May 14, 2016

The Great Wenger Debate

A Collaboration By Michael Clements, Phil Van Dyke and Steve Kessel


As much as I hate pointing out the flaws of a man who's brought Arsenal Football Club more success than any other manager in it's history, it's hard to ignore Arsene Wenger's (and the squad's) shortcomings over the last decade. The "Wenger Out" cries have gradually echoed louder and louder throughout the global Gooner community in recent years, dividing the fan base down the middle and usually accompanied by poorly thought out solutions to how we would move forward without the man who's led this team for almost 20 years. 

This season, with every one of our top four rivals bowing out and leaving the door wide open for us, we've failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities and have not only allowed Sp*rs to finish above us for the first time in 20 years (maybe…), but have lost out on the Premier League title to a team who were battling relegation just 12 short months ago. Instead we've resumed our annual task of ensuring we finish in the top 4, so to guarantee ourselves Champions League football next season. 

We know Wenger won't break his contract, which runs out at the end of the 2016/17 season, and many of us are certain that the Frenchman is virtually un-fireable, but when is enough enough and when will it be time for our legendary boss to finally let go and walk away?


It’s certainly hard to disagree with any of your points. The lengthy absence from EPL glory, the inevitable round of 16 UCL exit, and the routine of the Fourth Place Trophy have all chipped away at the “In Wenger We Trust” mantra. With the beautiful run in to close out the previous season, the pristine summer off-season, and the (solitary) purchase of the gold-minted Cech, we couldn’t help but feel as though the stars had aligned for our prodigal return. The delicious Chelsea meltdown combined with the similarly wayward “top 4” was the proof in the pudding. And we couldn’t help but patronizingly, even approvingly, pat the Leicester upstarts on the back, like toddlers on their first trike, and tell them, “go on, champ, you can do it”. Little did we know… But the return to earth from our escalating expectations fell upon the jagged abuse and piercing jeers sloughing from the stands and message boards like discarded snake skin. 

The confusion among the faithful lays not in the realization of our invariable fate, but more in how we have turned against each other like starving dogs on the street, blindly snipping and biting at every turn. Is only Wenger to blame for this? Is he outdated in his thinking and is beautiful football going the way of the classic black and white ball? Or is it Kroenke? Is he merely above all this and can’t be bothered with the underclass and their football vices? Our confusion is not how we truly feel about Wenger — deep down we love him for all he’s done — it’s more the wondering if we will ever be a perennial contender for silverware again. 


Traditionally, and much the distain of several Gooners I regularly watch the games with, I have always sat firmly on the pro-Wenger side of the fence.  The boss has been the boss for the majority of my life and, in my opinion, has been the primary catalyst for the popularisation of Arsenal Football Club in North America.  For me, the two FA cups in the past two years have brought the man an extended gracing period.  Many no longer see the same worth in the FA cup, but I still view it as a major achievement.  At the point we won the first of the two the situation had admittedly become toxic (the loss to Birmingham in the league cup in 2011 was second only to the Champion’s League final defeat to Barca in 2006 as the low point of my Arsenal supporting career).  For me, winning back to back FA Cups, making Arsenal the most successful team, and him the most successful post war manager, in the oldest cup competition in the world demonstrates that he still has the ability to win.  

Yes this season has been a big disappointment, but Arsenal fans seem to think that a change of manager would definitely be a positive change.  Managers that have been touted as saviors in recent years include David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Gary Monk.  Would you switch Wenger for any of those right now?  Wenger is not without his flaws, but he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of the game and a devout religious like commitment to the club.  Also, as pointed out by Arseblog, his presence essentially guarantees that Kroenke will not interfere with the running of the team.  Would this situation remain the same in the case of a newly appointed manager?  We could find ourselves in a situation where the ownership far greater potential to disrupt and impose a negative influence on the club.  Things are not great right now, we are underachieving, but I will take mild under achievement over potential freefall until a clearer solution is apparent.  It’s not good enough to simply state that something needs to change, without a solid vision for the future of the club.  Are you both confident that Wenger’s departure would bring about a positive change?         


As both Steve and Phil point out, it’s surely too much to burden one man with the ultimate failures (and successes) of any, and particularly this football club. On one hand you’ve got a man who knows the ins and outs of this club better than any other, a man who has defined the club with his precise direction and philosophy. On the other hand you have somebody who can, and often does, make the difference between success and mediocrity. 

Perhaps the only person currently, including the majority shareholder, who can dictate which direction this club goes in is Arsene Wenger, regardless of what influence we think the shareholders, who occasionally pay the Emirates a visit might have over the Frenchman. Certainly they might have a say in who we target or how much we pay for said target, but the manner in which Arsenal Football Club is ran means we shall never know how the hierarchy really works behind the closed doors of Emirates Stadium. My guess would be that Wenger has been given virtually complete autonomy over all operations that effect the team on the pitch and perhaps even further than that, especially after the comments he made regarding the banks’ requirements for him to stay long term if they were to fund the Emirates build over a decade ago. 

While it’s very comfortable to know that a successful, long-term manager has such complete control and care for our club, when it comes to times like these in which we wonder if the time has come for change, you have to think how much that ‘change’ will impact the current and future status of our club. Is the option for Wenger to step into an advisory/diplomatic role available?


While there is no way of knowing with certainty if the inevitable departure of Wenger—whether this summer or further down the line—would improve or degrade The Arsenal’s stature at the top of the EPL or within the UCL, we cannot expect to see changes in the league position without changes in the system. We can continue to ask hypotheticals such as if AW moves to the front office, or if he adjusts his thinking to a “modern” game, if you can call the 4-4-2 modern, or if he finally decides to cut his losses with aging promising starlets, but making such conjectures is just as effective as wondering if a Simeone or a Koeman and their respective systems could make it better. We tend to think of successors that would simply continue to what Wenger has been doing for the past 20 years here, but only ask them to do it a little better. And quicker. “Please come here and give us championships, but above all do not take away the beautiful system of play we are known for.” 

The reason Wenger will be impossible to replace is because he has effectively institutionalized what is The Arsenal Way, and it is considered by most pundits and fans alike to be one of the most beautiful ways there is. The trouble is that it is merely an ideal, and while it is so amazeballs to watch, we rarely actually see it in action due to the very nature of its ideality. One cannot cannot remain in the zen mode forever; one must only strive to achieve it. 

Sometimes you gotta say fuck zen and just go buy a hot rod and win the fucking race. 


As Phil pointed out, it is very true that the beautiful football we associate with Arsenal and Arsene is become less and less apparent.  I think this stems from a few different sources.  Firstly teams/managers have learnt to counteract and stifle it and the strong possibility that attacking/possession football is dead.  You can always assume that Barca will still manage to pull it off, but we wont be seeing them in the Champion’s League final this year, why.... because an incredible defensively minded manager/team knocked them out.  Are we willing to trade in Arsene for a manager that may not bring the same mantra to the club?  Would I be?  On one hand I love the way we play, on the other, I just watched Leicester win the league while being ranked 18th for over all possession.  I may have been imagining it, but it didn’t look too much like the Leicester fans were complaining about the style of football, in fact it rather seemed like they were all having a jolly good time.

Lets be clear, there is a farts chance in a hurricane that Wenger will step down before the end of his current contract.  Would he step down at the end of next year if he wins the league; i.e. go out on a high, or would he use that to extend his contract and continue his pursuit of the illusive champions league trophy?  I never thought I would say it, but in many ways I hope it is the former.  Of course if we are winning under Wenger that would be my ideal, I do love the guy, but unless the reason we are winners is that there has been a much needed change in policy from the professor, I must reluctantly concede it would be time for a change.  


And so it seems, as we draw close to yet another top four finish, that the odd FA Cup win just isn’t going to satisfy the growing thirst of the modern Gooner. Perhaps Arsene’s biggest weakness is his inability to adapt with the game itself. 

We see managers come and go, some return for a second go at success, but most seem to reach their peak and eventually fade away into the abyss that is central and eastern European league football. Wenger has almost stubbornly stuck around and forced his philosophy, hard, through all the changes in English football - something any of us would have endorsed after witnessing the first half of his career at Arsenal. Now, in 2016, it’s evident that his philosophy isn’t working and yet while he reluctantly adapts just enough to appease the Arsenal loyal, it’s not enough for even the most rigid of Wenger supporters. 

Would a raid on the so-called ‘War Chest’ this summer change our opinion? Sure. Two or three expensive, sexy signings would shut us all up for a minute, and hopefully we achieve the long awaited goal of getting our 14th league title. The writing, however, is on the wall no matter what happens next season. After the brutal outcry from the fans this season, I can’t imagine Wenger will put himself through another couple of seasons of this, even if there was some success sprinkled in there, he’s just too proud of a man to tarnish his legacy any further, even for how bitterly stubborn a genius he truly is. 

That is exactly how we have to treat what is probably going to be his final season as manager - remember the man’s legacy. We, as Arsenal fans have been so incredibly privileged to witness arguably the greatest period in the club’s history with a footballing genius at the helm. To boo him or to mock him would be an ugly disservice to not only the man himself, but to the club he has formed into a World Class Football club. 

While most eagerly await his exit, we simply must treat his final months as Arsenal manager with the utmost respect and allow him to leave with the dignity and honor he so justly deserves. Arsene IS Arsenal, no matter how football has changed. To the fans who were only fortunate enough to watch this club under Le Boss, I can most certainly tell you that the reason we love Arsenal is largely due to the passion and devotion Arsene Wenger put into this club during his 20 year reign. We were, and are lucky to have him. 

So let’s get behind the old codger and get us a fucking League title!