Merci Arsène – Was his treatment harsh or fair?

“Hang on, Arsène who?” – Many asked as they struggled to grasp the idea of his appointment in August 1996. If I was to hop in a time machine and say that he would become one of the greatest managers to grace England’s top flight, I would have been the biggest joke in London, not even England’s senior team were such a joke that year. Only the 3 Premier Leagues, 7 FA Cups and various other trophies later, the Frenchman has certified himself as a member of elite pedigree in the English game, arguably surpassed only by Sir Alex Ferguson as the Premier League’s greatest ever manager! From the extraordinary Invincibles season to the period of constant title challenges, it was a time where even Arsène’s breath was cherished by the Arsenal faithful. Attempting to sustain these intense levels of competition caused his imperial population to turn quicker than Johan Cruyff. Often subject to a weekly verbal lynching by his own support. But where did it all go wrong for the veteran tactician?

”He lost it with his teams”

You don’t need to be a qualified coach or pundit to identify Arsenal’s gradual decline over the last decade, in fact, if you haven’t seen any Wenger out propaganda from either Piers Morgan, Arsenal Fan TV and co. Then are you even a Football fan? In recent years Wenger transitioned his club from paying stars like Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Viera, to giving players such as Nicklas Bedntner and Marouane Chamakh a stage to play Premiership and European Football. Here demonstrates Wenger’s major problem, recruitment. Patrick Viera is known for bossing midfields, Nicklas Bedntner is known for rubbing his genitals up the back end of a taxi. There is no way Wenger’s elite dressing room of 2003 would’ve stood for this, but this was modern Arsenal under Wenger’s rule, a dressing room installing a mentality of cowards instead of born winners. Let’s put this into perspective, would you pay full price to see 90 minutes of passion from The Invincibles? Or fork out the same to watch Ramsey, Xhaka, Mustafi and Welbeck? Criticism is rightly deserved for Wenger on this, but his ability to finish in top 4 positions can’t go unnoticed either. Securing top 4 finishes between 1996 and 2016, that is over 20 years! Even with poor teams! Credit where credit’s due, although most people say, he shouldn’t have ever constructed those weak teams. Ever.

”He couldn’t adapt to modern Football”

Football is changing, changing faster than a smartly dressed surfer at a Caribbean beach. In this case, you can say Wenger missed the wave of modern Football. Yet didn’t he revolutionise later twentieth Football! He became the first manager to properly utilise diets of boiled vegetables, fish, rice, no fat food. Wenger’s trusty formation was a classic 4-4-2 designed to utilise Bergkamp’s creative and technical ability, dropping deeper to supply the defender’s nightmare, Thierry Henry. The pair netted 348 goals for Arsenal, operating beside Pires, Ljungberg and Overmars relentlessly bombed down the wing. I don’t care if you play with 8 defenders and 3 goalkeepers, nothing was going to stop them in their prime. Nothing. Nothing at all. Leicester won the league two years ago using a 4-4-2, so why did he feel the need to change? Simply put, modern Football. Teams constructed around the 4-4-2 are disappearing, mainly due to its simplicity and nullification of creative freedom. Wenger has recently tried a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 formation, finding some foundation of success with speedy attackers, however not even close to the success when he was a fresh faced Frenchman, attracting necessary criticism from all sides of the Arsenal faithful. Ce qui s’est passé Monsieur Wenger?

“Even my Nan knew he was going to be sh*t!”

Transfers! Love them or hate them, they are the cornerstone for Football’s evolvement over the years. A department that just like his Football, Arsene Wenger has dealt many contrasting results in. How do you feel when a ‘wonderkid’ you may or may not have heard of arrives in the colours of your club? If you answered ‘excited,’ then you will know the feeling when Arsenal acquired the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry and many, many others. Then there is the darker side of the spectrum, where signings like Nicklas Bedntner and Philippe Senderos undeservedly represented the colour of Arsenal red. Yes, failed wonder kids is one thing, signings that were obviously destined to fail were another. Junichi Inamoto? Marouane Chamakh? Crazy, many pointed out their flaws as Wenger still receives countless criticism even ten or so years after signing them. Recently business has picked up, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are two gambles, but two big names and big players nonetheless. Unlike Alex Ferguson, Wenger has set up nicely for his successor. He loves the club, breathes the club, lives the club, and I think this should be appreciated even more.

 

An incredible Arsenal career for the Frenchman is reaching its conclusion, will he take the reigns of a foreign superpower? One thing’s for sure though, he will never be forgotten in London. The man transformed ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ into giants! And then to ‘awful, awful Arsenal.’ Criticism is deserved no doubt. I think he is criticised somewhat fairly for some things, but at times too much for what he has done. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment down below, or even on Twitter @D3cl8n.

About the Author

Declan Pridding
I am an aspiring sports journalist currently studying A levels. I am also a lifelong Wrexham AFC fan. #onourway #utst