Is time coming to an end for Arsene Wenger?
When Arsene Wenger was approached by David Dein to become the manager of Arsenal Football Club in 1996, it's unlikely he imagined that he would still be at the helm 21 years later05 February 2018 | Stephen Ford
From the double winning sides of 1997-98 and 2001-02, an unbeaten season with 'The Invincibles' in 2003-04, seven FA Cup trophies, and a Champions League Final in 2006, Arsene Wenger has achieved what most managers could only dream of in a career. 1200 games later, including a record 816 of those in the Premier League alone, fans are starting to scratch their heads and wonder if he is still the right man to lead Arsenal in the future.
Many fans and observers would say his time has been divided into two parts. The first ten years were full of success. He came in with a bang and changed the way football was approached by implementing sports science and teaching players how to treat their body’s properly, which ultimately lead to years of triumph. He introduced some of the greatest players the world has seen in Thierry Henry (pictured), Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas, and Robin Van Persie which also produced a style of football that stamped Arsenal’s footprint as one of the most entertaining teams in Europe.
But what has changed in the second decade of his tenure, and more recently the past 12 months?
In 2006, Arsenal Football Club made the bold step to move into a new stadium which was seen to allow them to compete with Europe’s elite. With a new 60,000 seat stadium with increased commercial capacities, it was seen that this would help Arsenal self-generate bigger revenue streams, and in turn allow the football club to flourish. But with that came a hefty debt of £260 million that would need to be paid off over the next 10 years.
When the decision was made to build a new stadium and move into the Emirates, no one at the football club could have envisaged that the oil rich tycoons of Russia and Abu Dhabi would enter the Premier League through Chelsea first, and then Manchester City. While the club was paying off the stadium debt and needing to sell its best players to keep afloat, the foreign investment in the league was attracting world class players from Robinho, to Makelele, to Crespo, to Shevchenko and they started to dominate the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger was being criticised for selling players like Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Fabregas and Van Persie, but if you ask him he actually see’s the second decade of his Arsenal career as a bigger success then the first – due to the fact that he was able to consistently maintain a top-4 finish in the Premier League and year-on-year participation in the Champions League on limited resources.
But since the 2013-14 season when the stadium debt was paid off, the microscope has been on the manager to deliver silverware. Identifying and signing marquee players like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Alexandre Lacazette, and more recently Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the pressure has been on him to put Arsenal back at the top as one of the elite teams in the Premier League, and even Europe.
Three FA Cup wins in four years, and now a League Cup Final in 2018, this has only put a band-aid over the ever-brewing fall that Arsenal have found themselves in. With a 5th place finish in 2016-17 which included a mid-season collapse and a manager in despair like we have never seen him before, fans and observers expected to see a turnaround in season 2017-18. But to date, this hasn’t transpired. Currently sitting 6th in the league, 8 points off the top 4, and 24 points from the top, eliminated from the FA Cup, and playing in Europe’s second tier Europa League, questions are starting to be asked if Arsene Wenger is the man to take Arsenal Football Club forward.
Stan Kroenke, the majority owner of this prestigious football club, and the Arsenal board, offered a two-year extension to the managers contract last season, even after the fiasco that was in 2016-17, which he took up to extend his stay beyond 20 years as manager.
Although the contract was signed, CEO Ivan Gazidis said this year was going to be a “catalyst for change”, which has ultimately lead to a number of backroom changes which involved bringing in Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund as the new Chief Scout, Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona as the new Head of Football Relations, and Huss Fahmy as the Contracts Negotiator.
From the outside looking in, it seems as though some of the powers that Arsene Wenger has always held at Arsenal Football Club, are now being taken away from him. Longstanding players he has kept faith in like Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin, and Oliver Giroud have now been passed on, and rumours have circulated that Wenger’s contract will be reviewed come the end of the season.
Arsene Wenger has prided himself on never breaking a contract, even when the likes of Real Madrid and PSG have knocked on his door. But will he survive another season in the most competitive league in the world? Time will tell, but my guess is this season could be his last.
arsene wenger, arsenal