By Daniel McClue
Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal manager since 1996 and is the longest current serving manager in English football. Over the course of his reign, the Gunners have enjoyed incredible successes – most notably The Invincibles of the 2003/04 campaign.
But things haven’t been quite so successful in recent years, with Wenger now a man under intense pressure more often than not.
He has be in charge of Arsenal for a massive 1063 matches, winning 611 and accruing an average of 1.95 points-per-game in that time. In comparison, Jurgen Klopp gathered 1.90 points-per-game in 318 games for Dortmund, while Sir Alex Ferguson managed 1159 games for United, winning 2.10 points per match on average.
The Frenchman’s quality as a manager is undeniable, however, since the 2003/04 season when his team went unbeaten, Arsenal have only finished second once – that came the following season – after that they have finished either third or fourth ten times in a row, with that run looking set to stretch to eleven following Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Aston Villa.
What this consistency guarantees is Champions League football year after year, a competition they have never won despite reaching the final in the 2005/06 campaign. But is this enough for Arsenal fans to be satisfied? Or is it time to change things up?
When Wenger retires his legacy will be remembered forever. He is often spoken of in the same vein as Sir Alex Ferguson as the pair are considered to be two of the greatest managers in English football history. What Wenger brought to Arsenal when he signed in the mid-nineties was incredible stability coupled with attractive, fluid football – all without (until recently) spending excessive amounts to revamp his squad.
Consistency is important in a league in which only six teams have yet to be relegated since the start of the Premier League in 1992, Aston Villa being the latest victims. However, in a time where social media has formed a route for people to voice their opinions, it is becoming more evident that this is not enough. Many Arsenal fans on Twitter aren’t wanting to reminisce on past successes with ‘#WengerOut’ trending after several disappointing results in recent months.
Sports fans are fickle, it’s in our nature, particularly those supporting the top teams who have achieved success over and over again. We all want our teams to win and to do so every year. This results in an incredible turnover in managers for some teams. Some clubs have won many trophies with this method (look at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich) while others have fallen from grace (look at Leeds United’s collapse).
Wenger’s consistency is good, but for the fans it’s not good enough. They want trophies and something to brag about as “we’ve qualified for the Champions League 18 seasons in a row” may be remarkable but it still doesn’t quite equal “we’ve won the Champions League”. The club has enjoyed success in the FA Cup in recent years but that is not enough for a club as big as Arsenal.
After Arsenal went unbeaten over the course of a whole Premier League season in 2004 many fans expected them to create a dynasty. Expectations were to win several league titles in a row while pushing for a Champions League trophy.
This never happened. The club, under the guidance of Wenger, never pushed on and instead seemed to settle into a groove while teams around them rose up. Both Chelsea and Manchester City invested millions into becoming top teams and in the process created a solid group of teams challenging for the same goal. The Invincibles season is now 12 years old and the club have not come close to producing a team with anywhere near as much quality in every position since.
This season has produced arguably the most incredible story in all of sporting history, as Leicester City have won the Premier League for the first time in their history despite being 5000/1 outsiders at the start of this campaign.
Since the 2003/04 season only Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have won the league. Those three dominant teams have struggled and seeing Leicester go on to claim the title must aggravate the Arsenal fans and will be seen as a missed opportunity, particularly given the Gunners’ position at the top of the table at the turn of 2016.
This year also marks the first time in 21 years that arch rivals Tottenham look set to finish above them, with Spurs two points ahead of Arsenal entering the final game.
This season would have been the perfect year for Wenger to spend £100 million+ in the summer or overpay for a superstar in January to win the Premier League, instead Arsenal only signed Petr Cech and Mohamed Elneny. As good a signing as Cech was, the overall transfer business was not enough improvement for a squad that finished 3rd last season.
In 2011/12 Robin Van Persie was the league’s top scorer with 30 goals while leading the line for Arsenal, but that summer he was sold to Manchester United for £22.5 million. In 2011 star midfielder and club captain Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona for £23 million, he would later sign for Chelsea, their London rivals. Other questionable transfer deals include sending Ashley Cole to Chelsea in return for William Gallas and selling Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City for £25 million a season removed from being the club’s top scorer.
What Wenger does for Arsenal, to the satisfaction of the board, is make sure the club breaks even every season. The amount of money received from finishing in the top four of the Premier League is over £21 million, which is then saved rather than immediately splashed out on expensive players and he isn’t afraid of instead selling stars to fund moves for more talent.
The problem the board face is that top managers have become available in recent years with the likes of Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte all looking for new jobs, but Arsenal have not gambled on them, missing their opportunity to pick up a great coach out of contract, without needing to spend money to pay off a release clause.
Wenger is unlikely to be sacked, as the club have had the same results for too many seasons for them to pull the plug now. His current contract ends in 2017 and it is much more reasonable to expect them to wait until he leaves mutually, especially as he is now 66 and this could very well be his final coaching role with a team. This will also give the club a whole season to lineup a possible new manager.
It will be interesting to see which manager they go after, Diego Simeone is a highly regarded coach who would keep the team at the top, but his style of management and the way his team plays is the opposite to that of Wenger.
Other names linked with the job are Ronald Koeman, Joachim Low and Roberto Mancini but several more are expected to be lined up as and when Wenger’s time in the dugout comes to an end.
The board will be confident of finishing in the top four again next season, but what this year shows is how unpredictable football can be at times. Should they reach out for a new manager now? Or wait until 2017 to find a new leader? Wenger should probably be sacked, but he won’t.