It’s no secret that in recent years, the Arsenal manager has become a somewhat divisive figure at the Emirates Stadium.
No league title for over a decade, failure against the best teams in the Champions League and a reluctance to buy what appear to be the necessary reinforcements to a decent squad, despite having the funds available, have left some fans miffed.
We’ve seen ‘Wenger Out’ banners, ‘Thanks for the memories, time to go’ etc, but is this really justified?
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If you compare it to the Wenger ‘Golden Years’ – league titles, cup wins, the invincibles era, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, a near impenetrable back four and relentlessly stylish football – then yes, the current run doesn’t look great. But this is not the early 2000s, and it’s a very different league.
The years of Arsenal/Manchester United dominance swiftly ended once hundreds of millions of pounds of Russian money started pouring into Chelsea, and were further challenged by Sheik Mansour’s purchase of Man City.
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This prompted a barren run for Arsenal – no major trophy for a decade, and after such a successful period from 1997-2005, for this the fans can be understandably peeved.
However, this must be seen in the wider context, beyond mere cups and titles. Wenger successfully oversaw a move to a major new stadium, a huge boost to the club’s infrastructure for generations to come, signing away five years in the process and dealing with a limited transfer budget and the vast improvement of teams around them. Still they got in the Champions League every single year. This is all in spite of Arsenal’s perennially flabbergasting injury record.
Most seasons, there was at least a period when they were challenging for the top, if only briefly. They had decent cup runs and lost the 2011 League Cup final to Birmingham City after a man of the match performance by Ben Foster.
There were Champions League semis and quarters, then a few disappointing exits in the round of 16 against some of the best teams in the world. Were they the world-beaters of 2003-2005, or the team that narrowly lost a Champions League final to Barcelona? No. Were they bad? Absolutely not.
Despite a few rogue results in the league and the occasional shock cup exit, they always played good football, had quality players (more at some times than others) and were challenging for titles: Arsenal were doing pretty well.
They weren’t right at the very top of the pile, and had more dodgy spells than in the previous seasons, but they were always up there. To then go and win the FA Cup two seasons in a row should have banished any doubts about Wenger’s class and pedigree as a Premier League manager, and his expert knowledge of the English game: he is the longest serving manager in the English game by ten years, and taking into account factors beyond just the win percentage, Sky Sports found that Wenger is by far the one of the best Premier League managers of all time – after Sir Alex Ferguson, obviously.
The only person who could have conceivably done better than Wenger is literally a God. Not with a small g. A God. An all-knowing all-seeing eternal mastermind of a footballing deity. Sure, another manager might have got Arsenal a league title once, or a better Champions League record, but it is the stuff of fantasy to suggest Arsenal could have suddenly got in the perfect manager to replace Wenger, at any point in the last eight years – listen carefully: that man does not exist.
Some of are you thinking ‘Pep? Pep Guardiola, maybe?’ but let’s be real – that was never, ever going to happen.
This is the hard truth for Arsenal fans to accept, Arsenal are not the best team in England. They have been for periods under Wenger, and they could be again, but they are not right now and haven’t been for some while, despite topping the table for a while every now and then. That’s OK, it’s allowed.
Arsenal are still yet to have a catastrophic season under Wenger – the like of which all their significant rivals, except possibly City, have suffered in recent years at least once – and that is mighty impressive in a fiercely competitive, relentless league.
They have no divine right to win the league, and the idea that a new coach could suddenly come in and immediately improve on Wenger’s record, or sort out the team’s weaknesses, is an absolute fantasy. It could take years. And who is up to the job? Diego Simeone? Tomas Tuchels? Unai Emery? Do any of them want to leave? Anyone else? Alan Pardew?
United suffered hugely from Ferguson’s departure and botched handover, and are just barely beginning to recover, finishing fifth this year, while Arsenal came second. To sweeten the deal, in a freak season where Leicester City ran riot, Arsenal devastatingly snatched second place from their north London rivals on the last day.
Arsenal have stability, the persistent quality of football, and the dignity of a good club, which Wenger brings in abundance.
They haven’t won much in the last ten years, but titles are glory, and football is about far more than just glory. He is the diametric opposite of Jose Mourinho’s tempestuousness, bombast, paranoia and recipe for instant success, followed by an enormous fallout.
He has spent two decades outfoxing everyone, except occasionally Sir Alex and Jose, finishing above Spurs every single year, even when they’ve been resurgent, while guiding Arsenal to modest, and sometimes immodest, success in a football world overrun with money and talent, most of which isn’t at Arsenal.
He knows the Premier League like the back of his hand and is still doing a fine job. He will know when it’s time for him to go, and he will go, and only when he decides to go will it be the right time.
And whoever has to take over at Arsenal after the Wenger era will have the hardest job in football.
Do Arsenal fans take for granted Arsene Wenger and what he's done for the club? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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