“I am an Arsenal man. I think I have always shown that. I have to consider if I do well or not. If I don’t do well, I have to consider my future. Two years is a long time in my job.” Arsene Wenger. (ESPN)
THE question is here. It’s still two years away, but now that the subject of a new contract has been broached in public by none other than Ivan Gazidis, there’s going to be even more speculation, discussion and dissection of the fact, not to mention a hell of a lot of anger, bile and vitriol against arguably the greatest manager in the history of Arsenal Football Club. A large part of this dissent remains justified, just as an equally large part of it remains unjustified. He does not deserve the kind of singular, passionate hatred he evokes in a certain section of Arsenal fans themselves. And yet, I do not claim that the way to go is to treat everything that comes out of Le Prof’s mouth as pure genius and gospel. After repeated, mostly unfulfilled reassurances that rightful measures would be taken and players be replaced, we are naturally wary, even frustrated, disgruntled and cynical.
But I’d like to say that Wenger and our team deserve to be supported. Yes, we have a right to be angry, demand better performances and a better situation than the past few seasons. We are not wrong in wanting to win silverware sooner rather than later. A placid unquestioning nature where nobody is held accountable for mistakes made and not learned from, is madness. But so is spewing any more negativity over the club, the players and the manager than everybody else already does, has been doing, and will always continue to, even when (and not if) we win and break our trophy drought.
The trophy drought is possibly the single most powerful reason for the ‘Wenger Out’ fans. I won’t waste words on listing his considerable achievements with and revolutionary benefits for Arsenal pre-2005.
“(Arsene Wenger) is the man who delivered [Arsenal] into a fantastic new stadium after winning seven trophies in as many years, plus a Champions League final … As well as a brand of football which was way ahead of its time, he also introduced things to the Premier League which we now take for granted. Diet, nutrition, rest, aerobics… a lot of clubs only paid lip service to them when Wenger arrived in north London 16 years ago, but now they are all part of the furniture.” (Robbie Savage, http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/the-robbie-savage-column-we-we-should-scrap-1322833)
And yet I cannot write much that hasn’t been written before on this issue. The truth, I suspect is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I just wish I knew what it was. It is becoming increasingly harder to pinpoint the true root and cause of the problem. It’s not as simple as saying this person is to blame and firing him would magically right matters.
Genius though he has been, Wenger can be exasperatingly stubborn and must shoulder some of the blame for the lack of trophies eight years running. He has made mistakes (Yes I’m saying that and I still don’t hate him, cue awe, shock, horror) and had to bear the bitter consequences, none bigger than watching so many of his beloved players stab him in the back and leave in search of more money and a few trophies on the side. (More often regretting it than not) He’s been in the wrong for continuing to keep on deadwood like Bendtner, Chamakh, Squillaci, Denilson, Park etc on large salaries nonetheless, and some of his transfer market dealings have been sorely wanting. I am also one of the group of fans that would like him to be more honest with the fans through the media and gain back much of the trust that has been lost of late.
I sincerely believe that the 2007-2008 was supposed to be that breakthrough season following the breaking up of the Invincibles, and it was all going according to plan, until that day in Birmingham (My 19th birthday nonetheless is one which I wish I could forget, or remember for happier reasons) That was supposed to be the start of the finished product, the real deal that it would have been with a few more additions come that summer. Instead, Flamini and Hleb both committed career suicide and started a slow trickle that over the next few seasons disintegrated into a full-blown exodus of our best players leaving every season, just when we have inched closer towards finding the 2-3 missing pieces of a silverware contender unit.
This is all ifs and buts, but imagine if even half of those players had kept but a little patience. Now we’ll never know. AW for all his trophy costing mistakes, has seen the players he has completely supported, nurtured and kept faith in, stab him in the back and leave, refusing to return the favour. He has had to deal with a team that is constantly in a state of rebuild and replacement. A process that has not been helped by the enormous inflation and price hike in player wages and prices because of petro-dollar clubs like Man City and Chelsea. And yet, Wenger’s made sure that we have not only qualified for the Champions League every year under him, but also made it past the group stages consistently, something that continues to ensure that Arsenal’s place in football hasn’t deteriorated as much as it would have without qualification and a lack of trophies.
However, that brings up the ever-looming question of Stan Kroenke and how much we really know. Our American majority shareholder would rather us qualify every season for the Champions League and make money than spend anything to shoot for real success where trophies are concerned. I’m not saying we should become a Man City. I believe in a self-sustaining, prudent financial policy. It has worked and continues to work at a club like Bayern Munich. But the current manner of handling this is hurting Arsenal. It seems like our economics masters degree holder is being asked to be an accountant while also shouldering the considerable responsibilities of a football manager, which he has managed well under the circumstances. If it’s true, Wenger has done far more with less than any current manager has done, and for the present is the right manager for Arsenal. For all those shouting for a change of name, how many can guarantee that Gazidis, Kroenke or the Board can find someone who can achieve more in this position? I’m not saying I agree with and am happy about everything that is happening at the club, especially with regards the board, but I refuse to rest unnecessary, unfair blame, be constantly negative or downright classless. Football is not just about trophies, and there is no doubt Wenger already has a considerable legacy and philosophy – one that has become synonymous with Arsenal.
With our seemingly constant state of transition, it is hard to know when to let go and make way for a new era, even with this season’s encouraging changes. (There’s still much to do, but that’s another story) 2014 is two whole years away. Wenger will make his decision in time and we’ll know by then whether it’s the right one. Until then, why not direct all our faith and positive energy into the possibility that Arsene Wenger be at the helm when we win our first trophy in over 7 years? He deserves it. We deserve to see our greatest manager (who has proved the most loyal fan of the club) be the one to bring glory back to the Arsenal. Life’s not fair, things don’t necessarily work out the way you want them to and many outcomes will pleasantly or unpleasantly surprise you. But I sincerely hope that’s not the case here. Much can happen, much will happen, and I know where I want to be when it does. Supporting my club on the field no matter what.