The indignity of an overhead plane calling for your removal is a moment no manager can survive. While it raises questions about the class of fan that arranges such a display, it is a clear watershed moment. Arsène Wenger wasn’t the first to befall this treatment, but he is the latest and it means bridges can never be rebuilt with a large section of the Gunners’ support. Before the situation declines further, he should do the most logical thing: announce this is his last season at The Emirates.
If only it was so clear cut. Wenger is an open book. His achievements during his time in North London are as obvious as his weaknesses. The main hindrance now being his stubborn nature. It’s that single purpose and drive that once made his Arsenal side become Invincibles. But that was a long time ago – a different era, even. His way is no longer the way. With each passing season when he digs in, Arsenal fall further behind.
His presumed principles should be applauded. On the surface he is against the modern way of buying success. He’d rather develop players. A by-product of this has been the club’s ability to quickly payoff the outstanding loans on their new stadium.
For a while, a new stadium – bought and paid for – was enough to satisfy the supporters. It was always accepted with the understanding once it was paid off, they’d once again compete in the transfer market. Well, the bricks and mortar no longer require financial nurturing but the team does. And Wenger refuses to budge.
What is baffling, is how the stance on transfers is broken now and again (Mesut Özil £42.5m; Alexis Sánchez £35m; Shkodran Mustafi £35m; Granit Xhaka £34m) without an air of caution or appreciation for market value. Still, a feeling persists they are two or three players short of a title winning team. The problem is, they’ve been short for years now.
Not to take anything away from Leicester’s achievement last season, but that was Arsenal’s best chance to put a decade of being happy with top four, and title nearly rans, behind them. Chelsea were recovering from a Mourinho meltdown, Manchester City had a long, painful goodbye with Pellegrini, Manchester United and Liverpool were still missing in action.
Their local rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, showed they lack experience and maturity when it comes to leading the pack, eventually finishing below The Gunners. It was a case of “now or never.” Arsène’s players opted for the never.
And no matter how long he clings onto power, further success will continue to elude him at The Emirates.
FA Cup victories are not sufficient. Top four finishes – as lucrative as they are – are not satisfying. Success in Europe is, but that’s gone for another year. A Premier League title is, but even in the unlikely event Chelsea implode, other teams will be more likely to capitalise.
The truth is, players and fans alike no longer believe in the Frenchman. It is sad to see such a great record at Arsenal be bookended by disharmony and a lack of respect. But he has to realise his continued presence is having a negative effect as the club try to evolve.
Outsiders will never know if Wenger is carrying the can for the board. They say he has money, but behind closed doors the story could be much different, with his professionalism forcing him to tell the press a skewed version of events. There must have been pressure on Wenger from above because when they moved stadium in 2006, and up to 2013, they actually turned in a profit of £40m in the transfer market.
Had his ideology always been to spend less, develop more, why hadn’t Arsenal turned in a stadium-sized profit every season before this?
Historically, he was happy to bring in imports that required a final stage of development. The team that went unbeaten all season during the 2003/04 campaign added José Antonio Reyes in the second transfer window for £13m. That’s about £18m adjusted for inflation, which doesn’t take into account the new TV money and modern day premium on Premier League transfers.
Could you imagine Wenger sprinkling a player short of £20m on his squad in January nowadays? It’s less likely than when his team hadn’t lost a single league match.
Reyes was the final cog that had followed a series of highly priced acquisitions. The list reads something like this: Marc Overmars £7m; Patrick Vieira and Freddie Ljungberg £3m; Kanu £4.5m; Sylvinho £4m; Thierry Henry £10.5m; Lauren £7m; Robert Pires £6m; Sylvain Wiltord £13m; Francis Jeffers £8m; Edu £6m; Giovanni Van Bronckhorst £8.5m; Richard Wright £6m; Gilberto Silva £4.5m.
Those are just the most eye-catching (not adjusted for inflation) from the summer of 1997 to 2002, they are punctuated with many more that exceed millions and offer sparse evidence that Wenger has treated his time at Arsenal as a place to develop cheaper players.
When it suited, he spent big. It’s hard to believe he had a paradigm shift in attitude, unless he’s an all-out hypocrite. But even these big names moved on to pastures new, including golden boy Theirry Henry.
Since then the state of domestic leagues has changed. The Premier League has more cash but foreign top flights have the wealth of better players. The time to develop unproven talent is forever diminishing. To make matters worse, his record with young talent reads very poor.
Has Theo Walcott improved that much under Wenger? He’s one of many young players that have stagnated under him rather than reach full potential.
His methods are antiquated, his views romantic but out of date. One more season isn’t going to bring about the change he’s struggled to find in the last ten years.
The Arsenal fans should be eternally grateful to Wenger, likewise, he should acknowledge that those buying the most expensive seats in the Premier League deserve a fresh direction.