An early innovator of modern diets and transfer policy, a rare, constant beacon of progressive philosophies, the only manager to go an entire season undefeated, a 13-time Manger of the Month winner, a four-time Onze d’Or Coach of the Year and now the longest-serving throughout the entirety of English football by almost a decade, there’s no doubt Arsene Wenger will go down in the annals as one of the greatest gaffers in Premier League history.
But, to be as blunt as I am factually flattering, he’s incredibly lucky to have found a club as patient and loyal as Arsenal – amid a climate where the average management tenure in the Premier League is just 1.4 years.
Of course, the Frenchman’s had plenty of waiting around to do as well; the financial burdens of the Emirates stadium obliged him to scrimp and save in the transfer market whilst Chelsea and Manchester City have enjoyed, exacerbated and even abused the privilege of having endless fortunes to throw at every problem over the last decade.
Wenger could have walked away on numerous occasions; when Arsenal lost the 2006 Champions League final and their ‘Invincibles’ side began to naturally deconstruct, when the Gunners infamously lost the 2011 League Cup final in stoppage time to Birmingham City, when he was forced to surrender Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie to divisional and European rivals in the space of two summers, when PSG came calling for his services in summer 2013. Real Madrid are known to be exceptionally fond of him too.
Yet, as stubbornness in philosophy, tactics and squad building continues to stand in the way of progress, as Arsenal face yet another season where their only likely accomplishment will be retaining their Champions League status, the waiting game has gone full circle. It’s now the Arsenal board and the Arsenal fans who are being exceptionally patient with Arsene Wenger.
Jose Mourinho declared as much in February. His description of the Gunners gaffer as a ‘specialist in failure’ was crude, insulting and even rather spiteful, but the Chelsea manager’s logic is indisputable. “If I do that in Chelsea, eight years [without a trophy], I leave and don’t come back,” remarked the Special One, as he whipped yet another press conference into a frenzy.
Hyperbolic in tone but not in content; Mourinho became the first manager to survive a full campaign without winning anything under Roman Abramovich last season, and although the Russian owner is one of the Premier League’s most trigger-happy, it’s hard to think of another top club in Europe that would stand by their head coach during a nine-year trophy drought. It’s hard to think of another fan-base who would remain equally loyal through a period of paralleled malaise and dormancy.
Once again, Arsenal’s circumstances of the last decade are hardly conventional or indeed enviable when compared to PSG, Real Madrid, City or Chelsea. Limited financial backing remains a glass ceiling Wenger is yet to breach, whilst his prior history of success at the club, winning seven trophies in the first ten years, has earned the Arsenal boss the right to demand patience from the board and the fans.
After all, although he’s often obliged to take the position of scapegoat, clearly some of the club’s biggest disappointments over the years were out of his control, whereas many of their triumphs – including the erection of the Emirates stadium without compromising the club’s financial stability – have had Wenger at their core.
But now the excuses are beginning to wear thin, as is the fortitude of the fan base. This summer was meant to be a turning point in Arsenal’s – and indeed Wenger’s – history.
The FA Cup title at the end of last season exorcised the ghosts of the last nine years, a rediscovery of the club’s winning mentality, whilst the new sponsorship deal with Puma allowed the Gunners to spend a whopping £80million this summer – the most lucrative transfer window to date for the north Londoners.
If there was ever a time for the club to reawaken from its dormant state and begin challenging once again, it was unquestionably this season. Already eleven points behind the pace set by Premier League leaders Chelsea however, it looks like Arsenal and their fans will have to settle for the trophy-less joys of fourth-spot once again – that would make it the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
Arsenal owe a lot to Arsene Wenger – heck, so does the Premier League. But as the same mistakes of long-sightedness, stubbornness and on occasion, even stupidity, continue to reincarnate, it’s Wenger who is owing more and more to the club and the fans.
As the patience of the supporters begins to wane, what they’re actually waiting for becomes more ambiguous. The long-term effects of their self-imposed financial restraints to come to an end, or their manager to simply buck his ideas up? Either way, one can sense something is about to give at the Emirates.