By Richard Clarke
For years, Arsenal fans have been able to see the potential their side possess. According to Arsène Wenger, they may be about to start seeing the silverware as well.
You can forgive the manager for glazing over when the phrase “five-years without a trophy” is tossed towards him in press conferences.
Of course, it is a cast-iron fact but the Frenchman has always rightly responded by pointing out the Club’s forward movement throughout that period – on and off the pitch. Plus, the little matter of a decade in the upper echelons of European football.
However a trophy is still a trophy. Football should be about glory and, in reality, that means winning. Right now it is clearly the be-all and end-all for Wenger. On all-fronts.
A stronger-than-usual Arsenal side progressed to the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup on Wednesday and, next week, they hope to secure passage to the Knockout Stages of the Champions League with victory at Shakhtar Donetsk. In between, on Saturday, they entertain rock-bottom West Ham at Emirates Stadium.
When Arsenal lost at Chelsea at the start of October, it was suggested their failings were all too familiar. However they end the month looking stronger than ever and with the results to prove it.
“There is more waiting to come out of the team because we are looking like we are improving on all fronts,” said an ebullient Wenger at Friday’s press conference.
“I feel the ingredients of teams I had before, who were successful, are in there. It is just how much we can get them out.
“If you look at the UEFA [co-efficient] table you will see Arsenal in the top eight in a very strong position. And you look who is around us - what money they lose and spend every year - you will see we have not done too badly.”
Goals are always a reasonable barometre of Wenger’s Arsenal. This season they have hit 26 in six home games and 12 in their last 270 minutes of football overall.
“Yes we scored five, three and four in our last three games,” said the manager. “It shows that we have the potential.
“The secret is that we play for each other. We play united. And if we manage to do that anybody in our team can score because we are always going forward a lot. The basic target for us is to keep playing for each other.”
Arsenal will be without Kieran Gibbs for “a few weeks” after the left-back damaged knee ligaments at Newcastle in midweek. Robin van Persie (ankle) and Aaron Ramsey (leg) return to full training next week. Abou Diaby (ankle), Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) and Manuel Almunia (elbow) are still absent. Jack Wilshere will see out his suspension for being sent off against Birmingham in the last Premier League game at Emirates Stadium
His dismissal was a disappointing end to an otherwise redemptive afternoon. Defeat at Chelsea, followed by a shock 3-2 reverse against West Brom at Emirates Stadium, had left Arsenal in need of a win – any size, any shape.
The mood is very different now but the memory has lingered with Wenger.
“It was a lesson learned and it confirms to me that if you are not 100 per cent focused, you will drop points against any team in this league,” he said. “In fairness to my team, West Brom is the only game since the start of the season where we didn’t perform well and that is credit to them. But as well, it shows that, just once, if you are not completely there you are caught. I think we have got the lesson now.
“We focus highly on tomorrow and go step-by-step to try to put every energy in every single game. The success of our season is as well how intelligent we are and tomorrow is a good opportunity to show it. Let’s go for it 100 per cent.”
Wenger’s words were in response to a prevailing press room mood. The one that labelled West Ham a ‘gimmee’ in the same way it had the West Brom game a few weeks earlier.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men have since backed up their performance at Emirates and climbed the table. West Ham can go in no other direction. They have made the worst start in their 115-year history. In nine games they have scored seven goals and gained six points – both are the lowest in the division.
Despite that, Wenger believes there is a way back.
“I see them getting out of the drop zone because they have quality players,” said Wenger.
“If you lose one or two games you will quickly be down there. The difference in the league now is not too big. I think they can get out of there.
“The basic target of any manager is to have success with the resources he has at the club and, on that, Avram Grant has done well.”
Meanwhile, Wenger’s resources have developed in the past week. At Newcastle, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner returned with goals while Wojciech Szczesny showed himself to be a capable keeper. Right now, it seems Arsenal have depth.
You sense this is a crucial little period for Wenger. In the next three Premier League games they face the bottom two sides plus a Newcastle team, who were reasonably represented in the 4-0 drubbing on Wednesday. In between they can put to bed Champions League H.
The ‘big’ periods in fixture lists are viewed as a flurry of big name teams. But, of course, dropped points in highly winnable games will be just as costly.
This season has hardly been plain-sailing but Arsenal have been successful enough and put themselves in position to finally kick-on for that elusive trophy.
If they maintain their recent poise, they might just find it.