Arsenal starting to exorcise the demons of the Wenger era. by Funsho
When milk goes stale, you do not return it to the refrigerator. This was an aspect of housekeeping that Arsenal failed to carry out in the back end of Le Professeur’s tenure. But, oh my-my, what a fantastic manager he was for the club! Arsene created a well-oiled football machine that brought fans memories, but when the machine started getting old, the refusal to put some oil in its moving parts, get some body work done to fix any rust and cracks and tighten lose bolts or get a new part altogether, was initially subtle and later blatant to say the least. As such, the efficiency of this machine dropped progressively.
Now, let’s first frame the foundations. Wenger was the most successful manager at the N5 (well, arguably… as some have said George Graham was equally a hit when you factor in the duration of their tenures), with a story whose plot is like that in a Hollywood romantic movie. Both the club’s and the man’s names almost perfectly matched (talk of things written in the stars), prompting most gooners who started supporting between 1996-2018 to first think he named his club after himself. And listening to legends like Wright, Winterburn, Dixon and Bergkamp, who were present when AW came, enlightens you that everything he did was revolutionary. Little wonder then, that by 2005, he’d won 3 league titles and 4 FA cups, and just missed out on a continental crown in 2006 by the whiskers. Being the final season at Highbury, what a story that would have been!
Then came the Emirates era. The club was cash-strapped, had to be frugal with spending cos of stadium debt, blah blah blah. Y’all know the story. The repercussion was that AW had to be compassionate towards the club cos of the limitations in finance and towards players, cos he was now dealing with kids for the most part. What followed was: a decent contract for most players through the wage cap (cap was too heavy for most judging by performance); unflinching faith in below par players (he said Denilson will come good when quizzed about not signing Alonso; can you believe that?); selling nothing dreams to fans about transfers even when he knew the board isn’t spending a dime on players; refusing to buy players more expensive than his valuation (like bidding £4m for Cahill whereas Bolton wanted 6m; wanting Alonso for 8m when Liverpool wanted 10m, among others); and being blown away by sugar-daddy financed clubs in the transfer market (like almost signing Juan Mata for £17.5m in 2011, but losing him to Chelsea who paid 5-10m extra). I could go on and on. And I’ll let the £40m+1 bid for Suarez slide cos it was said to be Gazidis’ idea. Nevertheless, an idiotic proposal from Classenal!
In the wake of all you’ve read so far, you’d have thought this article was about the many sins of AW, with the writer throwing stones at your football deity (if you were an AKB of course), but it’s not. Wenger is a fine man and was a great MANAGER as well. He wasn’t really a coach, but an architect who knew how to make situations conducive for his players to excel (Tony Adams, 2018). He was an idealist and not a pragmatist, who may have either been tactically naive or too proud to admit his players’ true abilities (making him trust them too much) as Gary Neville once said on Sky Sports when analysing Arsenal’s lack of wins against the big teams a couple of years ago. In fact, while working as a co-commentator in 2015, the retired English right back exclaimed “hallelujah” in seeming relief at Arsenal’s 2-0 victory at the Etihad. Are you thinking, “the team didn’t go gung-ho was why we won that day”? You’re not wrong buddy.
Thoughts of pragmatism and adaptability based on an opponent’s strength brings incumbent head coach- Mikel Arteta into the picture. Oh wait, I seem to have jumped someone, who was probably more so, but with less success. Bingo! Step forward big man-Sir Unai Emery, for your award of being the most pragmatic coach the Emirates has had this millennium. On a serious note, he never looked to be a protagonist (to use one of his favourite words); always looking to nullify opponents.
Long story short, Emery didn’t work, as a lot of factors conspired against him, chief of which was language (GoOd EbEnInG); Freddie couldn’t do much without a proper backroom staff (so, let him of the hook, will ya?) and Arteta was installed as full time manager. MA has been emphasising some of the Arsenal core values, but at the same time restoring law and order like a good Sheriff. Forget the success of the FA cup for a minute, and consider the players’ commitment on the pitch, the convincing of players on the cusp of leaving à la Xhaka and Auba? (oh, and the team doctor-O’Driscoll or something like that), the disciplined culture he’s trying to instil, the ruthlessness in picking or dropping players, the matching up of players based on their qualities with opposition (e.g. AMN instead of Saka in the Cup final), the pressure on the hierarchy to provide funds for transfer, just to mention but a few (yeah, I know! I know that was a lot, not a few).
All seems to be a complete departure from AW’s ways of not persuading players who want out to stay, only setting his team up to go “play their game” rather than exploit their opponent’s weakness, being too dogmatic with line-ups and substitutions and not buying players until late in the window (this fault is more at the board’s doorstep). In short, things had become “too nicey nicey” at Arsenal (a fact recently alluded to by Andre Santos. I know, right? Of all people) that the atmosphere was always the same on the team bus win/lose. Players had become a soft touch on the pitch and an easy target for brash thuggery tactics like Tony Pulis’. Anyway, these were my bones of contention with AW, and he should have left earlier than he did. The board bottled it until things got toxic and fans started staying away from games.
In comparison with the 2nd half of Wenger’s reign, the “Goodfellas” in the boardroom seem to be getting it right: ruthless in letting Sanllehi go (transfer window or no transfer window), giving only decent wages to Mari and Cedric though the length of their contracts is another story and getting active so early in the transfer window. Who would have thought it? The Arsenal only giving Cedric 60kpw, and negotiating for new players less than a month into the opening of the transfer window? Well, as the saying goes: wonders shall never end! Now tell me if all the above-stated demons would not have held back the Scousers and Jurgen Klopp, not to talk of our beloved club de futbol?
In conclusion, it looks like a combination of the new manager, the dwindling of Arsenal’s fortunes money-wise due to the absence of champions league money, the half-decent football on offer on the pitch and that aura of feeling left behind by rivals may have forced the club to finally start exorcising the demons of the latter part of the French genius’ reign. And to that I say, like a father rallying his son in Matthew McConaughey’s voice, “…alright alright alright; go on son… the land’s there for the taking. Conquer in bits until your majestic splendour brings the whole of European soccer (and indeed the world) to their knees.” COYG
Really appreciate you taking the time to read.