Arsene's Arsenal –How an era ended

By Christopher Georgiou
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The longest and greatest serving Arsenal manager in history departs – ending an era for both Arsenal and English football.

With three premier leagues titles, a record breaking seven FA cups, a Champions League Final and a move to a world-class stadium and training ground, Arsene Wenger has had a remarkable 22 years since becoming manager of Arsenal Football Club in 1996.

The story has two parts: A first successful half and a second, less successful half, as illustrated by Figure 1. *

Figure 1 shows Arsenal's league finishes under Arsene Wenger (1998 - 2018).

The recent Europa Semi-final double leg against Atletico Madrid serves as a good summary of the second half of Wenger's tenure. With Atletico going down to ten men in the first ten minutes of the first leg, Arsenal failed to take advantage and even conceded a sloppy late goal to the undermanned Atletico. 

With winning the Europa league the only route left for Arsenal to enter the elite of European football the following season, Arsenal went to Madrid for the return leg with more of the same and was dumped out of the competition unceremoniously in a 1-0 defeat.

This was in stark contrast to the first half of Wenger's Arsenal career, during which the "invincible" Arsenal were at the forefront of English football on and off the pitch. Arsene Wenger changed the diets of the players, changed the style of the whole of English football and was a leading pioneer in attracting unknown foreign talent at a cheap price. You could say that the game caught up with him, and he failed to keep improving. Yet, there were also four key problems, amongst others, that Arsenal fans and pundits alike will debate over.

1)He lost all of the team' leaders and didn't replace them. As legendary Arsenal captain Tony Adams, who played under Wenger, said: “"atrick Vieira once suggested Arsene does not like big characters and personalities around, especially ones from Arsenal's history.”"In inheriting a side packed with natural leaders and adding several world superstars, Wenger triumphed. As those original players retired and Wenger's early strong signings left or retired by 2006, Wenger never replaced them with equally capable leaders.

2)The era of mega-rich owners in the Premier League made it very difficult, if not impossible, for Arsenal to compete financially to attract the world's best talents.

3)Tactics and formations rarely changed. Wenger believed that as long as Arsenal played their passing game they would win -regardless of who the opposition was. Everybody knew how to play against Arsenal and the top players of opposing teams often received no special defensive treatment.

4)Team discipline. Incontrast to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger appeared soft on his players, which led to continuously weak performances. Some argue the players are at fault for betraying his trust and not working hard enough. Either way, the apparent lack of fight was what really irked the Arsenal fans. 

While the odd victory against a big team or the winning of the FA Cup would content some fans, it was clear that this was just papering over the cracks. Wenger could no longer deliver a sustained series of victories over the full course of a season. He spoke in encrypted language, without often being frank about the problems Arsenal were facing.

The 2015-16 season was a milestone. The big boys of Chelsea, Man United and Man City all faltered that season, leaving the title there for the taking... but who took it? Not Arsenal, but lowly Leicester F.C. who were 5000/1 odds on by bookmakers at the beginning of that season. This provided a clear perspective contrasting the use of tactics, strength, talent up front and good management in comparison to Arsenal. Wenger had nowhere to hide.

Arsenal must now find a replacement to push Arsenal back to the top of the table. If Arsene Wenger had left the club in 2008 after ten years of service, he would have been considered a God on earth by the fans. Still, with the passing of time he will almost certainly only be remembered for his first ten magnificent years at the club. He was a true gentleman and should be remembered for all the work he did off the pitch helping others and encouraging the youth to be successful.

It is highly unlikely that the Premier league will ever witness another manager to remain at the same club for over 20 years. It is an end of an era for the English football as well as for Arsenal. 

Arsene Wenger, top, in 1996, and on his last home game at the Emirates Stadium, London on Sunday May 6, 2018. [File Photos]

Christopher Georgiou from London is a contributor based in Beijing,  and a lifelong Arsenal fan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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