*Updated 2018 by Julian Bonte-Friedheim
In the world of soccer there are few dynasties like that of Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal. The Frenchman, who has announced his resignation at the end of the current season, will have spent 22 straight years managing the club. After leading the team to its most successful era during his first decade in charge, Arsenal failed to win the championship title over his last 14 seasons and never managed to win the Champions League, Europe’s prized international trophy. Many saw this as a major failure, leading some fans to call for Wenger’s dismissal during his last years in charge. His legacy includes many highs and lows.
Here are three reasons to scrutinize Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal coach, and three reasons to glorify him:
Arsenal will be better off without Wenger
He was too old-school
Arsène Wenger’s old-fashioned managing became out of date in modern soccer. The sport changed in recent decades; the scope and volume of work required from coaches and managers increased. In the past, the two separate functions of coaching and managing were in the hands of one man. However, these two functions have evolved and now require at least two people to handle them individually. While coaches spend more time coaching, general managers are now required to take charge of various issues in the club, much like general managers in the NBA and NFL.
But Wenger never accepted this development. Despite the increasing demands of each role, he firmly believed he could take charge of everything himself. The result is a significant failure in both regards.
Arsenal didn’t win the Premier League title in the past 14 years. Worse, the team repeatedly failed to pose as a serious challenger. In the last five or six years, because of Arsenal’s underperformance, it didn’t even enter into the discussion. League results were bad and many fans believed a new approach was needed. Its 5th place finish during the 2016-2017 season meant the club didn’t qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years. Wenger’s methods, so successful in earlier years, were seriously dragging down results.
Wenger was never a good coach
Wenger’s part in Arsenal’s success is overrated. Rather than attributing Arsenal’s achievements to Wenger’s coaching abilities, they should be attributed to the great vision and fantastic work of the board, led mostly by Vice-Chairman David Dean. When Wenger didn’t want to pay more than £8M for Sylvain Wiltord, Dean recruited him for £13M, and Wiltord eventually became an Arsenal star, playing a huge role in the club’s 2001/2002 Premier League victory. It was Dean’s persistence that brought in the star players who made Arsenal so great.
Tony Adams, an Arsenal legend and captain, once said: “Coaching wasn’t Arsène’s strong point.” Wenger’s strength wasn’t in on-field coaching but in identifying and nurturing young talent.
Arsenal should honor Wenger
Wenger is Arsenal
Arsenal is among the very elite of British soccer. The team reached this status mostly due to Wenger. When he arrived at the club, it was an unremarkable upper mid-table team, with no suitable training ground and a terrible sports culture. But Wenger turned the club around and made Arsenal who they are and what they aspire to be: one of the biggest clubs in Europe. The first thing he did was to improve the training facilities and invest in the youth academy. His vision and philosophy allowed Arsenal to recruit fascinating players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka at bargain prices. Under him, these players moved mountains. Wenger led Arsenal into the elite of soccer.
Arsenal`s fans are wrong
Most of the voices calling for Wenger’s resignation came from Arsenal fans. There’s nothing new in soccer fans calling for the dismissal of a club coach; it’s part of the game’s nature. It happens often because soccer fans always want more from the team they support.
However, the demand to see Wenger leave was based on emotions rather than on realistic thinking. Arsenal’s rivals, like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, are far richer, and their regularly finishing in the top spots of British soccer is extraordinary. Arsenal fans got used to Wenger leading his team into the top league rankings in the past, so, once the team started losing, they found it hard to acknowledge the fantastic work done by the Frenchman. The way that fans called for him to leave was wrong and ignored his contributions to the club.
Watching Arsenal play during their heyday, one would realize they were the best and most attractive soccer team to ever play in Premier League. Arsenal not only rode the longest undefeated run in Premier League history (49 games, including an entire season without a loss), but did so in a stylish, eye-captivating way, with exciting soccer that is based on technique and short passing.
Wenger pioneered Arsenal’s purist game philosophy. It still shapes the present team’s style of play. This adventurous gameplay should be appreciated, especially by those who love the beauty of soccer. Even when he is long gone, this way of playing will remain deeply embedded within the club.
Bottom lines: It comes down to the question of tradition versus modernity. Do you believe Arsenal should honor Wenger for his past successes or did sentimentalism keep him at the club far beyond his good years? Are results and trophies all that matter to a club or do tradition and philosophy still have value?