Arsenal’s long-serving manager, Arsène Wenger, has been there so long that you could now be forgiven for thinking that he founded the club under his name. He has been at the helm of the club since 1996, when he had the hunger and thirst that accredited him as the next big man in football management following Sir Alex Ferguson’s success at Man United, who, of course, was only Alex Ferguson back then. Similar to Sir Alex, Wenger was fairly unknown when he was appointed, having started his managerial career in his homeland with spells at Strasburg, Cannes, and Nancy, before earning his first noteworthy title at AS Monaco in 1988, winning the French League Championship, i.e. the Ligue 1. However, what surprised a few was that he then decided to take his managerial career to Japan seven years later, with Nagoya Grampus Eight as his employers.
He only stayed there for 18 months before Arsenal came calling for his services and he was named the new Gunners boss on October 1, 1996. Only a few people would’ve expected him to have the impact that he did upon his arrival, as he truly blossomed into a managerial magister, and became particularly well-known for his development of young players soon thereafter.
His immediate success materialized into the league championship trophy at the end of the 1997/98 season, when they surpassed Ferguson’s United team and won the first league trophy ever in the club’s history. Thus, he took the club to heights that increased the club’s hopes towards the prospective league finishes and dominance that they achieved under Herbert Chapman, the first widely successful manager at Arsenal and later deemed the pioneer of modern football, and this was the dawn of a new era for the west London club.
Wenger’s key strength was developing young players, as mentioned, and he developed quite a handful over the years through the club’s academy, the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka, & Samir Nasri amongst others. After his first few years of success, it seemed that the Wenger effect waned away when it came to Premier League winners’ medals. And it happened after the ‘Invincibles’ team of ‘03/04 had won the league unbeaten in all 38 games. Whether that is a curse, as only one other team has done it (Preston North End in 1888-89), and they have become quite extinct, we don’t know. The only way to tell is if 100 years from now, the name Arsenal doesn’t ring a bell in our minds.
“Whether that is a curse, as only one other team has done it and become quite extinct, we don’t know.”
But it seems much like one in its appearance, as the Premier League trophy is tantalizingly within Arsenal’s reach season after season due to their consistency against the lower oppositions that others struggle against, and yet it is snatched away at the last minute due to their failure to show up when it matters the most. And this has been the most consistent form of consistency that Wenger has been able to establish with his side.
Even more frustratingly to Arsenal fans, Wenger doesn’t even seem that eager at acquiring new players with the more than substantial funds that he has at his disposal, last reported to have been in the region of £200 million. That, in and of itself, is representative of everything that is wrong with Arsenal Football Club under Wenger. It has become more about being a business than anything else; as in the French manager, the owners have found a persona with tactical ingeniousness and an impeccable investor with a knack for spending as little as possible, while delivering the same outcome as the season before.
If you want to look at it the good way, Wenger has pretty much reinvented the footballing business.
Look at it the other way, and you will see that his Arsenal team haven’t won the league title in 13 years, and broke a 10-year trophy drought after the FA Cup triumph in 2013/14 (beating Aston Villa in the final). Finishing in the 3rd or 4th place has become customary for Arsenal, and Wenger, at this age, cannot be held accountable for losing that fire in him that propelled him to the early success in his managerial career. What can be held accountable is the policy at the club, which has placed Wenger in such a position that he is practically ‘un-fireable’. In practicality, that means that if Wenger is to be fired, he has to shoot his own head.
Arsenal fans will no doubt be enraged should the club continue with Wenger in this mediocrity of business, as the club is more than capable of competing for the Premier League title every year. Guile is all they lack, and though it’s heartbreaking, Wenger looks like he’s lost his guile a fairly long time ago. He has done a tremendous amount of work at the club, and brought unparalleled success during his tenure, which he will be well remembered for; but Arsenal are hurting themselves by still keeping Arsène there. Sir Alex recognized when it was time for him to leave, and maybe it’s time we said goodbye to another one of the all-time football managerial greats.