Back in August when Arsenal fans were hoping for a glorious end to 2016-17, dreaming of winning their first title since 2004, Arsenal bloggers Andrew Mangan and James McNicholas discussed Arsene Wenger’s future.
It’s fair to say a fair amount of water has gone under the bridge since then. It has been a nightmare season for Wenger and Arsenal, with the club’s greatest ever manager subjected to “Wenger Out” chants and even aeroplanes asking for him to leave. For the first time in Wenger’s tenure, there’s a chance Arsenal may finish lower than fourth — and even below Tottenham.
Wenger’s contract expires at the end of the season and there’s plenty of speculation regarding his future. Here, Mangan and Adams revisit what they said at the start of the season and whether their stance has changed.
Should Wenger go at the end of 2016-17?
Andrew Mangan, back in August: It depends on what happens this season. If he spends money on the players Arsenal need and they have a good campaign, then unless there’s an outstanding candidate to take his place there’s a good case to be made for him staying.
Has anything changed? Yes, he should go.
At this point, after another campaign in which a serious title challenge failed to materialise, and a humiliating 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich saw them crash out of the Champions League at the round of 16 for the seventh successive season, it’s increasingly clear Arsenal are just not competitive anymore under the Frenchman. He’s had plenty of money to spend after the lean years, and has invested a lot in his squad, but the same issues remain.
Tom Adams, back in August: Wenger has enough historic credit in the bank that it’s hard to make the case that he should leave irrespective of what happens in 2016-17. If Arsenal win the league (stop that sniggering at the back) there is no chance of him leaving — and nor should there be.
Has anything changed? Undoubtedly. What has transpired this season has only reinforced the belief that Wenger is a spent force. Arsenal need fresh ideas quite urgently.
I wrote in the summer that unless Wenger found a way to break out of his familiar cycle of disappointment then it had to spell the end, and with another failure to mount a title challenge and a last-16 exit in Europe that cycle has remained intact.
Should Wenger go? Unquestionably. Will he go? Only one man can answer that.
What will be his legacy as Arsenal manager?
AM, back in August: He’s won two doubles, won the FA Cup more than any other manager in the trophy’s history and whether people like to admit it or not, never finishing outside the top four in all the years he’s spent at a club speaks to a remarkable consistency.
Has anything changed? Right now when things are so raw, it’s easy to think his legacy has been tainted, and maybe that will be true for some who feel he has stayed too long. However, as difficult as things are in the present, he will be rightly remembered for the great things he did to the club.
His departure may well be bitterer than it should be, but it should not obscure what he has given the club during his reign.
TA, back in August: The golden years of 1998 to 2004 saw some of the most brilliant football England has ever seen and arguably the domestic league’s best-ever team in the Invincibles. You will never be able to take that away from Wenger, and the trophies won in the first half of his reign make him a true great.
Has anything changed? If you can mentally compartmentalise his reign into two neat halves you can certainly make the case his legacy hasn’t really been harmed by the events of this season. In truth, 2016-17 has merely been a continuation of the purgatory Arsenal have found themselves stuck in for a number of years now, just one further iteration of their inability to progress as a club. His achievements up until 2005 — three leagues and four FA Cups — cannot be taken away from him.
The tone of the complaints has grown markedly more vitriolic but the substance is essentially the same. What would change things, however, is if Arsenal finish outside the top four and, perhaps more than anything, below Tottenham for the first ever in a full season under Wenger. That would be evidence not of stasis, but decline. Taking the club backward would definitely dent his legacy.
Who is responsible for Arsenal’s failure to win the Premier League since 2004?
AM, back in August: The buck always stops with a manager, but only one team can win the league each season. There’s no doubt Wenger could have made better decisions at times but it’s no single thing or no one person to blame.
Has anything changed? It’s worth remembering that even though they haven’t won the league they’ve never finished outside the top four (something that’s in danger this season). But there have been times when Arsenal have been well positioned, and collapsed at key moments of the season, an inherent — perhaps psychological — weakness that almost always manifests itself somewhere along the way. As players have changed, the manager is the one constant, making it impossible to look beyond him as the root cause.
TA, back in August: Being brutally honest, it has to be Wenger. That’s the lot of the manager: they take responsibility. And the failure to mount a challenge and win the league last season, when so many other big clubs were failing around them, was a huge disappointment.
Has anything changed? It still all comes down to Wenger.
That said, it is worth exploring the role of the Arsenal owner, too. At a time when fans are protesting in the streets and in the stands, focus is also rightly being trained on Stan Kroenke and the culture of complacency he has fostered from the top down. Wenger has to own his failures, but it is the owner and the board who have indulged him. The culture of the club is rotten and that comes from the very top.
Where does he stand among the Premier League’s greatest managers?
AM, back in August: An Invincible season, brilliant football, unearthing transfer gems, that amazing, visceral rivalry with Manchester United in the 90s and early 2000s, and so much more. He is a man who can frustrate but one who is also witty and open, available to journalists to provide an opinion on almost anything.
Has anything changed? Only one manager has ever seen his team go unbeaten for a whole season, and for that alone he’s unique. It’s also easy to forget now, after so much time, how transformative he was when he first arrived. Not simply for Arsenal, changing the entire culture of a club which had been staid for so long, but English football in general.
He’ll be remembered as a great manager but one who should have won more.
TA, back in August: Right behind Fergie and right next to Jose Mourinho. As Andrew rightly highlights, when Wenger took over he revolutionised England’s thinking about preparation and diet, implemented a new model of foreign recruitment and laid a new stylistic template.
Has anything changed? As Andrew says, Wenger’s impact on Arsenal and English football has been profound and that cannot be glossed over by another frustrating season. He still ranks below Ferguson and, with three titles each, level pegging with Mourinho. The younger crop of top managers are all relatively new to the top flight — Klopp, Conte and Guardiola — or, like Mauricio Pochettino, surely have their biggest achievements ahead of them.
No one is knocking Wenger off that podium just yet. Even if Arsenal finished 10th it wouldn’t alter his past glories. People don’t remember the Brian Clough who got Nottingham Forest relegated, they remember the Brian Clough who conquered England and Europe with a twinkle in his eye. Ultimately, the same will be true of Wenger.
Name a potential replacement if Wenger left at the end of the season
AM, back in August: What Thomas Tuchel is doing at Borussia Dortmund is really interesting and he could be a very good option if it comes down to it.
Has anything changed? The two names that seem to crop up most often are Tuchel and Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri. Although the German seems a good fit, Allegri would come as a man who has won things and it seems that’s the kind of personality Arsenal need to install.
TA: Tuchel is just the right kind of exciting young coach to come in and transform the club.
Has anything changed? Tuchel has had a difficult season domestically but Dortmund are flying in Europe and he’s still a good choice. Diego Simeone might be an interesting option — he would certainly shake up the dressing room and impose a new culture on the club — but more realistically, Leonardo Jardim has really caught the eye with what he has achieved. Appointing a manager with an education in Monaco — what could go wrong?
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