This is not the first time Arsene Wenger has found himself in the media crosshairs but most will agree that this time feels very different. The widespread exasperation at his stubborn refusal to sign a particular type of player or to persist playing a certain way used to temper previous rounds of criticism but that is entirely absent now. We are all done with tearing our hair out at the lack of leadership on the pitch and the dearth of plan Bs. Not just Arsenal fans. Every one of us.
Related to this, but just as pertinent, is the absence of analysis as to precisely why the long-serving French coach is dominating the back pages and whether such condemnation is fair. We don’t need it explained anymore. We’ve heard every argument and counter-argument so many times in the past decade that at some point they bundled together like clothes on a high wash.
Which leaves only castigation, ramped up day on day, and we all know where that leads. This is the end game. Even Arsenal fans who are firmly of the opinion that Wenger ‘deserves better’ have grown quiet, tacitly allowing the silence to be filled by ever louder calls for his exit by the hard-core who want him gone. After just shy of twenty-one years at Highbury and the Emirates, it’s curtains for Arsene.
He will leave on his own terms of course – that much was made clear in his press conference on Friday – and when he does depart every Arsenal supporter lavishing tributes on this extraordinary figure will be accused of rank hypocrisy. “You weren’t saying all this last year,” clever clogs on Twitter will point out, digging out old tweets where the Gooner in question hurls online invective towards the 67 year old. It’s a supposed hypocrisy already being anticipated with one former player saying this week “Those criticising Arsene will be lauding him from the rooftops when he leaves.”
Well, yes. As they should. The full-stop to his Arsenal tenure will allow an appreciation to be reborn as to what that tenure brought them: three league titles that included one attained in invincible fashion; six FA Cups; modernising the club while revolutionising English football into the bargain; signing Henry, Bergkamp, and Vieira; making a club synonymous worldwide with style where once it was derided for eking out 1-0 wins. The list, quite frankly, runs on and on though crucially it peters out sometime around 2013 when the costly move to the Emirates ceased being a financial restraint.
It is entirely right and proper that the legacy of such a fascinating, divisive, innovative, and influential figure is celebrated when the time is right.
That time however is not now and it could be argued that the esteem in which Wenger is held by the club’s board – and yes that impressive historical legacy that he has created – has for too long granted him immunity from a veritable groundhog day of mistakes and shortcomings in recent seasons. It should be used to damn him at present, not save him, especially when you consider the ferocious criticism dished out to his peers none of whom enjoy Wenger’s vast advantage of possessing decades of managerial experience at a single club while having the leeway to try, fail and try again.
Ask any of the countless managers sacked in the Premier League era before they’ve had chance to build a team of their own making – not to mention implement a youth and scouting system of Arsenal’s quality – if they believe Wenger is currently suffering a raw deal. Ask Carlo Ancelotti if he thinks his fellow coach’s achievements are being disrespected: prior to Bayern Munich’s dismantling of the Gunners this week the three-time Champions League winner was copping dog’s abuse in Germany for ‘only’ leading the Bundesliga by seven points.
A man’s legacy should be commemorated wholly only when it becomes whole. While it is still ongoing it is just and proper to compare its earlier periods to what it has become now. There is simply no hypocrisy should the reactions differ to these two contrasting concepts.
Next summer should Wenger leave as expected, newspaper columns and Twitter timelines will be awash with glowing tributes accompanied by recollections of Tony Adam’s renaissance and Henry thunderbolts. This in turn will be met by a welter of snide mockery of Arsenal’s supporters’ fickleness by rival fans. I won’t be joining in.