loaned back to Brazil due to his inability to perform effectively in the Premier League.
The single biggest issue to have affected Arsenal in six years since they last lifted a trophy is at the back.
Following the departure of Jens Lehmann in 2008 Arsenal have used four goalkeepers: Manuel Almunia, Lucasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone, Wojciech Szczesny (five if you count Lehman’s return). Compare this to their rivals during the same period: Man Utd – Van der Sar; Liverpool – Reina; Chelsea – Petr Cech. Even at Man City its not inconceivable that Joe Hart will be their keeper for the next decade. Wenger’s juggling in this vital position brings about instability, which leads to problems even before one considers the merits of the individual stoppers.
Last summer Arsenal flirted with bids for both Pep Reina and Mark Schwarzer. However, neither deal materialised and the club entered the season with the same set of keepers.
With such uncertainty behind them its little wonder that Arsenal’s defence has encountered such problems.
Wenger has tried a number of players (including bringing back Sol Campbell at one point). He also brought in Emanuel Eboue, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurence Koscielny and Seb Squillaci with varying levels of success.
Vermaelen has looked a tidy defender with an eye for goal, but also with a susceptibility to injury. However, both Koscielny and Squillaci have shown themselves to be prone to error (for Koscielny, see his part in Birmingham’s winner in the Carling Cup final).
What all three of these central defenders possess is the ability to ‘get the ball down and play it’, which follows the Wenger philosophy of passing football. However, it can be argued that what those players DON’T possess is the ability to get down with the mud an’ studs and put their bodies on the line for the team.