My resistance has finally broken.
Amidst all the protests and constant calls for his head over the last few seasons, I had been a strong believer in the work of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. A true legend of the game, the club’s greatest ever manager and, perhaps most touching, the only man I have ever seen coach my team; how on earth could I say anything bad about him? However, on Thursday evening, the penny finally dropped. It is time.
Arsenal’s 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City, the club’s second consecutive defeat to the champions-elect in four days, provoked, not so much a feeling of anger, but a feeling of deep sadness. Television cameras turned towards a hapless Wenger on the side-lines, powerless to Pep Guardiola’s organised, ruthless, and quite frankly brilliant City team. Images of great Arsenal teams crossed through my mind, with unbelievably talented players – a lot of them developed by the Frenchman himself – but after seeing what those memories have now become, it is now vital that Wenger saves any legacy and dignity he has left; and step aside.
Wenger is Now Pep’s Predecessor
Now it is important to note that my change in stance is not based on the Manchester City games alone, but those two matches were a stark realisation on how deficient matters have become at Arsenal. Guardiola proved, in just over 180 minutes, that he is now the man that Wenger used to be; the visionary and the tactically capable, with a philosophy that can change the English game forever. City’s three goals on Wednesday night, despite playing against an out-of-form and struggling Arsenal defence, were simply breath-taking, and although the Gunners had improved in an attacking sense from their dismal cup final performance, they were simply no match for the Manchester side.
Wenger stated after the game that, although they had to attack Guardiola’s side, that it was imperative to come in level at half-time. That tactic lasted just under 15 minutes, as Leroy Sane burst through the Arsenal defence to tee up Bernardo Silva, who curled home. With the score line at three-nothing at the interval, an Arsene Wenger from five years ago would have made a change, or fired his team up for the second period. But no substitutions were made, not even for the entirety of the second half, and the game drizzled out on City’s and Guardiola’s terms. This was a sign that Wenger, the eternal optimist, and strong believer in never giving up, had done exactly that – thrown in the towel. On his 20th anniversary of managing Arsenal, in September 2016, the Frenchman said that he has “a passion for the game, and a desire to be better tomorrow than yesterday”. Thursday night proved that that passion is dying out, and he is powerless to change the downward spiral that Arsenal are currently embarking on.
Should He Have Gone Earlier?
It is argued that this downward spiral started over a decade ago, as the Gunners started embarking on a trophy drought. However, the economic constraints which arrived after the move to the newly-built Emirates Stadium, meant that expectations had to be altered from Premier League winning and Champions League competing, to top four finishes. Once the move had been completed, the Arsenal board gave Wenger a target of five Champions League qualifications in the first seven season at the new stadium. Failure to do so would see him lose his job. Guess what? He qualified seven times out of seven, with a next-to-nothing budget.
Despite that, the trophies still didn’t arrive, and with a long-term contract coming to an end in 2014, the barren run ended in that season, with a FA Cup win over Hull City. With the tricky financial situation behind them, and world class players such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez signed on the roster, Wenger signed a three-year-deal that summer, with the cup win intending to be a turning point in Arsenal’s fortunes. Yet when that deal expired, he could only add two more cup victories, and despite becoming the most successful manager in the competition’s history, the turning point was not quite as poignant as many had hoped. The signing of yet another contract, two years this time, in June 2017, leaves Arsenal in the situation they are in now; with little to no hope for finishing in the top four for a second year running, and the Europa League being Arsenal’s only realistic chance of finishing in the top four.
The narrative is somewhat poetic, and perhaps, when discussing his departure, a little unnecessary. But what arises from this topsy-turvy period of Wenger’s tenure is an important question; should he have left before this low point? Regarding the first contract signing in 2014, he had every right to sign a new deal. It was a turning point and two more FA Cup victories proved that he still had the winning touch at Arsenal. However, the 2017 contract extension was more controversial, especially considering Wenger failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in two decades, something that the Frenchman prided himself on for years. Since then, Wenger is set to guide the Gunners to their lowest Premier League finish for 22 years, was also knocked out of the FA Cup Third Round for the first time in his career.
With the controversial use of hindsight, this looks like a poor decision by Wenger to carry on his Arsenal career. However, was there a better manager out there at the time who could take Arsenal to the next level? Many say that Thomas Tuchel, the former Dortmund manager, is a younger, fresher option that was worth the risk. However, the German coach was sacked by the Dortmund hierarchy for failing to reach their targets in the league, despite winning the German Cup – the same achievements that Wenger achieved that year.
It Would Be Criminal To Sack Wenger Now
Another important question to consider is, is Wenger to blame for ruining his own career? The answer is limited to partly. The Frenchman is clearly an intelligent man, he perhaps could have taken a step back and realised in May 2017 that a 2-1 FA Cup Final win over Chelsea was the high point he needed to put a fairy-tale finish on his Arsenal career. However, the board must take responsibility as well, as it was them who actually offered Wenger the two-year deal. The man has a deep love for the club, meaning if you offer him a contract, he is more likely to sign it than reject it. So, the board must take a part of the blame for the tarnishing of Wenger’s legacy.
Many fans have also asked for Wenger to be sacked immediately, which would be a mistake. First of all, he is the greatest manager in the club’s history, for the club to turn round and sack him would be a big disgrace and exactly the wrong way for this “love story”, as Wenger described it, to end. Also, despite being eliminated from all of the domestic cup competitions, and a long way off the top four places in the league, the Gunners still have the Europa League as a winnable competition, starting away to AC Milan on Thursday. To sack Wenger in the middle of a campaign, ahead of such a big game, would be criminal, as it would create even more instability at the club.
As for my views on Wenger, I will always have the love and respect for him that I have regularly shown. But in order to save his own legacy, and for Arsenal to return to becoming one of English football’s most successful clubs, he must step aside as the Gunners manager. Does this mean I will abuse him, publicly call out for his imminent sacking, or try and hound him out of the club? Absolutely not. He still has my upmost respect. But he cannot carry the club any further, and at the end of the season, must step down and start a new chapter.