It’s that point of the season again. The annual time of year when ‘Le Professeur’ is scrutinized by the media and fans to determine if he should remain in charge. And I’m here to join in and offer my perspective on whether Monsieur Wenger deserves to carry on as manager of Arsenal next season.
It’s been more than 21 years since Arsenal decided to pick Wenger out from Japan. Although initially an unknown quantity to the Arsenal faithful, he has gone on to establish himself as the most successful manager in the club’s history. When Wenger took over in 1996, he made his mark as a proper revolutionary. Before his arrival, Arsenal played some of the most conservative football in the division. That all soon changed under the Frenchman. From a complete overhaul of the players’ diets, to making the squad more technically capable, nothing was left to chance. Gone were the days where Arsenal would just try to ‘get it into the mixer’. Arsène’s innovations were taken note of by the other clubs in the Division and played a huge role in defining the Premier League era.
“I felt like was opening the door (for the Premier League) to the rest of the world”
Over the years, much has changed with the French gaffer. He’s lost his ability to always remain calm, the foreign spark he brought to the team during his early days is long gone and most importantly, he’s become incapable of offering a title challenge. Arsenal are no longer the dominant force in English football they once used to be. Going based on the last 18 months, they’re not even the most dominant force in London. The Gunners find themselves in a sorry state for a club which has, over the years, established itself as the biggest club in the capital and one of the biggest clubs in the country.
One thing that has remained consistent in recent years for Arsène’s men, is their ability to put together eye-catching pieces of play. Although they do a receive a lot of criticism for occasionally trying to “overplay”, in this modern age of football where teams are willing to park the bus to get results, it’s always nice to see a team play the beautiful game the way it was always meant to be played. With such football, the Gunners do manage to get big wins by convincing margins. However, they do so inconsistently. This begs the question, is trying to play attractive football really the way to go for Arsenal? Although this philosophy used to earn Wenger plaudits, it seems like he’s failed to keep up with the times. In this day and age, being good at breaking down oppositions doesn’t guarantee success. For a team to be successful consistently, they must be able to control play as a whole. This has probably been best epitomized by Pep’s City, who’ve been dominating the division this season.
Last season, Wenger failed to take the Gunners to the Champions League for the first time in his 21 year tenure. With heavy competition from the likes of City, Spurs and Liverpool for the Champions League spots, Arsenal had to be at their best every week, something they were unable to do. Their away record was the worst among the top 6, and proved to be decisive at the end of the season. The 2017/18 season has continued in a similar vein. Despite showing some promise with positive results against Spurs and Chelsea (in the Carabao Cup), their struggles away from home have continued. They have managed to pick up only 13 of the 39 away points available so far. The latest 3-1 loss to bottom-of-the-table Swansea at the Liberty further emphasizes the problem. Further, the loss away to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup has left them starring down the barrel of a trophy less season.
Wenger has often been criticized by the Gooners for not bringing in enough quality during the transfer windows. That’s changed this season. Arsenal brought in Lacazette during the summer and have had a very busy winter signing Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, while Sanchez, Walcott and Coquelin have all left the club. Arguably the most important signing of the season, however, was Mesut Özil’s contract extension. The German has been pivotal to Wenger’s system since joining from Real Madrid nearly five years ago. Sanchez left the Emirates to join Manchester United,with Mkhitaryan headed the other way. It will be interesting to see how they cope without the Chilean. Although Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan are top class additions, neither of them have proven themselves in the Premier League yet, in contrast to Alexis, who has established himself as one of the league’s best. If Aubameyang does manage to perform like he did for Dortmund, it could be a very exciting finish to the season for the Gunners.
Irrespective of how much more time Wenger is given, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest managers in the Premier League era. Had it not been for Sir Alex Ferguson, he might even have earned the title of THE greatest. Over the years Wenger has been an admirable servant to the club. He made Arsenal a regular title contender during his early years. He still remains the only manager to have gone an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League era. He oversaw the transition of Arsenal Football Club from Highbury to the Emirates. He’s also the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup. His time at the club is probably best summed up in the words of David Dein:
“Arsène’s a miracle worker. He’s turned players into world class players. Since he has been here, we have seen football from another planet.”
-David Dein, former vice-chairman of Arsenal
All that being said, it’s unfortunate to see the abuse he receives from a lot of fans and the media. It would also be terrible for him and the club if they had to sack him. Ideally, he finishes the season strong and then passes the torch on to someone who’s well inclined to take the club forward. It would also signify the end to one of the greatest eras in the club and the league’s history. As said by Harvey Dent, you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. One can only hope that Wenger makes the right choice and prevents his legacy from being tarnished.
Written by Nitish Brunth