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Like a Trophy: An Oral History of Arsenal’s Quest for Fourth Place

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Excerpts from two decades of very consistent football

Robert Pires of Arsenal running with the ball Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The Short Fuse recently received snippets of an upcoming oral history of the good, good days of Arsenal F.C. Given all access to some of the clubs most central figures over the past two decades, Piers Morgan has collected a masterclass of contemplation on what makes fourth such a compelling and comfortable place for Arsenal F.C. to be.

Highbury, May 2004

Bully: Well this is what it has come to, right? I mean you invest so much heart and soul into this damned club and this is the return? Where were the dramatics? Not one bloody loss in thirty-eight matches, its despicable you know. The club didn’t even give us a sniff this season. Draws to Leicester, Birmingham, Charlton….Spurs. How can we not drop a full three points to any of that lot! I mean you concede an extra goal here and there and the season goes down MUCH, MUCH differently. We are right back in the thick for fourth with a few errant deflections off our defenders that find the back of the net. I mean how does Sol Campbell come off a campaign so clean!? No Champions League in August this summer, no thank you. Wenger Out!

David Dein: What irks me the most is the Lehmann signing. We had such an incredibly strong and talented side everywhere else on the pitch save the goalkeeper position. There was always a risk that the signing could be too successful and push us away from the fourth spot. Of course he was a German national and all, but my goodness how he struggled with decision making, not to mention the semi-regular costly blunder. He just seemed like a guy who could be relied on to be sturdy, but not consistent enough to be the number one on a top side. I don’t say this often, but I was wrong on the player — for that season at least. It was really from that moment on that I started to disseminate the idea among the suits at the club that less signings were better than more signings and that sometimes you don’t even need to sign anyone at all. For Lehmann the latter of those ideologies was the case. A mistake for the ages really.

Arsene Wenger: I think, uh, well, I don’t know. I think, uh, that we maybe need to play the jeune, I mean young, players more. Henry, Vieira, Pires, they have too many minutes and too much quallité for an Arsenal side who want fourth. This is no good for a sixteen year old’s development, non? We need players who have the talent, but not necessarily the consistency to produce all the time. I think next year we play more young. This group, well this group is no good for where we aim to be.

Emirates Stadium, May 2012

Bully: When Fabregas left this summer, I really felt that the side had it in them to go back to back fourth. Its something that hadn’t happened for awhile, of course we had been flirting with it since we moved into the Emirates, but it just felt like this was the year that the club could really do it. I mean we were just incredibly, kind of good! Per Mertesacker justifying the fears on his pace and quickness on his transfer, Andre Arshavin playing thirty times for the club in a season, Gervinho’s tantalizingly fancy skill that never ever actually worried defenders. I mean the pieces were there, we were so balanced! For every Marouane Chamahk there was a Robin Van Persie, every Carl Jenkinson a Thomas Vermaelen, and every Jack Wilshere an Alex Song. It was just one of these teams that wasn’t good enough to be great, but good enough to beat the crap sides. Perfection imo.

It all was going so well until that imbecile Harry Redknapp came along. Never giving any of his starters a rest, FRAABING to the max, bringing on Scott Parker as a 70th minute attacking substitute when his team is down in a top four race in April. Its almost like Harry made a bet with his bookie that Spurs wouldn’t finish in the top three. When Tottenham finished fourth, behind Arsenal mind you, well that was I day I’ll likely never forget.

David Dein: I wasn’t at the reigns anymore, but I felt like the sales of Fabregas, Clichy, and Nasri were brilliant pieces of business. With all of that extra money we were able to still advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League and raise the prices of our seats for our fanbase by a magnitude. It also broke up the threat of that young core of players reaching their prime together, really gelling, and have a decent shot at trophies for a stretch of seasons. If there was ever going to be a rival to the“invincibles” from recent Arsenal sides, they were probably it. A world-class and healthy Robin Van Persie flanked by a smooth Samir Nasri, a pacey and confident Theo Wolcott, with Cesc and Song sitting behind, Vermaelen in defense —it would really be a team too strong for fourth. The sales that summer were necessary to maintain the status-quo of our perceived excellence.

Arsene Wenger: I, em, well, it was a good season non? There is a saying, maybe it is an American saying, but its something like “you cannot win them all”. What I love about this group is that they never give up playing for fourth. And they give the supporters a lot. Not once in the season did this team look like a frontrunner. Never, not once. It was as clear as a verre d’eau that the side was not good enough for first, but fourth, why yes, very well-suited indeed. But, you know, this is football and you can’t control everything. What can I do when my rival puts Scott Parker in the attack? C’est impossible, non!?

Emirates Stadium, March 24th, 2017

Charlie: (Vice President, Global Capital Markets, Morgan Stanley): You know it always weirds me out when the crowd is louder than the shouts of our boys on the field. Not that I’m necessarily watching the game — markets never really close, right!? Its just how can the team communicate when all the idiots incessantly sing. Its not that ticket prices have become too expensive, its just that the club has focused on stamping out those who hinder our players from understanding each other on the pitch. No price too hight for that!

Bully: Don’t count us out just yet mate! United are splendidly inconsistent and Liverpool somehow keep dropping points to the lower half. Add an unconvincing City side to the mix, along with the Spuds and Wenger has us right where we want to be. The Mrs. says its a bit early, but fuck it, I’m booking my early August trip to Bratislava now!

David Dein: The genius of Wenger is omnipotent, yet nowhere has it shown itself so fantastically as in the pursuit of Karim Benzema. Some say the team around him would still stagnate around fourth even if he was added, but a proper number nine over the past few seasons could really have done the club real damage. Ramsey had a wonderful season a few years back, while Alexis really hit the ground running after his transfer from Barcelona, and Mesut Ozil has proven to have his moments too. If you put a world-class striker up top to complement these players, well then the club is playing with fire. A huge burning building one might say. I mean Leicester won the title last year FFS, what could Benzema have added to a club like Arsenal?

Yet the brilliance of Wenger is subtle. He has never had the intention of signing a world-class striker, but consistently leaked this supposed want to the press. What does this do? Well, it makes the players in the locker room BELIEVE, if only for a few weeks in July. And when September comes around, and their dressing rooms looks over to Olivier Giroud as the only option to lead their line, their insecurity blossoms. They lose all sense of purpose and grit. Wenger puts his club on the mental track to fourth. It is for this that he will always be remembered, and dually celebrated.

Arsene Wenger: Wenger out? This must be English humour, non? The board is clear on their initiatives and I meet them TOUS. LES. TEMPS. Even when we fail to finish fourth, we underwhelm in cup competitions…or maybe we don’t underwhelm, we just produce methodically half decent performances.

But good is not glory and since the 2003-2004 season, glory is what I have tried to avoid. Too much pressure, too many expectations, and a deviation from what supporters truly want — quatre, four, fourth. I always snicker when I see this Star Wars mentioned on the television. The force? Non, non it is the FOURTH that they are looking for! And for this I give you a little secret into the Arsenal dressing room, a motto so to speak that is whispered by both players and staff alike in times of trouble:

“May the fourth be with you”

“May the fourth be with you”