For a manager who is on the cusp of a supposed legacy-ending season, Arsene Wenger will probably be able to afford himself a wry smile at the headlines Fleet Street’s finest conjured up for his Arsenal side this morning.
After a week in which the world and his wife were seemingly putting the finishing touches upon the Frenchman’s managerial obituary, following the now infamous League Cup defeat to Bradford, last night’s stirring 5-2 victory over Reading proved a fitting retort.
The old story that begins with Arsene Wenger under almost unscrupulous pressure from all angles following a torrid run of form, has an ending that we’re all too familiar with. Whether or not the Gunners do eventually attain a fourth placed finish remains to be seen, but more often or not, Wenger always seems to overcome the odds in North London.
Yet of course, while one humiliating cup upset doesn’t spell the doomsday scenario for Wenger, neither does a convincing win over serious relegation candidates, right all of the side’s wrongs. The fickle finger of the English football will ensure that despite many of real issues that continue to reside at the Emirates, both club and manager will be afforded a relative amount of reprieve. All of which can just as quickly change, with an unfavourable result away to Wigan this Saturday.
But even within the reactivity of some of this morning’s press, you can sense a common theme in the emotiveness that one notion in particular, continues to evoke more than any other.
Such are the emotions stirred within the Arsenal support upon a hypothetical discussion upon an Arsene Wenger departure from the club, it’s become one of the most toxically divisive subjects within the Premier League. And it’s a topic that appears to have become increasingly partisan in that divisiveness.
In recent weeks, it’s seemed very much you’re either ‘Wenger Out’, armed with seven years of trophy-less frustration and counting, or you’re ‘Wenger In’, preferring to focus your current disdain towards boardroom level. There are many of course, who focus a more collective blame towards the club’s regression away from anything resembling a title challenge. And then you have the realists bemoaning the shifting plateau of ambition that petromillion fuelled foreign owners have cultivated.
Although the most fervent flashpoint amongst the club’s current plight, has undoubtedly surrounded Wenger and the perceived direction that the Frenchman is seeking to carve out for his side. And after 16 years in North London, during which time he’s become the club’s longest serving and most successful manager, a touted departure is never going to catalyze anything less than a surge of contention amongst the Emirates support.
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Yet between the polarizing opinions of those who sit either side of the Wenger debate, there is perhaps a less fervent and consequently less contemplated middle ground. Is the Frenchman simply just coming to the end of his cycle?
Barcelona’s Dani Alves is hardly going to do gown as the Friedrich Nietzsche of his time, but there was something wonderfully fitting in his sentiments during the penultimate year of Pep Guardiola’s reign at the Camp Nou.
Alves, like the rest of the Barca team, were desperate for Guardiola to stay ahead of the 2011 Champions League final, amidst rumours that the Spaniard was growing increasingly weary in the managerial hotsteat. Yet while the full-back was hopeful of a stay, he wasn’t detached from reality:
“Everyone has their cycle and one day his will come to an end,” he said, before suggesting that he couldn’t imagine a Barca without Guardiola.
And one year later, that cycle did end for Guaridola at Barcelona. Yes, his four years comes some way short of the longetivity that Wenger’s remarkable reign has encapsulated over a decade and a half. But be it two years, four years or 16 years – every cycle must eventually come to its conclusion.
Be it the need for a new direction, a change of circumstance or extrinsic forces that one simply cannot control, no managerial reign lasts forever – but that doesn’t mean the potential end of Wenger’s needs to be portrayed so negatively.
Like Guaridola, Arrigo Sacchi and Vicente Del Bosque cultivated two of the most successful club sides in the last 25 years at Milan and Real Madrid respectively. Their cycles combined don’t even touch Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. And some will point to the mixed fortunes of those two European superpowers when they let go of their managers. But would they necessarily have enjoyed sustained success had they stayed for 16 years a la Wenger? History suggests perhaps that might not be the case.
Wenger, alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, are anomalies. Managerial cycles either on these shores or abroad, simply do not last as long as what we’ve seen at Manchester United and Arsenal. Yet even then, it’s only been Ferguson who’s managed to really repeat the trick of winning trophies over that timespan. Has Wenger had the sort of resources available to Fergie? No, and the economic difficulties the Frenchman has had to endure shouldn’t be underestimated.
But equally, do the successes of over seven years ago, leave Arsene Wenger bulletproof and immune from a potential remit for change?
Wenger’s time isn’t up just yet. They’ve advanced in the Champions League, they’re still on course to finish fourth and besides, who would replace him? Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp might improve the club but seem unlikely to arrive, in which case, why would the club settle for a downgrade?
Yet either way, sometimes in football, a club does just simply need a change of direction, a fresh way of looking at things and ultimately, the beginning of a new cycle. Whether we are or aren’t looking at the end of Arsene Wenger’s at Arsenal, his time will eventually come to an end. Because for all the issue affecting the Frenchman’s quest to push the club on, as in all walks of life, sometimes things simply run their natural course. Wenger’s Arsenal career isn’t any different.