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Arsene Wenger has overstayed his welcome at Arsenal

By Dattaraj Thaly | Last Updated: Friday, December 5, 2014 - 10:09
 
Dattaraj Thaly
Different Take
 

If Arsene Wenger's tenure at Arsenal was a film, a critic was most likely to review it as powerful, engaging and exciting in the first half then predictable, inconsistent and disappointing in the second.

It is a film that raises expectations of the audience in the first half and fails spectacularly to meet them in the second.

When the bespectacled Frenchman took over the reins at Highbury in 1996, his vision for the club spelt excitement. Today, even staunch backers of the man meet the thought of Wenger prolonging his tenure at the club with disappointment.

What Wenger has achieved at Arsenal is nothing short of incredible. The 65-year-old has successfully transformed the North London club into a global brand and a powerhouse in English football. Over the years, he has not just been the manager of Arsenal Football Club, but also run it as if he was its CEO.

Apart from building and re-building football teams at Highbury and later at the Emirates, Wenger's contribution off the field is invaluable. The club will continue reaping benefits of his policies long after he's gone. That is good enough reason for Arsenal fans to owe him a deep debt of gratitude.

If the Gunners are now associated with a unique brand of football, they have Wenger to thank for it. If the players at the club have a state of the art training facility, they have Wenger to thank for too. If the club moved into a new stadium, the third largest in the country, again Wenger must be thanked.

Yet, the Professor is in serious danger of tarnishing his legacy. His last 10 years in charge have yielded just one FA Cup. Despite qualifying for the Champions League in every year of his reign, Arsenal have made only one final.

Yet again, Arsenal's season has ended in November itself. The club is now way behind leaders Chelsea and this is their worst start to a season in 32 years. To even make a case for them winning the Champions League would appear foolish.

To put things into perspective, the Gunners have failed to beat Manchester United in 1,302 days, Chelsea in 1,122 days and Manchester City in 838 days. A new theory has slowly begun to take shape – Arsene Wenger can't beat the big teams and big managers.

If one closely observes the numbers, that theory holds water. For instance, he has never beaten Jose Mourinho and his record against Alex Ferguson was far from decent.

During his first eight years at the club, Arsene’s footballing philosophy was a potent mix of style and power. Even today, Wenger's unflinching commitment towards free-flowing football is there for everyone to see. But sadly, the power in his teams has been missing for several years now.

The previous teams boasted of big personalities like Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams and Martin Keown. Arsenal teams featuring them were never bullied or ruffed up by opponents. They could conveniently oscillate between an easy home game and a hostile away game.

A feature of Arsenal teams of the past was their poor disciplinary record. It was among the worst in the league. Arsenal fans took pride in that for obvious reasons. Those teams didn’t mind getting into a scrap and never backed off. They got stuck in.

Think Vieira and Keane. Keown and Van Nistelrooy.

Gary Neville wrote in his autobiography “Red” that the toughest team he has faced in his career in the league was Arsenal of the late 1990's and early 2000's. Neville, often considered the best right-back of his generation, felt the physical prowess of those teams added a new dimension to Gunners’ football.

Contrast that with the current Arsenal team and for that matter even with teams in the recent past and the absence of physically strong players and big personalities is striking. Wenger has opted for smaller, agile and nimble-footed players. A player in the mold of Yaya Toure and for that matter even Marouanne Fellaini is missing in the Arsenal ranks.

When the going gets tough, Arsenal’s midfield has gone missing. The likes of Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil may all be great players, but they are cut off the same cloth. To cut a long story short – leadership is what is missing. And that blame lies squarely on Wenger's shoulders.

It’s a well-known fact that Arsene Wenger is an intelligent man. He is charming and erudite. He is also a very stubborn man. His refusal to invest to strengthen the defense has baffled many. Nacho Monreal is not even an accomplished left-back yet he is deployed out of position at centre-back. Add to that the sale of Thomas Vermaelen and sending out Carl Jenkinson on loan puts a serious question mark on Wenger’s transfer policy.

Yes, he is still highly regarded in circles of world football, which is why he can convince a Mesut Ozil over a phone call to join from Real Madrid. Yes, he is still synonymous with a beautiful brand of football, which is why he could lure Alexis Sanchez away from Barcelona.

Unfortunately, he is also the same manager whose captains have departed every summer out of sheer desperation to win trophies before they hang their boots. Vieira, Henry, Fabregas, Van Persie and Vermaelen have exited the Wenger ‘project’ in search of silverware.

Henry Winter of Telegraph makes a great point about the complex nature of the club's management structure. Wenger was part of the decision making body that appointed his own boss. That's how highly the Frenchman is regarded at the club. Hence it would be difficult for Wenger's boss (Ivan Gazidis) to sack him.

Chelsea booted out Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas and Carlo Ancelotti for non-performance. United fans built up pressure on the management and had David Moyes sacked after just 10 months. Liverpool fired Roy Hodgson. Real Madrid have replaced managers at the drop of a hat.

Wenger has given himself the long rope at Arsenal. Neither has resignation been ever sought, nor has he offered it. The club, it appears, is satisfied with the annual 4th place finish and the monetary benefits a Champions League qualification brings with it. That would be unacceptable at any other ‘big’ club in the world.

The opinion among Arsenal fans is divided. Some want change, while the rest still continue to view Wenger with rose-tinted glasses probably in hope that another set of ‘Invincibles’ might be around the corner. With that not likely to happen anytime soon, even this section would soon opt for a more pragmatic approach and appeal for a heartbreaking divorce with Arsene Wenger.

First Published: Saturday, November 29, 2014 - 19:01

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