Over the past few months, the clamour to sack Arsene Wenger had reached its peak. The Wenger Out Brigade had successfully convinced legions of fans (most of them season ticket holders) to boycott games. Empty seats became a common sight at the Emirates while Arsenal’s meek surrenders on the road have expounded the feeling of dread. The relative inaction from the board and Wenger’s own ignorant and sometimes deluded statements painted the picture of a club in monumental disarray.
All of that confusion and dissent was silenced in one mic drop moment from Wenger. He announced on April 22nd, 2018 that this would be his last season as the Arsenal gaffer. The question then remains: will Arsenal regret Wenger’s decision?
A Rapid Decline in Performance
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, his team had just been crowned Premier League champions. Wenger, however, would be leaving behind a team that is barely holding on to sixth place. The last title was won 13 seasons ago while Arsenal’s last somewhat credible title run was in 2010-11. That Wenger has overseen some of the best teams in world football makes this decline particularly hard to watch. On the face of it, Wenger was beginning to look more and more like a relic from the past. While the club would miss a lot of what made Arsenal and Wenger tick, the performances should improve with a new manager.
A Porous Defence
The best Arsene Wenger teams were renowned for their attacking flair. Defence has almost always taken a backseat in Wenger’s plans. In the first few seasons at the club, Wenger had inherited an excellent, if ageing, backline that had put in the hard yards during the George Graham days.
However as that class of players slowly retired or moved on, Arsenal’s defence began looking a lot more circumspect. For the most part, Wenger’s teams had the attacking penetration to score more goals than the opposition. But with teams becoming more tactically astute, Wenger’s team had their defensive issues torn open. Heavy defeats to Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have happened often in recent seasons. The most glaring issue, though, is Wenger’s reluctance to adapt his defensive style (zonal marking prevails in Arsenal corners despite being exploited by most opponents). Any incoming manager will have to sort the defence out first.
The Emirates Project
The biggest project that Arsene Wenger embarked on during his time at Arsenal would be the construction of the Emirates Stadium. Today, the stadium stands as a modern marvel and is one of the biggest stadiums in England. In hindsight though, it is probably the construction of the Emirates that took the wind out of Arsenal’s sails.
From being the dominant force in the Premier League, Arsenal slowly transformed into a selling club to manage the debts. Around the same time, a lot of Arsenal stalwarts like Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Viera were moving on from Arsenal. To his credit, Wenger still built entertaining teams that regularly featured in the Champions League spots. However, Arsenal were bound to sell their best players, especially if good offers came in. Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Aliaksandr Hleb were some names that moved out in this manner. New TV deals, better sponsorships, and consecutive Champions League qualifications have helped regain their status as a financial powerhouse. This would help any incoming manager to rebuild the squad.
Following up an act like Arsene Wenger’s would be a challenge for the best of managers. It would be an even bigger challenge for the club as an entity (just ask Manchester United). The Arsenal board have, however, done their bit to cover the bases by hiring Sven Mislintat, Raul Sanllehi and Huss Fahmy in the backroom. But their collective indecision in seasons prior have hurt Arsenal. I, personally, don’t think that Arsenal would regret Wenger’s decision simply because the club looked like it needs fresh ideas for at least the past four seasons. Comparisons to Wenger will be something any new manager will have to face at every juncture next season. But whoever comes into the hot seat would come knowing that very well.
Now then, how quickly can Arsenal erect Wenger’s statue outside the Emirates?