Arsene Wenger: An obituary
It doesn’t seem quite right to be picking over the bones of Arsene Wenger while his body is still twitching.
After all, the Frenchman has survived for more than 15 years in one of the most brutal businesses on earth. However, everything has to come to an end one day.
And just like all champions, the ending when it comes is never pretty. It’s ugly, painful and at times just plain uncomfortable as proud dignity is stripped away goal by goal.
Quite simply there are no hiding places in sports - especially when your opponent smells it.
I’m sure that Sir Alex Ferguson, holding a 3-1 lead, had only one message to his players during intermission at Old Trafford…‘step on their throats and don’t stop until the body goes limp’… I would’ve said the same thing!
The question we have to ask now is whether Wenger is capable of a Lazarus-type comeback? Or has he been fatally wounded after this hammering of historic proportions?
I’m going to have to go with the latter and hence it’s time to write his obituary, which is almost an impossible task. So to make things a little easier, here's my take on the five greatest and worst achievements from Wenger's Arsenal reign.
Worst: I have to believe that Wenger was the ‘fat’ kid in school and that he was made to play goalkeeper, because his neglect of the position since Jens Lehmann left in 2007 has been nothing short of criminal. Let these names roll over your tongue - Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone, James Shea and now Vwojciech Szczesny.
Greatest: He doesn’t have a statue outside Emirates Stadium yet and in all honesty he’ll never need one. Emirates Stadium is Arsene Wenger and this is his monument not only to the Gunners but also to English football. It won’t always be a library because one day in the near future they’ll figure out how to turn it into a fortress.
Worst: Watching the England captain’s armband being tossed around like a hot potato is painful, but nothing when compared to the way Wenger has used the honor. It seemingly has become nothing more than a way to stop a player from leaving the club. From Thierry Henry to Gilberto Silva, William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and now Robin van Persie the message has been ‘please stay and I’ll make you captain'. Give me Tony Adams any
Greatest: The great Arsenal back four/five of Wenger's glory years was not his creation, but he recognized the strength of it. By changing habits, most notably the drinking culture, he extended the life of the best defense in English football. Take a bow David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn. The finest offside trap ever.
Worst: Wenger forgot about what made England great (see above). Look, I’m not going to say it’s all about an English heart but every team that has won the Football League/English Premiership since its inception has the Three Lions beating at it’s very core. Foreigners may be better technically and sometimes easier to handle, but on a cold rainy Tuesday night in Bolton I know who I want out there.
Greatest: Thierry Henry arrived at Highbury in 1999 a confused player. He thought he was a lightning-quick winger but under Wenger he was transformed into one of the world’s best ever strikers. 174 goals later, Henry had redefined the art of goal scoring while shattering every Arsenal record. It was all down to a manager who saw something the rest of Europe had missed.
Worst: Every season since 2005, Arsene Wenger has been involved in a tug-of-war with his best player. They’ve wanted to move, he’s wanted them to stay. Or at least appeared to want them to stay. Unfortunately every saga has dragged on late into the transfer window, to the detriment of the team. Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have all demanded to move, and all have had their wishes eventually granted. But the cost has been immense.
Greatest: The Invincibles of 2004 will not be knocked off their perch anytime soon (sorry Sir Alex). An entire season undefeated in the modern game is almost beyond belief, and yet Wenger achieved it and then some. The record finally fell ironically at Old Trafford as the Gunners bowed out for 49.
Worst: Every manager must have tunnel vision to stand the test of time but every now and then they must let in new light. Wenger has refused to acknowledge the weaknesses killing his team. A goalkeeper, a center back, a holding midfielder, a leader were required to take this team to the next level. Everybody, and I mean everybody, saw it, commented on it and demanded he do something about it. He didn’t and now the price is being paid.
Greatest: Arsene Wenger had a vision. He wanted to create the perfect footballing team. At times over the last six years he has succeeded because Arsenal ‘on song’ with everything firing was in my mind the greatest show on turf. Better even than Barcelona in pure footballing terms, however their problem was they couldn’t be as consistent as Barca because they didn’t have the strength in depth. It was a noble experiment and the Professor was desperately close to achieving alchemy.
I for one hope I’m wrong about the future of Wenger and that this obituary is premature, because Sunday wasn’t the way this giant of English football should leave the game. A game that he has changed, change we have been privileged to witness.
Nick Webster has been the voice of the Barclays Premier League, FIFA World Cup's and UEFA European Championships in America since 2001. Insightful, provocative and entertaining, you'll always find him at the heartbeat of the action with stories that matter.