It’s a sunny afternoon on the 27th of May, 2017. Your team has just outmuscled and outclassed the Premier League Champions. Your contract is up after this game. You know you have given your heart to the club and have seen that football has moved on from the days in which your management practices were competitive. It was almost the perfect moment for Arsene Wenger to have moved on with his legacy intact, but being addicted to a football club that he considers his life’s work, he decided to stay for two more years and try to compete with the plethora of modern-day managers that have flooded the Premier League these days.
In 1996, a skinny man with messy hair and big spectacles walked into the Arsenal press room and gave his first press conference as an Arsenal manager. He looked more like a professor than a professional football manager, from which his nickname “Le Professeur” has been derived. The headline “Arsene Who?” took over the British newspapers at the time. Over the next 21 years, the British media got to know exactly who Arsene was.
His reign can easily be divided into two parts. The first spanning nine years between 1996 and 2005, and the second from 2005 to date. In those first nine years, he surprised all his doubters and took Arsenal to new levels.This was built because of his new diets, training regimes, scouting setup, and attacking tactics. Under him, Arsenal changed from a boring, defensively strong team under George Graham, to an attacking force that gave nightmares to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal won three Premier League titles in those nine years. 2003/2004 was a season in which Arsenal managed to go the entire year unbeaten. Arsene was loved by the fans and players alike. Some players even credited him for extending their careers by a few years due to his training methods.
Fast forward to 2018 and it seems like even the most ardent of Arsene Wenger fans have turned on him. A recent poll had 88% of Arsenal fans who wanted Wenger out as Arsenal manager. What happened between 2005 and now that has led to a hero of the club turn into a villain?
In the 2000s, a decision was made by the Arsenal board that was to change everything forever. They decided to build the Emirates stadium. In an era where clubs were making the majority of their money with matchday revenue, Arsenal could not sustain themselves in a stadium with a capacity of just over 38,000. They needed to modernize in a grandiose way. They did by building a state-of-the-art 60,000 seater named the Emirates stadium. It had all the looks and facilities of a modern day stadium.
The only problem was that it cost Arsenal 400 million pounds. That was not a small sum of money, especially in 2006. This hampered Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s plans when it came to wages and transfers. With the money being diverted towards the stadium, Arsenal was not able to compete financially with the likes of Manchester United and billionaire-funded Chelsea in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Despite this, Arsene Wenger was still able to deliver Champions League football and revenues came from that on a yearly basis. He managed to maintain performance levels even while most players were looking to jump ship for greener pastures. Although it was a commendable effort, the club’s lack of silverware caused a lot of concern for the fans and begged the question of whether the club was interested in trophies or just balancing the books. All this happened when fans saw other clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City set new records for transfer spending, while their club had to settle for scraps.
Something had to give, and it did. Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil in 2013 for 42.5 Million pounds, a club record. This was supposed to be the start of an era where Arsenal was finally financially competitive again. While the financial prowess of the club has been impressive, almost everything else has been anything but impressive.
In terms of competitiveness on the field, Arsenal is worse off in terms of points at this point of the season compared to any of the previous seasons in which Arsene Wenger was at the helm of affairs. In recent years, Arsenal has slowly been overtaken by the rest of what is known as the ‘top 6’. Last season, Arsene Wenger’s decline could be seen by everyone as Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League, something that hasn’t happened since 1997. Quite simply, Arsene Wenger has not been able to keep up with the changing times of football.
Far too often, he has seen his side being outmuscled by the opposition. A simple method has emerged to beat Arsenal over the last few seasons. If one can make the game into a physical contest, more often than not, Arsenal fail to compete. This has happened far too many times for it to be considered a one-off kind of defeat. They have been roughed up by the teams below them, and simply outplayed by ones above them.
On paper, Arsenal have boasted quite competitive squads capable of much more than what they currently achieve. This begs the question as to why they can’t perform when needed to. The answer is that they are not prepared as well as others. On too many occasions in big games, as soon as they are put under some pressure, they crack. It is almost as if they do not know how to deal with pressure. More often than not, they get rolled over and produce poor results. This is down to the management which is led by Arsene Wenger. He is no longer able to extract the best possible performance from a group of players that he has. Many a time, he has made the wrong decision, which has been evident this season.
It all started with the decision to keep Alexis Sanchez. While everyone knew he wanted to leave, Arsene Wenger decided to keep him, despite the risk of losing him for free the following year. While one might say he was the best player in the Arsenal squad and had to be retained, the Alexis Sanchez that turned up this season was anything but the man we saw in the first half of last year. He was lazy, lost the ball too many times, and also caused a lot of unrest in the dressing room. It got to such a stage that once when he scored a goal against Crystal Palace, not many of his teammates went to congratulate him.
Another gaping error was the decision to bench Lacazette vs Liverpool and Man City. While hindsight is 20/20, anyone would tell you that benching your record signing in two big away games is a bit illogical. He even came on and scored vs Man City. While the real reason for his benching is still anyone’s guess, there is no doubt that those decisions have hurt his confidence and resulted in Arsenal purchasing Aubameyang.
The other problem was one from a familiar area, the transfer market. Arsenal sold Walcott, Coquelin, and Oxlade-Chamberlain without replacing them at all. Giroud was replaced by Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan replaced Alexis, but these 3 squad players were not replaced. They aren’t part of the first team, but they are useful players off the bench and in cases when first team players are injured. Without them, the bench looks very weak as well.
These decisions and other factors like a lack of preparation have resulted in Arsenal languishing in 6th. They are 33 points off the pace and closer to the bottom than the top. There isn’t much risk of Burnley overtaking them(Although who knows with this team). At the same time, there does not seem like much chance of them advancing up the table as well. This means fans will have to settle for 6th at best this season. They have one of the worst away records in the league, winning only 3 away games this season. It is almost amusing that they have won more away games in Europe this season than domestically in the league.
“I am sure in the next 20 years, Arsenal will have multiple Managers”
– Arsene Wenger at the Arsenal AGM 2017
All of this has resulted in an almost unified cry for Arsene Wenger to leave the club immediately. A man who has dedicated 22 years of his life to this club. As a football fan, it is sad to see such a long and ground-breaking tenure to end this way. The last fortnight or so has been unbearable to watch as an Arsenal fan. Prior to the Milan game, Arsenal had lost 4 matches in a row, something you would definitely not expect from a ‘top 6’ club. This has just added fuel to the fire of the ‘WengerOut’ camp. It isn’t just that Arsenal lost 4 games, it’s the manner in which they lost them as well. There was no fight shown in any of those games. It almost seemed as if the players weren’t playing for the manager anymore.
“You will get rid of me one day, don’t worry”
– Arsene Wenger, before a press conference. For him, that day inches ever so closer.
In conclusion, it seems like the team is in desperate need of a new voice in the dressing room. Arsene Wenger may have all the knowledge about the game that one might need but the truth is that he is an analog manager in a digital era, a man out of his time and every year spent by him at this club is a dent to his legacy. After all that he has done for the club, he is a man who should be celebrated for the way he changed the club and the league, he does not deserve to be remembered as a man who was too stubborn to leave the club he grew. The win vs AC Milan at the San Siro was an impressive performance. Although, in context of this season, it seems to be like a band-aid on a crack in the wall.
Arsene Wenger 1996 image via express.
Arsene Wenger emirates building image via reddit.
Mesut Ozil Image via pintrest.
Arsenal 0-3 Man city Image via Talksport.
Lacazette Aubameyang Image via Standard.