For most young Arsenal fans, especially so in my case, Arsenal cannot be imagined without Arsene Wenger. Almost single handedly transforming the Gunners’ image with his emphasis on fast, free flowing football as well as his astute acquirements of superstars like Thierry Henry, Bobby Pires and Patrick Vieira, Arsene Wenger is both directly and indirectly responsible for large swathes of Arsenal fans becoming Gooners.
It is a curious situation therefore, to see the man being vilified so much both in the media as well as on the Internet. While the wisdom of Facebook posts and tweets may not be much to judge the longest serving manager in the Premier League on, there are growing perspectives on some troublesome questions regarding his reign as Arsenal boss and what it might mean for the immediate future..
First, let’s establish the context required before one can analyse Arsene’s situation at the club right now. Arriving in 1996, he is now both Arsenal’s longest serving manager and the longest serving manager currently active at the top level of English football. He is also the most successful Arsenal manager of all time and few would argue his status as a Premier League icon alongside Sir Alex Ferguson. He remains the only manager to ever go an entire Premier League season undefeated (to all the five year olds getting ready to reply, Preston North End achieved this in the old Division One, playing 28 games and not in the Premier League, which officially began in the early nineties). There is no doubt of what he has brought to Arsenal in the past but the view becomes blurry when discussing the second half of his 18 year long Arsenal career. In the past decade, returns on the trophy front have been meagre to say the least with the 2014 FA Cup ending a trophy drought that lasted nine years. However, the club have been remarkably consistent in finishing in a champions league spot on a budget that seems more appropriate for a mid table club. Everyone is well versed on how Arsenal hobbled themselves financially for the best part of a decade with the move to the lavish new Emirates Stadium but uncomfortable rumours of artificial austerity keep popping up whenever the club’s financial results are released and indicate a gargantuan array of cash held in reserve. Whether this prolonged paucity of funds is the doing of Arsene, the board or a combination of both is a question that has a high chance of going unanswered at least for the foreseeable future and beyond.
Arsene himself has made some questionable decisions in this time, controversially selling stars like Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie to Premier League rivals as well as ill fated entrustment of responsibilities to players like William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas, the latter who was turned down on a cut price move back to Islington from Barcelona. Despite these deeply unpopular decisions, it is generally agreed that Arsene is an idealist and firm believer in loyalty and trust, often to his detriment which sees the players get a lot of stick for having “stabbed him in the back”. Therefore, it can be definitely agreed that whatever the results might be, nobody can accuse Arsene Wenger of being wilfully unproductive. It is evident that the man breathes Arsenal and this must be kept in mind at all times.
So where does that leave us? Is it right to sack a manager after he fails to deliver on a ten year promise? Is it right to keep trusting him after years of being let down at the very end? The answers to these questions have sharply divided the Arsenal fanbase in a manner never seen before. Personally, I looked forward to the 2014/15 season on the back of an FA Cup win and the closest Arsenal came to mounting a title challenge since 2007 but the ridiculous spate of injuries and the fatal mistake of not adding another defensive signing have probably put paid to all hopes of a league title. The FA Cup and the Champions League with a favourable draw offer glimmers of hope but as any Arsenal fan will now tell you, there’s a good chance that the Gunners will find a way to make it difficult for themselves. It is of my opinion, simply out of respect for Arsene and appreciation of what he has achieved in the fallow years of financial sterility, to give him a proper go with a team of stars and a much healthier bank balance. That said, with results in their current state, it is difficult to see him continuing if all Arsenal end up with this season is a top four spot (which isn’t even guaranteed so far!) The likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey provide real quality to this team and it is highly unlikely that they would want to continue wearing the red and white if Arsenal aren’t challenging for trophies soon. And yet, one would think that since it was Arsene Wenger’s reputation and larger than life personality that helped secure these signings in the first place, it would be an unwise move to sack him.
In closing, I would like to take one of Arsene’s favourite approaches: Patience. The questions are hard hitting and urgent. The answers will be revealed in May. Whether they are what Le Professeur wants to hear is another matter entirely.