In 1996, following a short spell at Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, bespectacled Frenchman Arsene Wenger was appointed manager of Arsenal Football Club, and as they say, the rest is history.
Nicknamed “Le Professeur”, the Gunners became imperious, winning the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998 and 2002 before one of the finest displays of all time by a football club as they Premier League in 2004 whilst simultaneously remaining unbeaten, something which had not been done for 115 years. ‘The Invincibles’ lived up to their name with match winners including Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp all coming to the fore.
Arsenal were a joy to watch with the side’s style, panache and attacking mentality fairly matched with their aggression evident through the tough-tackling no-nonsense leaders of that superb team, such as Patrick Vieira.
An agonising 2006 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona only served to highlight that the London outfit were still one of the best sides in Europe.
Yet now look how the mighty have fallen. A 5-1 loss at the Allianz Arena to Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening has further enhanced calls of “Wenger out” as the professor now looks past his best.
Wenger is now just 8/11 to leave the club this summer, the first time the price has hit odds-on since his arrival, with Arsenal falling into the same old perpetual rut that seems to hit the club every February.
An October/November of optimism for the season ahead is all but dashed by this time every year with the club’s chances in the Champions League and Premier League again all but over.
At 67 years old, Wenger seems to have lost his magic touch. A lack of star quality remains omnipresent in his side with Chilean Alexis Sanchez single-handedly resurrecting his team’s hopes of siilverware on numerous occasions this year.
A move to the Emirates and the significant financial investment which accompanied the move from Highbury was initially blamed for a lack of star quality joining the club but the sales of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, et al, to Premier League rivals and with no forthcoming replacements, highlighted the lack of real quality at Wenger’s disposal compared to his previous squads.
A further issue is leadership. Keown, Vieira, Tony Adams; leaders. Where are Arsenal’s leaders in this current team?
Off the pitch, the club’s board is also routinely targeted by fans who see Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidas, et al, in the club solely for the money and not for what really should matter: winning silverware and spending Arsenal’s sizeable profit margins on big-money signings.
The Premier League has moved on since 1996, Wenger’s old foe Sir Alex Ferguson and others like him have been replaced with a new set of fresh-faced managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino, who bring a new vibrancy and newfangled ideas to the league and to the sides they manage. Wenger’s tactics and talk now seem archaic.
The Frenchman cut a forlorn figure on the touchline in Munich on Tuesday as he watched his side capitulate.
Following the match, the often-maligned Arsenal Fan TV captured the anger and anti-Wenger sentiment which has come to associate many Arsenal fans who once regarded Wenger as the pinnacle.
However, who can blame them? One fan interviewed was a friend of mine, Ben, who got a 5am flight from Luton on Tuesday morning shelling out hundreds of pounds and forsaking a day’s pay at work to watch his beloved Gunners.
However, the travelling fans were shown no thanks from the players with only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain going and applauding the supporters at the final whistle with star players such as Sanchez and the non-existent Mesut Ozil marching straight down the tunnel.
YouTube: Bayern Munich 5 Arsenal 1| As Soon As Koscielny Came Off It Went Downhill!
This is the 2017 Arsenal, a fan-base increasingly frustrated with their stubborn manager, a team lacking strength in-depth and leadership, whilst full in the knowledge that star striker Sanchez will probably exit stage-right at the end of the season.
Put into perspective, it therefore seems right that Wenger must now call time on his glittering tenure at the club or fear damaging his credibility and legacy for good.
One thing Arsenal fans must bear in mind is the word ‘transition’. Following George Graham’s departure from the Arsenal hot seat, his full-time replacement Bruce Rioch lasted just one season. In a similar vein to what Manchester United have experienced following Ferguson’s retirement, the loss of Wenger may not automatically bring about an upturn in form.
The current list of contenders heading the betting to replace Wenger reads Massimiliano Allegri, Eddie Howe, Thomas Tuchel, Patrick Vieira and Diego Simeone. However Howe, Tuchel and Vieira are still novices in the manager ranks. They all have more experience to glean. Allegri, Simeone and also Rafa Benitez at 25/1 all have top-class experience but will they want to take on what may become a poisoned chalice?
Now does seem the right time for a Wenger exit but Arsenal fans, be careful what you wish for because as the old adage goes, you don’t realise you miss something until it’s gone.