Football has rarely set such a fascinating test as the one now unfolding at the Emirates Stadium. It is about nerve and understanding of the dynamics of a football club and the possibility that there is a way of going forward that breaks new ground and, one day, might deliver an ultimately satisfying moment of success.
It is not one, if you hadn't guessed where we are going with this, for Arsène Wenger but for those who have for so long ridden on his coat-tails, gorged on the reflected glory of beautiful and, until the last few years, winning football.
No, it is not the trial of Wenger but of Arsenal's fans and it wants to see if they are men and women of patience and distinction or another bunch of For-God's- sake-win-for-us-because-it-is-our-right-and-your-duty wallahs.
What they don't seem to understand is that Wenger doesn't need or want their warm approval.
If ever a football manager has created his own terrain, his own set of values on which alone he was prepared to be judged, it is surely the football aesthete from Alsace. He couldn't make it plainer that he would much rather have his followers' trust based not on blind belief in some outlandish new theories he has developed down the years but a proper understanding of what he has always been about.
In the fallout from the discouraging defeat by Fulham – one, however, that was only narrowly avoided at roughly this time last year before an exquisite run of performance that was splintered only by the sickening injury to Eduardo and perhaps the excessive reaction to it within an essentially young dressing room – the issue could not have been crystallised more clearly.
It is has been underlined by the chief shareholder, Danny Fiszman, and the manager. Fiszman makes it clear that Wenger could have written a cheque for £30m at any time before or after the defections of Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini. Wenger earlier confirmed to The Independent that despite the financial underpinning – and confidence in his judgement he enjoyed in the boardroom – he would go his own way at his own pace and it didn't matter if Scolari chased down Robinho or Ferguson landed Berbatov. Wenger had his own faith in the future and it didn't matter if you believed or didn't, he knew what he was going to do.
Ultimately, of course, much will depend on the continued belief in – and gratitude for – all Wenger has achieved. The question now facing every Arsenal fan – and current and putative directors and investors – is whether Wenger's version of football's Holy Grail is something to be prized and suffered or tossed out as so much fancy thinking placed in the path of such financial behemoths as Chelsea and Manchester United.
Wenger's polarising statement was so at odds with the prevailing Premier League wisdom – and operating methods – at the very least it deserves to be preserved as a notable football relic.
He declared: "When we decided to build the stadium I wanted to anticipate the possibility of financial restrictions, so I concentrated on youth. I also felt the best way to create an identity with the way we play football, to get players to integrate into our culture, with our beliefs, our values, was to get them as young as possible and develop them together. I felt it would be an interesting experiment to see players grow together with these qualities and with a love of the club."
Wenger allowed that this was an extremely idealistic vision of the world of football.
But then what was new? Hasn't Wenger always bought low and sold, however reluctantly, high? Hasn't he eschewed the business of chance and speculation, and can't the most casual observer recite the glorious results of such an instinct down the years: Vieira, Henry, Anelka, Flamini, Hleb – and now is it not resplendent again in the status of Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor and the swiftly unfurled quality of young Samir Nasri, signed at £12m on a long-term contract?
In the end you can only speak for yourself and your own instincts. You can say that Wenger is on some fantasy trip of his own. Or you can assert, as the belief is here, that what he promises is something that makes supporting a football club truly worthwhile. It is because Wenger's club is not about seeing who can spend the most, and stockpiling all available talent, but developing a group of players who he believes will grow up before our fascinated eyes, and into something quite splendid and bold.
Who would trade such adventure – and yes, for surely it is not a dirty word, idealism – for a dubious stream of big-money buys? The word in north London is that right now quite a number would. Are they right? Only if it is true what the old gridiron coach Vince Lombardi said, that winning was not the important thing but the only thing.
Wenger offers another option. He says that the ambition to win is fundamental, but it is also important how you do it, how you build an understanding of how you secure the future and shape that most precious of assets: a real identity.
Wenger wants it all. He wants beautiful football and, sooner rather than later, he would like to win. Yes, it is a dream, but sometimes a dream comes true – and doesn't that make the life of a true fan ultimately worthwhile?
Capello the hard-nosed pro will not take no for an answer on England's needs
Reports that Fabio Capello is surprised and distressed by the loss of Owen Hargreaves and Steven Gerrard should be taken with a pinch of the black pepper with which he so liberally bombards his pasta.
England didn't sign an innocent in Il Capo. They got themselves a hard football man who knows the ruling ethic of the professional game, which is always to look after your own interests first, and in their ignoring of England's needs, and even some basic courtesy, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez, are, Capello knows, merely running to form.
But it could be interesting over the next few months. Capello has some rights and we should believe he will be more inclined to enforce them than Steve McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson. They tried to placate the big bosses and lost a lot of their credibility. There was never much danger of Capello taking that route, and still less now.
History shows Montgomerie should be an easy Ryder pick for Faldo
It is good to see that Colin Montgomerie is turning the familiar terrain of Gleneagles into his personal battleground, even though the hard word is that he will probably have to impersonate Tiger Woods at his best to earn a kind look from the Ryder Cup captain, Nick Faldo.
This is just too bad. Faldo's quality as Britain's best and most competitive golfer does not need any amplification here, but as a leader of men, and a companion of fellow sportsmen, his track record is less than encouraging.
It does not help that he has apparently dismissed the mystical properties that take hold of Monty whenever the Ryder Cup comes around. The attitude is pure Faldo in its nuts and bolts and abiding practicalities of current form.
Of course, a player's nick is important – and it is sad that Montgomerie's has fallen far short of what would have made him not only an automatic selection but also a no-brainer captain's pick.
Yet he was fighting yesterday – and showing enough touch to warrant a burst of practical generosity from the captain.
Montgomerie said the other day, and it was a statement of much poignancy, that he will always be remembered for the Ryder Cup. This was as much as anything a forlorn admission that beyond the European tour his brilliant game has never met with the success it always promised.
But the Ryder Cup has been as much Monty's comfort zone as his arena of glory. Faldo, with six majors to his name, would be committing an act of much grace if he acknowledged the fact and picked Montgomerie, along with the re-charged Darren Clarke.
Faldo might see it as an act of charity, something that would have to be carved out of his own forbidding nature. But it would be more than that. It would be an investment in one of the greatest certainties in golf, the one that says that in the Ryder Cup no one rises up quite like Colin Montgomerie.Reuse content