At the time of writing this article, it has been 7 years, 3 months and 20 days since Arsenal last won a trophy. That was the FA Cup back in 2005, beating Manchester United on penalties at the Millenium Stadium. So with so many managers having lost their jobs since that last cup win, why hasn’t time been called on the tenure of Arsene Wenger?
In the not so distant past, Arsenal were a real force in English football. The Premier League was more or less a two horse race between them and Manchester United, with Wenger leading his side to three first place finishes (the last of these being in the 2003/04 season). Fast forward to the present day, and instead of competing for league titles, Arsenal now find themselves being satisfied with Champions League qualification. But why are the board and the fans content with this? Some Arsenal supporters that I have asked about the past 7 years without a trophy reply with “well at least we qualify for the Champions League every year”, or “we still finish above Spurs”. These two statements may well be true, but there is no silverware for qualifying for Europe’s elite competition, or finishing above your local rivals. If you look in the history books at club honours, it will state the season and the trophy won; not that they finished above someone else.
Wenger is the second longest serving manager in the Premier League, behind only Sir Alex Ferguson. The difference between the two is that even though Chelsea and Manchester City have both had huge cash injections, Ferguson still challenges for the title every season. There is obviously a massive sense of sentiment between the Arsenal board and Wenger. After all, he has served the club since 1996, winning 11 trophies in that time (if you include Charity/Community Shields). Wenger is undoubtedly one of the most respected managers in world football. but is he still in his job purely because of previous achievements?
Last season, Kenny Dalglish won the League Cup with Liverpool, and narrowly missed out on winning the FA Cup as well, losing 2-1 to Chelsea in the final. Even though he managed to win the club’s first silverware since 2006, Dalglish was still relieved of his duties come the end of the season. Dalglish had been out of management since 1999, so it can be seen that his appointment as Liverpool manager was based on his previous glory and the bond he has with the club’s fans. The difference between the Liverpool board and the Arsenal board is that the Merseysiders felt that they had to part ways with “King Kenny” for the best for the future of the club. Although he won a trophy, the club was not meeting expectations in the league, even though a lot of money was spent on new players. At Arsenal, it could be seen that the board can’t sack Wenger because of his relationship with the fans.
One noticeable flag seen at Arsenal home games states “In Arsene We Trust”. But what is it that the fans are trusting him with. No silverware for 7 years for a club of Arsenal’s stature surely cannot be acceptable. The closest the have come to winning a trophy in that time was the 2011 League Cup, after they lost the final 2-1 to Birmingham City. They have not challenged for a league title since the 2004/05 season, when they finished second, but were still 13 points behind winners, Chelsea. Since then they have finished 3rd and 4th, without ever making a serious challenge for the title. So what is it that is keeping Wenger in his job?
There is no doubt that Wenger has an eye for talent. He has brought many players to Arsenal who have grown to be household names, with a lot of them coming to the club for a minimal fee before leaving for huge profits. Some notable signings include Nicolas Anelka for £500k, Kolo Toure for £150k, Gael Clichy for £250k, Cesc Fabregas for free, and Robin van Persie for £2.7m. All of these players were very successful at Arsenal, and all sold for large profits. But in the transfer window, it is Wenger’s reluctance to spend big on a ready-made product which has often come under criticism. The only real notable “big” signings made by Wenger have all come in recent years, with Andrey Arshavin, Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Podolski, yet still he has never paid over £20m for a player.
Maybe it is time for Wenger to move upstairs at the Emirates, and take on a Director of Football role. A new manager with fresh ideas could bring the silverware back to the red side of North London. Wenger’s advice and knowledge of young players on the continent is too important to throw away, so taking a back seat could be best for Arsenal in the long run.