Wengerball was special. At its best Wengerball was a pleasure, a joy and rejoiceful to watch. It was more than just a style of football. Wengerball was a different feeling altogether, one of those feel-good memories one would never forget. Some of Wengerball’s finest goals serve as great examples of football in all its beauty. Wengerball at Arsenal in 2007-08 was peak Wengerball.
Magnificent. Breathtaking. Captivating.
“I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art,” said Arsene Wenger. His Arsenal teams, at their absolute best, were unplayable and their football looked like a beautiful piece of art.
Be it Wilshere’s goal against Norwich or Rosicky’s goal against Sunderland. These are goals that even rival fans would cherish. Wengerball oozed class, redefined freedom and depicted domination. It was everything beautiful about football.
Wengerball aimed to find the most beautiful way to score a goal. Lovely one-twos, deft touches, and flicks, slick combination play. It did not matter if it was home or away. Manchester United or Accrington Stanley. Derby game or a cup game. The aim remained was the same. Not just scoring goals but goals that would be imprinted in our memory. Wengerball melted your heart. It made you cry. Left you awestruck. All at the same time.
Perhaps, Arsene Wenger’s finest yet most under-appreciated time at Arsenal is the Wengerball Era. The Wengerball era(2006-2013) was a tumultuous period for the club. The period was marked with a lack of silverware and troubles of financing a move to a new stadium. However, some consider it to be Wenger’s best work at Arsenal for two reasons. Firstly, the emergence of youth and secondly, the breath-taking football that came with it. Despite struggles, Arsene Wenger made sure Arsenal came through this period unscathed, scraping top 4 finishes every season.
THE 2007-08 SEASON
Dave Kitson, a forward at Reading in 2007-08, described Arsenal as ‘the best side on the planet’. “The thing that amazes you most is they are not just passing to each other – they are passing so that person can run on to the ball and then his mind is already made up what he is going to do next. It is just magic, it is unbelievable.”
The 2007-08 season stands out in particular as a bunch of youngsters took the world by storm. It was boys against men scenario in which the boys fell short. But there were a lot of cherishable moments that will always be etched in the memory of Arsenal fans.
Club legends Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg departed the club for Barcelona and West Ham respectively. Jose Antonio Reyes returned to Spain. Arsenal signed five players. Eduardo, a forward from Dinamo Zagreb, two goalkeepers Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia, Bacary Sagna, a right-back and young midfielder Havard Nordveidt.
Arsene Wenger trusted youngsters to make a decisive impact and they duly repaid his faith.
Despite not making many signings, Arsenal ended up on the losing side just three times in the league all season. The losses came against Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Manchester United. Manchester United and Chelsea finished winners and runners up while Arsenal finished third four points below Manchester United.
Meanwhile, in the domestic cups, Arsenal reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and the 5th round of the FA Cup before losing to Tottenham and Manchester United respectively. On the European front, Arsenal lost to Liverpool in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
BUT WHY IS THE SEASON SO SPECIAL?
“Arsenal are my favourite team right now and I think they are the best performing team in the Premier League.” remarked Pele in 2007.
As mentioned earlier, the football on display at the Emirates was breath-taking. Up there with the best football played in the English Premier League. Arguably, Arsenal’s brand of football was the best in all of Europe. It wooed rival fans as much as it left Arsenal fans spellbound.
Arsenal’s midfield four consisting of a 20-year-old Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Aleksandr Hleb, and Tomas Rosicky combined impeccable vision with relentless energy. Fabregas’ genius complemented Mathieu Flamini’s energy. Hleb and Rosicky were true definitions of flair and wizardry. This team had had it all. They did it so well. They did it so remarkably well that Arsenal fans would never cease to forget this cult of a season. Backups Abou Diaby, Denilson and club legend Gilberto Silva were great in their own right. Abou Diaby, in particular, had a tremendous season. What a player he would have been if not for the injuries.
Elsewhere in attack, Emmanuel Adebayor’s marksmanship, Eduardo’s guile, Robin Van Persie’s pace, Theo Walcott’s pace, and Nicklas Bendtner’s aerial prowess struck a great balance for the Gunners.
Meanwhile, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, William Gallas, Kolo Toure among others formed a fairly good defence in front of one of Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia.
EFFECT OF INJURIES
Serious injuries to Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo Silva kept the duo out for a long long time. This ultimately curtailed Arsenal’s season. Being a young, vibrant team, the manner of the injuries, especially Martin Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo, left the squad in tears. Shattered morales and the pain of seeing your teammate after a career-threatening injury took over the squad. Results began to dwindle, form decline but the football remained as beautiful as ever.
Eduardo and Rosicky’s injuries were the start of a period where Arsenal players were regularly at the receiving end of harsh tackles. Cesc Fabregas would break down in tears after Ryan Shawcross’s ill-timed challenge ended up breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg a few years later. This young team, for all its technical ability, was considered soft and hence were easy targets.
Getting back to Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky’s injuries, the injuries affected the team so much that the squad never really came back from it for the rest of the season. Eduardo’s injury prompted club captain to throw a tantrum; he attacked an advertising board situated on the side of the pitch and rested alone on the pitch, while the rest of the squad headed for the dressing room broken.
A GAME THAT DEFINED THE SEASON
Arsenal’s 2-0 win at San Siro over defending champions AC Milan in the Champions League is a testament to Wengerball as a whole. The Milan team had legends like Maldini, Kaka, Clarence Seedorf across the pitch. Arsenal had a team of unassuming youngsters. But Arsenal silenced the San Siro with two wonderful goals. Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor were the scorers.
In a way, Arsenal were everything Milan were famous for. Technique and grace. Dynamism and drive. Energy and elegance. Arsenal’s performance that night can be summed up by the rapturous applause given to them by the Milan faithful. Nothing substantial was achieved that night results wise but Arsenal’s young team showed Europe what their potential is. Unlimited.
Arsenal were barely respectful of Milan’s credentials. It looked as if the Gunners had come to pay a visit to the home of their aging relatives and could not resist themselves from stealing a look at valuable belongings, such as Champions League silverware, something they might soon inherit. This was their statement to the world that they would soon be a part of something really special.
“This is one of the most famous nights in the club’s history.” proclaimed Arsene Wenger after the win.
A RELATIONSHIP THAT EXISTED BEYOND THE PITCH
Arsene Wenger’s relationship with his players existed beyond the pitch. He was a father figure, someone, the players looked up to, someone they would give their lives for and someone they trusted with a full heart. The epitome of this relationship can be seen after Fabregas gave Arsenal the lead at the San Siro.
An animated Fabregas ran to Arsene Wenger, hugged him tightly and broke down in tears. The tears that came out of Fabregas, the hug and his warm embrace of Wenger is the sign of what Wenger was to these players. A demi-god.
The rest of the squad and the coaching staff ran to Fabregas and Wenger to join in the celebrations. It is a sight that Arsenal fans still love. A sight that is etched in the memory of the Arsenal faithful. A sight that brings out the best emotions out of you.