Be careful what you wish for

The end or an era for Arsenal and Wenger.

20th April 2018 will now be a watershed moment in the history of Arsenal Football Club. The man who has led them with such loyalty and success for over two decades has announced he is standing down in the off-season.  This brings to an end a period of vocal unrest from the Arsenal fans with growing numbers of supporters displaying banners and attending protests with the objective of ousting the Frenchman.

Those unhappy fans have finally gotten what they wanted.  Wenger is to go and a new manager will come in and lead them in a new era of success, so they hope.  But after years of anger and apathy, have they actually lost sight of the man’s achievements?  Yes it’s fair to say that this season hasn’t been a stellar success; however the end of Wenger’s era draws to a close, two decades of tittles, trophies, great players and a growth in financial strength, with the move to the Emirates his most tangible footprint on the club he loves so much.

Disrespect and vitriol

It is hard not to repeat the deserved praise which poured out of the football community yesterday.  From the Invincibles side, to the flamboyant football of Henry, Pires et al Wenger brought something the English game simply hadn’t seen before. Indeed looking at the pace of the modern Premier League, its relentless speed and glittering foreign stars, it would be fair to agree with Guardiola’s assessment that the game is where it is today, thanks to the football Wenger introduced.

And yet in recent times, as bad result surfaced, pundits and fans alike had the knives out.  Particularly stinging successive Champions League exits at the first knock out stage showed just how far Arsenal had fallen from the elite. However the ceaseless abuse of the man in charge was quite tasteless and undeserving.  It must be considered that before Wenger, Arsenal had played just ten matches in the European Cup in their entire history.

The fans though do deserve some sympathy, after all there was a sense of history repeating itself year after year as any hopes of Arsenal challenging for the very top honours faded by autumn in most seasons. In their anger, planes were hired, no doubt at great expense, baring hostile messages demanding the manager be ousted.  Then came shallow remarks from his peers, claiming he was an “expert in failure.”  This level of abuse and short-sightedness made grim reading for most fair-minded neutrals.

Success and failure

His most obvious success has been the trophy haul – seven FA cup wins, three titles and an impressive double to boot, plus there is still every chance that he could lift a final trophy in May if they can win the Europa League.  His legacy to the club though, has to be considered his greatest achievement; Wenger set about restoring a dull and stagnant football side when he took over in October 1996.  The club has a reputation of playing by the numbers and grinding out one nil victories in the immediate aftermath of the George Graham era.  Fast forward a couple of year as Tony Adams fired in an icing on the cake goal against Everton to clinch the title and the club had forever been changed by the Frenchman.  He would continue to evolve their style until they became a feared total football side way before the achievements of Barcelona and Pep Gladiola.  Henry, Anelka, Ljungberg, Pires and Overmars would regularly set about humiliating established top defenders in a way that only confident world class players can do.

Fans and pundits like to cut his time at Arsenal in half. To put it simply; first half good, second half bad. But this only tells half the story. Their nine year wait for a major honour coincided with the momentous financial burden of moving to the Emirates from Highbury.  This cannot be downplayed in any assessment of the Frenchman’s legacy. An eye watering cost of £390 million was shelled out on the project.  Wenger understood its importance and such is the man’s commitment, he personally guaranteed the lenders that he would see out the next five seasons from 2006 to 2011. Less loyal and devoted men would have walked away for an easier gig.  The club underwent some austerity to say the least.  Star names such as Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie would all be sold and youth players were frantically pushed into the team.  It is no wonder then that results and success were stifled.

The barren years without a trophy were used as a stick to beat Wenger, yet not many pointed to the economic hardship at the club or the loyalty of the manager for staying on. Few detractors also excluded the fact that Chelsea and Man City rose from mediocrity to powerhouse status almost overnight, forcing Arsenal from title challengers to top four hopefuls in less than a decade.  Indeed in just two seasons, Chelsea’s net spend on players of £140 and £138 million respectively , was more than Arsenal’s net outlay between 2006 and 2011.

The right send off and next steps

This season has been a hard one for the fans.  It is always easy to dismiss the supporters as fickle moaners but the club has a divided air, and seats are staring to be left unfilled as apathy spreads.  They are also being asked to pay up to £100 a ticket so their complaints are warranted given their results.

Their away form in 2018 is a clear sign that something is badly wrong.  As do the signings of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, both men are now nearer to thirty than twenty five and smacked of panic buys as Alexis Sanchez finally sulked his way to half a million pounds a week at Manchester United.  An Arsenal side of previous years under Wenger would never have considered such older and worn out prospects as viable targets.

A lot now rests on the Europa League.  Wenger deserves a trophy and a final hurrah from the fans.  Football is not always kind however and if they do miss out then the job for whoever they as his successor grows massively.  It must also be considered that nobody at Arsenal has any experience in making any managerial appointment.  Inevitable comparisons have been made to Manchester United in 2013 when they chose wrongly for Alex Ferguson’s successor.  However, the situation is now very different for Arsenal.  They are adrift of the top five sides and have huge problems to address in terms of personnel and attitude.

A big name is needed but if they are not in the Champions League, will it be possible to get such a man?  Perhaps this can be Wenger’s final gift.  If he does lift that trophy and gets the carrot of Champions League football, then the club just might be able to attract the right man.  If not, it could be a case of more pain and the dreaded transitional period.

 

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