I first started watching Premier League as a toddler, during the late 1990’s, thanks to my uncle, a big fan of English football, who was amazed by a certain French manager who completely changed the appearance of once boring Arsenal. It was 1998, the famous year of Arsene’s first double in England, when he became the first foreign manager to win a double in the Premier League. I did not know much about doubles, trebles, nor even what was the meaning of a title in a certain championship. All I know I fell immediately in love with outstanding performances of Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Emanuel Petit, Tony Adams and Ray Parlour. At the same time I started playing the famous game – Championship Manager, taking the famous club from Highbury, but newer managed to repeat the success of Arsene, mostly because the damn makers of the game gave too much power to Manchester United. Even though I never became as successful as the Professor, I did become a passionate fan of the Gunners, and especially of Wenger’s work.
Wenger revolutionized the Premier League
As I later learned, Arsene Wenger was the first manager at Arsenal who was given a complete liberty in purchasing and selling players, contracts and training sessions, as the Board decided not to meddle in these affairs in future. “Arsene who?” was the first question of the fans as well as the players, since nobody knew where the board found their new manager. Team’s captain, Tony Adams was far from satisfied with his new boss in the beginning, while Ray Parlour once stated that the players used to play pranks with the French tactician and named him Inspector Clouseau, since he was rather clumsy, but Arsene had a good sense of humor, knew how to laugh at himself, and little by little, earned the complete confidence of his players.
Wenger became famous for his transfer policy – buying young and talented players for pocket money, turning them into top-flight performers and earning piles of cash for him and his club, winning a trophy or two in the process. It’s enough to mention the names of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Fredrik Ljungberg. Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri etc., in order to understand the greatness of his mind. He is still the only manager in the history of the Gunners, and the second in the entire history of English football who went an entire Premier League season undefeated. It happened in 2004/2005, and then the fans believed sky is the limit for their beloved club with such an unbelievable manager, but, sadly, that was their last league title.
Money changes everything
The arrival of Roman Abramovich in Chelsea was a clear sign of the change that was about to happen in the entire European football. Much like myself when playing the Championship Manager, the Russian multi-billionaire started spending vast amounts of greens, looking for the best players money could buy, wanting all the trophies at once. Such behavior started spreading as a disease among other billionaires, who bought half the Premier League and used the clubs as their personal playrooms, buying and selling football players as they were toys. It became obvious that Wenger’s way of leading the club could not match such transfer policies of rich clubs, but the French tactician refused to start the big spending just to please the fans, since he believed his way was the proper one. He did manage to earn enough cash for a new stadium, didn’t he?
Sadly, he was far from correct. The Gunners newer posed as serious candidate for the league trophy after 2004, and Wenger’s refusal to start buying top-flight football players led to leaving of his own star team members who wanted to earn trophies, a chance they will never have with Emirates Stadium outfit. Truth being told, Arsenal was always in the top-four, always playing the Champions League and even came as close to losing against Barcelona in the finals, but, to be honest, they were never taken seriously again. Hence, Patric Vieira, Thierry Henry, later Robin van Persie, Sesc Fabregas and many others left to Barcelona, Inter, Manchester City, Manchester United and other richer clubs, and made outstanding results with them, earning almost everything possible in football. Such run of event started annoying the fans, who later began to pressure their beloved manager to start spending money. The Professor was reluctant to open his check book, but finally gave away and spent 42.5 million pounds for Real’s Mesut Ozil and later purchased Alexis Sanchez form Barcelona, and Danny Wellbeck from Manchester United.
Failure to challenge for major trophies
However, he never paid much attention to his weakest part of the tea, or maybe he did not consider it as a weak spot, but the truth is Arsenal defense could never reach the greatness of Sole Campbell, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Martin Keown and Kolo Toure, who made an impregnable wall in front of Seaman and later Lehmann. Arsene seemed to pile a majority of players in the midfield and offense, but never purchased a defender as Campbell, nor an attacker as Henry ever again. Some of the fans started whispering that the Professor passed his prime time long ago, that he should follow the example of Sir Alex Ferguson, but Ferguson left his post with a trophy, and Wenger wanted the same farewell.
The beginning of the current season was promising, as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United were complete disasters, while the Gunners had a solid team, one year older and ready for big results. Leicester were never considered as serious challengers and just when the fans saw the first league trophy after twelve long years, Arsenal once again did what they do best – underperformed in crucial parts of the season. Barcelona toyed with them in the Champions League quarter-finals, the Holloway-based team saw a defeat against Watford in the FA Cup, while in the Premier League, after sending Leicester home empty-handed, instead of turning the odds in their favor, Emirates Stadium outfit took a single point from their next three fixtures, allowing the Foxes to go eight points ahead, while even Tottenham moved in front in the overall standings. Thus the main topic once again became whether the Professor should leave his place to a younger teacher, since his lectures, frankly, became boring and predictable. Wenger’s players simply need a new book to learn from and new examines to pass in order to turn their fortune considering the acquisition of the title in England.
What next for Arsenal?
Arsene himself admitted that he cannot go on forever in North London, stating that after nineteen years at helm the question “Do you think you are good enough?” started to bother him, especially if the club owners were prepared to keep him in the position for almost two decades now. Arsene Wenger could resign as Arsenal manager if fans continue to turn against him in the coming weeks, since the supporters have been vocal in their feelings, with Arsenal’s season again looking like falling apart as the end approaches. Newspapers started to look for his replacement already, with the names of Dennis Bergkamp, Ronald Koeman, Diego Simeone, Manuel Pellegrini and even Thierry Henry filling the headlines as his possible successors, but the Professor will have the final say, the Board is backing him up and plan to keep him as long as possible. Possibly the best solution would be that the Frenchman takes the role of the director of football, since he would be perfect for that job, and leave the managerial position to some fresh blood.
For me, Arsene Wenger leaving the club would be the end of an era, as I honestly cannot see a proper candidate for his place, a person who would keep the very core spirit of Arsenal alive, once the Professor decides to depart.