Over the last few weeks, Arsene Wenger has come under constant criticism after back to back defeats against Watford and Chelsea, with a 2-0 home win against Hull temporarily slowing down the protests. Gary Neville went to war with ‘Arsenal Fan TV’ where fans called for Wenger’s head, calling him a ‘fraud’ and many other pundits and ex-players have had their say on Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager. In this article, I’m here to jump to the defence of the under-fire Arsenal boss and put to bed some of the debates between the ‘Wenger-In’ and ‘Wenger-Out’.
The first thing I’m desperate to tackle is some of the ideas the media, fans and press have put together about Arsenal that are simply not true. I’m not dealing with opinion here, I’m simply stating FACT.
Arsenal Always Finish 4th: Well, despite Arsenal finishing 2nd and 3rd in the last two seasons, this idea seems to exist in the world of football that Arsenal always finish 4th. In fact, whilst 4th has been a regular spot for Arsenal under Wenger, they have actually finished 4th under the Frenchman in as many occasions as they have finished 2nd. A total of 6 times each. In fact, here’s where Wenger’s finished in every season (1996-1997 he joined mid-October, 1997-1998 was his first full year):
97 – 3rd
98 – 1st
99 – 2nd
00 – 2nd
01 – 2nd
02 – 1st
03 – 2nd
04 – 1st
05 – 2nd
06 – 4th
07 – 4th
08 – 3rd
09 – 4th
10 – 3rd
11 – 4th
12 – 3rd
13 – 4th
14 – 4th
15 – 3rd
16 – 2nd
Up until 2006, Wenger never finished outside the top 2, if you take into account only his full-seasons in charge. That means for 8 seasons he was always 1st or 2nd. Now, no one’s disputing the idea that Wenger WAS a great manager, but regardless, after 2006 Arsenal began their process of paying back stadium debt for the Emirates Stadium, which has meant the selling of at least £25m worth of players EVERY summer. Despite this restriction, Wenger has always finished inside the top 4 and brought in Champions League revenue, which was a must for Arsenal, and kept the side competitive, reaching several Cup finals and semi-finals, despite that long spell without a trophy.
Wenger Doesn’t Buy Strikers: Another myth surrounding Arsenal! Whilst I appreciate Wenger has been hesitant in the transfer market over the years, and yes probably has made mistakes missing out on certain players, I think it’s fair to say that he has bought his fair share of strikers over the years. Whilst they may not have been ‘World Class’, they’ve got the job done for Arsenal at a time where Arsenal couldn’t attract the top players with wages or club stature in general. He’s often created World-Class strikers like Robin van Persie, Alexis Sanchez, and Yaya Sanogo. As I said, they didn’t all work out… Regardless though, he’s spent £68m on forwards in the last 5 years including Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Lucas Perez, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez. World class or not, they all scored and are scoring upwards of 15 goals a season for the Gunners when fully fit.
Not Turning Up In Big Games: Arsenal aren’t a team of brutes who grind out big game results on a regular basis. However, another cliche is the idea that Arsenal don’t compete in big games, which is actually a sloppy criticism of this side when you look over last few years. The signing of Mesut Ozil marked a big moment for Arsenal Football Club. It was the moment they told the world that they were competitors again, and that the funds were there to bring in big players. Below, I’ve listed all of Arsenal’s wins against what I consider ‘big sides’ or ‘big games’ since signing Mesut Ozil:
Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham – 1st September
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli – 1st October
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool – 2nd November
Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal – 6th November
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham – 4th January
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool – 16th February
Arsenal 4-1 Everton – 8th March
Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal – 16th March
Arsenal 3-0 Man City – 10th August
Arsenal 2-0 Dortmund – 26th November
Man City 0-2 Arsenal – 18th January
Arsenal 2-0 Everton – 1st March
Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal – 9th March
Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool – 4th April
Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea – 2nd August
Tottenham 1-2 Arsenal – 23rd September
Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd – 4th October
Arsenal 2-0 Bayern Munich – 20th October
Arsenal 2-1 Everton – 24th October
Arsenal 2-1 Man City – 21st December
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester – 14th February
Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea – 24th February
Of course it’s easy for me to sit here and list every good result they’ve had an ignore the bad, which would contain some real humblings by Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich. However the point is valid that Arsenal do have big game wins in them and those results show that.
Mesut Ozil Doesn’t Perform In Big Games: Again, he’s not perfect and can go missing, but he’s also unbelievably underrated. When he looks like he’s doing nothing he’s actually often finding space and using his energy efficiently. Once again, these aren’t just my opinions. In fact, since his arrival, he’s contributed to 24 goals in all these ‘big games’:
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli – 1st October (Ozil Goal and assist)
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool – 2nd November (Ozil assist)
Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal – 6th November (Ozil assist)
Arsenal 1-1 Everton – 8th December (Ozil Goal)
Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal – 14th December (Ozil assist)
Arsenal 4-1 Everton – 8th March (Ozil goal and assist)
Arsenal 2-0 Everton – 1st March (2 Ozil assist)
Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool – 4th April (Ozil goal)
Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd – 4th October (Ozil goal and assist)
Arsenal 2-0 Bayern Munich – 20th October (Ozil goal)
Arsenal 2-1 Everton – 24th October (Ozil assist)
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham – 8th November (Ozil assist)
Arsenal 2-1 Man City – 21st December (2 Ozil assists)
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester – 14th February (Ozil assist)
Man Utd 3-2 Arsenal – 28th February (Ozil goal and assist)
Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea – 24th February (Ozil goal)
Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham – 6th November (Ozil assist)
Again, it’s easy for me to pick out what he does right and throw it in the readers face. However, when you look at last season in particular, he really did turn up for the big occasion several times, and I really believe he isn’t appreciated enough for his contribution to this Arsenal side. Wenger is often hammered for his use of Ozil in big games, but as we can see above, it is often justified.
Not Having Physical Players: Arsenal have always been accused of never replacing Patrick Vieira, and for many years Arsene did stupidly persist with an ageing Arteta and Flamini, which often left Arsenal exposed in midfield. However, this criticism is unfair this year. Wenger can choose his midfield pairing from Cazorla, Ramsey, Xhaka, Coquelin and Elneny, all very capable midfielders with the last three in particular being very physical and capable of matching greater sides in tough games. I believe only Man Utd can really say they have similar strength in depth in midfield. One more thing about this: Patrick Vieira is a legend of Arsenal Football Club, he played for some of the greatest sides in the world, funnily enough, he’s very hard to replace.
Now that I’ve tackled those Arsenal ‘myths’, I want to give my view on the Wenger situation as a whole.
Many will say that Arsene hasn’t taken the club forward, but I have to strongly disagree with that. Yes, this is opinion, but I have reasons for it.
From 2007, the club entered the Emirates Stadium and Wenger has had financial constraints since then, meaning they couldn’t compete with the financial muscle of Chelsea, Man Utd or Man City. Arsene Wenger, up until 2013, did a wonderful job managing this and deserves credit for it. It may be 13 years since Arsenal’s last title win, but you can’t look at it that way, because for 9 years Arsenal were never in a position to compete, or even be considered one of the top sides in England. It’s testament to Arsene Wenger that he kept up that reputation.
With regards to 2013 onwards; yes, Arsenal have struggled to compete, but again, to say there hasn’t been improvement is laughable. Since 2013, the side have won two FA Cups, two Community Shields and finished 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the table, despite the big spending of clubs like Man City and Man Utd, who in the last two years especially have really struggled to keep up as well.
This season, Arsenal have built a side more than capable of winning the title. Wenger hasn’t delivered once again, but he’s losing it to one of the most incredible title winning sides of the modern era. Chelsea have won an incredible 16 games in 19, losing just once in that run. In fact, Chelsea dominance is highlighted in two simple facts: firstly, before the Hull game Arsenal were two points better off this season than they were last season, and secondly, Arsenal have more points after 24 games this season than in 7 of their last 11 seasons. This does show improvement, despite Chelsea’s dominance. Above all else, Arsenal sit in and around Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp; the managers that many fans said would have taken Arsenal further. Are we so convinced now?
The only managers left in the running are Massimo Allegri and Eddie Howe, and none of them fill me with huge excitement if I’m honest.
The bottom line is, Arsene Wenger deserves respect. People are praising Conte, but he took over a side who blitzed the title two years ago, and it’s pretty much the same squad. It’s not exactly miracle-work – they always had it in them and that’s thanks to Mourinho really. Arsene Wenger has led the club to constant success. Top 4 may not be a trophy, but when you look how desperate Tottenham, Liverpool and Man Utd are to get into it, you realise actually how fortunate Arsenal fans have been to have not experienced a year without the Champions League. They may lose to the better clubs, but at least they’re there to compete.
Wenger has brought some incredible moments to this club, like the Invincibles, two Double winning sides, incredible FA Cup final moments, and since having the funds available has built and a really strong squad that allows him to field two very strong XI’s:
Cech, Bellerin Mustafi Koscielny Monreal, Coquelin Ramsey, Walcott Ozil Iwobi, Alexis
Ospina, Debuchy Gabriel Holding Gibbs, Elneny Xhaka, Chamberlain Cazorla Welbeck, Giroud
These teams don’t even include Lucas Perez, Jeff Adelaide, Maitland-Niles or even Jack Wilshere who’s out on loan.
Wenger deserves to leave on his own terms, when he believes he genuinely can’t take Arsenal further.
I’m not saying Arsenal fans should be content with 2nd place. But, how many clubs would love to be in Arsenal’s position? They play attractive football, compete for trophies every year and play Champions League football. Arsenal may not be in the Europe for much longer, but you never know and they’re still there now and are still competing in the FA Cup!
Could Arsene Wenger improve? Yes. Will he win another title with Arsenal? I’m not sure. However, the banners, the hate, the abuse, the criticism has to stop. Keyboard bullies, random pundits and mental fans need to rain it in, and appreciate someone who’s achieving something right now that will never, ever be achieved again, in being a manager who’s lasted 20 years in one job. I don’t believe there’s a manager out there who can come in and guarantee fans what Arsene does, even if maybe one does take the side to the title.
So Arsenal fans, is it all that bad?