It was the 17th May, 2006, when Arsene Wenger last probably felt genuine and full satisfaction with the quality of his management at the end of a season. That night, Arsenal were pipped to the Champions League by Barcelona, despite playing with 10 men for a majority of the match.
Despite losing, the club had exceeded expectations in getting to the final, and fresh in their fans' mind was an FA cup victory and the immortal invincible's. With a move to the Emirates imminent, there was much optimism surrounding the club.
Since then, however, the Frenchman must feel like he's been employed as an engineer working on a car missing a wheel. As soon as he replaces the wheel, the exhaust blows. Once the exhaust is repaired, the gearbox gives in. When the gearbox is finally repaired, a window gets smashed. Despite all his hard work considerable setbacks refuse to go away, stunting long term progress.
The past five years perhaps summarise this. No trophies, transfer flops and their best players deserting the team have meant many will consider Wenger's long term aims a failure. While the extent to how well Wenger has done personally is hotly debated, the beginning to the 2012/13 season has seen some very obvious changes to the way he is managing the club.
Young Guns: Walcott (£12m) and The Ox (£15m) were both 17 when signed.
Wenger is renowned for investing in youth, and much of his failings have normally been blamed on the naivety of his young players. His cynics will strongly suggest this was a hugely convenient excuse- such players will mature, justifying success in the nearby future.
Changes here are now obvious; his three landmark signings this summer averaged an age of 26.3, a stark comparison to previous years where the club have decided to invest in younger players.
The greatest influence on this change will be put down to the frustration in landmark players leaving. The club invested a huge amount of risk, money and time on Van Persie, Fabregas, Adebayor and Nasri to name but a few, only to see them seek glory elsewhere. The loyalty that Wenger perhaps assumed would be given in return may have broken his personal faith in developing youth over a long period of time, despite the sheer financial benefits gained from selling them on for large profits.
What's more, each season that goes by adds greater pressure on the club to win a trophy, and Wenger quite simply can no longer restart a rebuilding process that could potentially take years to mature. There was a small degree of speculation after the horrific start of last season that he may not sign a new contract, and these recent years have been his most unstable at the club. Older players represent a greater chance of short term success and Wenger is no longer in a position to delay this.
The Emirates Effect
Despite the lack of success on the pitch in recent years, the overall value of the project that the Emirates epitomises is staggering. By 2003 the club needed to find £400m to fund the construction of the stadium, and with pre-tax losses of £22.3m for the year 2001-2002, the only logical way forward was to sell players and drastically reduce the club's wage bill. Wenger was therefore right to place faith in a strategy of financial consciousness given the continued success the club had up until 2006.
Stadium Superiority: The Emirates will guarantee the club's global status long into the future.
With the immense financial implications associated with constructing a new stadium one might question how much of a liability the project has been over the past 10 years. Ultimately, the long term benefits of a large stadium are unparalleled in football.
In short, huge stadiums can dictate the success of a club long into the future. As well as providing substantial financial benefits in the form of increased match day/season tickets, they also increase a club's stature significantly, create a more intimidating setting for travelling teams, and set a foundation for huge corporate and sponsorship deals.
Arsenal received £100m for a 15 year deal with Emirates which expires in 2021, and while most of this capital was spent on financing the building of the stadium, when the deal is renewed and the stadium debt finally paid off, the club will become a financial powerhouse, with (crucially) such benefits guaranteed long into the future.
With hindsight the stadium may be viewed as a liability in the short term, considering the club's lack of success on the pitch. Ultimately though, Wenger deserves a huge amount of credit for seeing out such an enormous project while maintaining the club's top four status, and when the stadium provides a solid foundation for future successes, he will be remembered as a huge part of Arsenal's history.
The start of this season has also seen some very important changes to the teams tactics, which many put down to the influence of new assistant manager Steve Bould.
In their 2-0 victory at Liverpool, the greatest difference was how Arsenal's wide players- Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain- tracked back on Borini and Sterling, meaning without the ball Arsenal shaped up in a more rigid 4-4-1-1 as oppose to the fluid 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 they have played for the last 5 years.
This is in huge contrast to 'big' premier league ties in the past where Wenger has been content on controlling the game, only to see numerous teams absorb the pressure and then hit them on the break. (United and Chelsea both scored 3 at the Emirates in 2009/10 season, and United have made a habit of scoring memorable team goals on the counter).
Wenger's new signings are also having a profound effect too, as Olivier Giroud now offers a more direct attacking threat- a useful asset against inferior teams who will sit deep at the Emirates.
The revelation of the team is of course Carzola who is currently playing as a 'central winger'- a player who sits behind a striker and drifts out wide (examples being Ozil, Jovetic) in order to have a greater playmaking role across the entire attacking third. This has been particularly effective with Arteta sitting in a deep lying playmaker role with a more dynamic midfielder next to him- in this case Abou Diaby who has had an excellent start to the season.
Overall, the changes at Arsenal this season are numerous and have changed the complexion of the club considerably. It will now be interesting to see if (a) Wenger maintains these changes and (b) such changes prove successful. Given that the team have had a far superior start to that of last season we can probably expect more unpredictability from the Premier League's biggest underachievers.