Plenty has been written about Arsene Wenger over the last two decades of his tenure at The Arsenal and I daresay more will be said over the decades that follow his departure, whenever that may be.
As most people are aware his successes on the field came within the first decade where he awoke a slumbering giant of English Football and went toe to toe over a decade with arguably English Footballs greatest club manager Alex Ferguson. At the time, I would (and often did) argue that Wenger was Ferguson’s equal and any title that ended up in Manchester was only on loan until the season after. But slowly over that period Fergie’s will to win and hunger for on-field success started to eclipse Wenger’s and the last time Wenger managed a KO of his foe was the FA Cup Final of 2005.
I realise that The Arsenal had decided to go down the route of moving grounds and what financial implications that entailed but it should also be noted that during this self-imposed ‘Austerity period’ Wenger was the best-paid manager in British Football and also at times World Football.
He also had Tens of Millions at his disposal for transfers and a huge wage budget (approx. £1B over last ten years). A fact frequently overlooked by those quick to argue that Chelsea, United and now City overpower The Arsenal with their financial muscle. He also chose to spend huge sums on kids not old enough to vote from lower leagues despite the need for Premier League and Champions League ready centre halves, Goalkeepers, Full Backs etc.
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Wenger has, in the last decade somehow managed to convince a lot of fans and people in the media that The Arsenal are somehow a plucky little club punching above our weight against much bigger clubs. This despite the fact we moved Stadiums to enable us to push on and challenge European Superpowers like Bayern, Real, Barca and the Italian Teams.
At various points over the years The Arsenal have beaten those clubs on the field in CL encounters, but sadly not when it mattered over two legs or in our solitary CL final despite taking a goal lead. We are close but not close enough when it matters.I feel The Club are not that far off making the next step to becoming serious contenders for titles and worrying the latter stages of the Champions League but sadly that won’t be under our current manager.
Wenger has many qualities but one of his main ones has turned into his biggest weakness, his loyalty to his players. This trait is fine when it is defending the likes of Vieira for being sent off in successive games for he surely knew Vieira would come back and drag us through games we had no right to win. It is an entirely different matter when you are loyal to players like Ramsey / Giroud / Ozil for example who despite being selected week after week do not produce the goods regularly when it matters on the biggest stages.
Every week the debate rages on “will he, won’t he sign?” the contract supposedly on offer from the club for another 2 years. Will he stay will he go? Only one man knows, but I think it does a club of the size of The Arsenal no good at all not knowing who will be in charge come June. The inertia translates onto the pitch and the club just drifts on having the same season again and again, because it’s an easy option to stay with the safe pair of hands. Rather like an unhappily married couple sticking with each other for the sake of the kids, neither willing to give up the security of the situation for the possibility of a happier life apart for all concerned. As in the majority of these relationships, resentment creeps in and does nobody any good in the long run.
The club have made progress off the pitch but at the expense of success on it, which is the very reason we were ambitious in moving in the first place! The last truly ambitious move the club made was to up sticks and move stadiums, to not embrace the opportunities the move afforded us now to move forward on the pitch would be a slap in the face of everyone in our History who strived for The Arsenal to be the best it could be.
To take a Boxing analogy The Arsenal need to employ a manager who’s willing to brawl toe to toe with other clubs again as under Wenger we will always look like contenders right up to the point we get in the ring and get a punch on the nose and we crumble once again. Muhammad Ali was the Greatest Boxer of All-Time but it did not stop him getting beatings toward the end of his career off people not fit to lace his gloves because he did not know when to stop for the day.
Wenger is still a good manager but he used to be great, and sadly just being good should not be good enough for The Arsenal.