Has this been Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s most disappointing season?
The Daily Telegraph ran a satirical, imaginary, minute by minute update of the Arsenal West Brom game on Thursday, prodding joking fun at the horrific predictability of Arsenal’s season. Despite Arsenal winning the game and the Telegraph’s satire appearing somewhat folly, the hordes of empty seats dominated the media in the build-up, with the general consensus that the Arsenal faithful had just about seen enough for this season.
While achieving the top four in a season, in one sense, where Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United look all set to miss out, is acceptable, the 2015/16 season may well go down as the most depressing in recent Arsenal history. This was the year that Arsene Wenger’s nemesis, Jose Mourinho, was banished to the periphery, and the same year that Manchester United went through an identity crisis which has crippled them from scoring goals. This was supposed to be the year for Arsenal where all of those traditional barriers were removed, leaving a more-than-ever straightforward dash to the finish line.
The Wengerite- the disciple of Wenger, who’d uphold his decisions through thick and thin, could point to circumstance and perspective to justify their unwavering faith through the years. Prior to 2005, they would say, Wenger was a genuine world-class manager. Next, 2005 through 2012, were the austerity years, where Wenger operated on a fraction of a budget of his rivals, nicking 3rd or 4th place and maintaining a status of being in the top-16 of Europe. Then came the beginning of the new age where money was available and the stadium debt was paid; where first came Ozil and the FA Cup, then Sanchez and another FA Cup, and the end of the feckless trophyless years. But now, where money is available, in the season where the nascent wealth of City and Chelsea appear domestically irrelevant, what excuse can a Wengerite have?
Maybe the Wengerite can look to the argument of soccernomics, the idea that, ‘building the Emirates Stadium was Arsenal’s way of closing the cash gap to the rich clubs – then came Roman Abramovich (and Sheikh Mansour) followed by a broadcast treasure chest that lessens the need for king-sized matchday revenues’. The idea, more simply, that Wenger invested the entire middle-hood of his Arsenal reign on a hugely risky, long term venture, that through no fault of his own, is failing to financially distinguish the club from practically anyone in the Premier League.
Maybe the Wengerite will fall back on their pride of never finishing below Tottenham under Wenger’s guide, a truly outstanding record. 10 managers have tried to displace Arsenal in this bitter rivalry, and Wenger has got the better of them all. Until now. Mauricio Pochettino’s men look as if they’re on an interminable crusade. Tottenham are fast and hungry, built around a core of young English players that Wenger has missed out on.
Maybe the Wengerite will look to the senior management of the board, not least the anonymous Stan Kroenke, who appear to have little interest in the club other than finance. But as succinctly summarised, elsewhere: ‘Wenger is thankful for the unquestioning support of the Kroenke (Arsenal’s owner). Kroenke is thankful for a manager who understands economics and whose work suits his ideal of “real business”. The stasis goes on.’ The financial backing is there but Wenger won’t use it; can the board really do much more than trust their manager, and provide him with the resources to act?
This, perhaps, is the key. Wenger’s overwhelming faith in his principles, his financially responsible motives, and his stubborn allegiance to everything he stands for, gives the disillusioned Arsenal fan little to be optimistic about. There’s a sense that Wenger has achieved the immortal, that his relationship with the board makes him un-sackackable and he has more or less acquired outright control over nearly every inch of the club. Nothing will change, Arsenal will continue to frustrate, and the club will continue to be a symbol of stagnated progress.
Like the fall of any great leader, the beginning of the end is confirmed when even its most staunch supporters grow tired. The Wengerite is running out of excuses, and Wenger’s untouchable status is waning. With the influx of the world’s finest managerial talent imminent, with the pathway to domestic success once again looking more complicated than ever, Wenger may have missed their one great chance to vanquish the doubters. Instead, a new Premier League era of intense competition looks set to begin, and unlike any of the last periods of Wenger’s 20 year reign, his disciples may not be there to help him.