The youngest generation of football fans was fed a joke of Arsenal being named after Arsene Wenger and most fell for it growing up. Can you blame them? For many, Arsene Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal football club before they were even born. Over the years Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have grown to be synonymous with each other. Hence, when on an ordinary Friday morning, a tweet by Arsenal, linking to an article “Merci Arsene” sent the football world into shock.
Arsene Wenger- What is the real story
On the 20th April, Arsene Wenger announced that the current campaign will be his last ever at Arsenal. The Frenchman has been in charge of the club since 1996. The 22-year-old tenure will end on 13th May, which for the majority was an extremely successful one.
Arsene Wenger’s legacy
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal won three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has won more Premier League titles in history than him with Jose Mourinho winning as many. In addition, the former A.S Monaco manager ensured, Arsenal finished in the “top 4” and qualified for the Champions League for a mind blowing 20 consecutive years. His on field achievements aside, his exit from Arsenal is most definitely an end of era of managers staying at their club for such a long while.
Style of football
But remarkably these achievements is not what defines Arsene Wenger. Its much beyond that. One of his many principles was being stubborn on the kind of football he wants to play. Wenger never settled to be pragmatic or defensive. It was his assistance to play a style of football that is positive and pleasing to the eye. One thing even his critics cannot deny is that is something he was successful in doing. Not just Arsenal fans but football followers all over would concede to the fact that they have enjoyed watching teams coached by Arsene Wenger play for most of his career. Coming to be known as “Wenger Ball” over the years, his teams gave exactly the fun and joy to fans that people watch sport for.
One thing about Arsene Wenger that stands out is his belief in youth. Everyone talks about a desire to help young players grow, very few people actually do it. In modern times, hardly anyone take an effort to go out of their way to help youngsters. This is something Arsene Wenger cannot be accused off. The Frenchman has been like a godfather to many youngsters over the years. Arsene Wenger has been catalyst in growth of some players who have grown to be the best in the world. To name only a few Denis Bergkamp, Thiery Henry, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie owe a lot to him.
Sometimes it can be argued, Arsene Wenger has shown too much trust in youth for his own good. Some have not lived up to their hype, some left him and some were never good enough. Probably his results would have been lot better had he opted for a different approach. But certainly world football would have been worse off.
Not long after their incredible “invincible season’, Arsenal took a huge decision of shifting from the iconic Highbury stadium to the glorious Emirates Stadium. It was months after losing the Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006 that Arsenal completed the move.
While the move was done in order to increase their revenues in the long run, in the short term Arsenal faced a severe financial crunch. In order to pay off the stadium costs and banks loans, the club was massively restricted in their operation. They did not have finances to buy quality players, star players were leaving yet Arsene Wenger got results out of them. He used his limited resources in the best possible way. He got them to play Champions league football every year which meant additional income for the club.
The history books will show Arsene Wenger did not win the Premier League title for 14 years. History books will say Arsene Wenger had a trophy draught of eight years. What the history books won’t tell you are the circumstances. They will not tell you that despite it being a joke at the time, getting Champions football with those quality squads was indeed like a trophy. In some cases, his achievements in those six years are greater than of some managers who boast of multiple titles. History books will not show how despite their best players leaving, Arsene Wenger kept the club competitive against the best and wealthiest around.
In years to come, if one will just look at silverware, Arsene Wenger will seem one of many, when one searches a bit deeper, Arsene Wenger will look like one in a million. As long as the Emirates Stadium will stand, no one would dare to forget Arsene Wenger’s name.
But it isn’t that Arsene Wenger doesn’t have trophies to show for. Probably the greatest achievement in English football belongs to him. The record-breaking Arsenal team of 2003-04 will be remembered forever. Know as the “invincible”, Arsenal went through the entire season unbeaten. They are only the second team after Preston North end way back in the 1880’s to achieve the feat in England. The entire run of Arsenal went to 49 games unbeaten. Not only they did not lose, they won in style. Not only the club’s history but whenever the league’s history is spoken about, that team will be one of the
David Dien, the man who bought Arsene Wenger to Arsenal put it quite well “Arsene Wenger is no ordinary football manager”. The man is fluent in many languages, has a undergraduate degree in Engineering and a master degree in Economics. There is no doubt that the Frenchman is one of the most educated around. Not only on paper but by action. Whenever he will talk about football, one would be attracted. Listening to him for every football enthusiast has always been an unique learning experience.
Not just his words but his actions justify that. Upon coming to England in 1996, its universally accepted Arsene Wenger revolutionised English football. Not just by making the league more competitive or winning three league titles in five years or the brand of football on the pitch. Arsene Wenger changed the basic processes of English football for good. From making training methods more scientific to bringing a more healthy diet, Wenger was different and made everyone take notice. He came to England with headlines of “Arsene who?” at a time when foreign managers were rare in the league, who can deny that this unknown man is one of the best things that ever happened to football in the country.
Did he tarnish his legacy ?
Reading this you may wonder, why has the man bought fans fights, planes being flown wanting him out and empty stadium. The truth is time waits for no one in sport. Not only players but even coaches have a prime, Wenger evidently got past his. It is hard to justify Arsenal’s under performance since 2012. There is no doubting in that time with the quality of players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez they had the potential to win the league. To not even compete with one, where except for Manchester City this season, no champion has looked mind blowing is unacceptable. What Leciester City did in 2015/16 was beyond incredible but Arsenal not winning it that year raises questions. Above that the last few years the football was more often that not not as good to watch. At one point, it comes down to the manager.
The lack of an European trophy will go down as probably the biggest missing link of Wenger’s CV. The defeat to Atletico Madrid means under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal will never have won either the Champions or Europa League. Certainly that is a stat doesn’t reflect well on a manager on the manager of his stature.
Right time to leave ?
It definitely was high time Wenger left or else he risked ruining his legacy beyond the good work. Probably the right time was three or fours years ago. At he time he could have gone without a stain on his work. He had multiple opportunities to leave on a high, sadly that wont happen now.
But does it matter. He isn’t the first sportsperson to have a anti climatic ending to his career. People like Sir Alex Ferguson are the exception rather than the rule. The great Brian Clough was relegated in his final years as a manager. There is no doubting in years to come Wenger’s good work will be ultimately remembered like with Clough.
What next for Arsenal ?
Not just Arsenal fans but every football fans will feel a bit weird not seeing Arsene Wenger in the Arsenal dugout. Even the older generation of football enthusiasts who can boost of seeing a Non Arsene Wenger Arsenal side cannot say they have seen Arsenal play at the Emirates Stadium without Arsene Wenger. For the first time in August 2018, Arsenal will step out at their glorious new home without Arsene Wenger in the home dugout.
Fears around the Emirates stadium are of a repeat situation of what happened at Manchester United post the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Those reservations are obviously natural as the size of the transition is the same. But there are reasons to believe Arsenal will find the transition easier than Manchester United.
At Manchester United along with Sir Alex Ferguson, CEO David Gill left at the same time. This left the inexperienced Ed Woodward at the helm in the transition period for United. Whatever one makes of David Moyes’s coaching, the failed transfer window was a major reason for how United’s season and time since has gone.
In contrast at Arsenal over the past year there have been background changes. There seems to have been a move made to make the succession easier. Recently former Barcelona director of football Raul Sanllegi and ex Borussia Dortmund Sven Mislinat joined Arsenal as head of recruitment. Arsenal at least from the outside seem have put a better structure in place.
Further while it may sound harsh but the bar at much higher at Old Trafford then, than it is at Arsenal now. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season as manager, Manchester United were champions. For perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson won the league five times since Arsene Wenger last won it. At the time anything other than winning the league would have been seen as a failure by the Manchester United fanbase. On the other hand, the new Arsenal manager wont be immediately expected to produce results of that nature. If the new coach gives the feeling of taking the club in the right direction, he will be given time by Arsenal fans. Similar to how Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or even Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho post David Moyes at Manchester United.
Getting things right
If there is one thing the Manchester United experience teaches us, Arsenal need to make the right decisions from the start. One bad decision at the start like with David Moyes for United could have implications for years. Arsenal need to very careful in the search of their new manager. They need to realise the magnitude of being the immediate replacement of Arsene Wenger and have a person who is capable of handing the pressure. They need to be careful in knowing where the team stands at the moment. The need of needing to build the team from scratch must not be forgotten. A person who is adept at this must be chosen. Arsenal must find the right balance in experience, style of football and having a winning identity. All the factors must be given due importance not just one of them.
After that, its crucial for the new manager to be given the right support. It will only be naive to suggest that Arsene Wenger is the only one responsible for Arsenal’s recent failing. In fact there is a reasonable case to make that the Frenchman was the one holding the ship. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Arsenal board room has not acted in the best interests of the club’s on field aspirations. Arsene Wenger was someone who could live through the incompetency, others will not. If Arsenal want to return to their glory days, they cannot afford the same mistakes.