In the first of our guest articles our friend Harj Sandhu takes a break from writing his excellent travel blog over at globalstepper.com to assess the reign of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal to determine why the empire is crumbling.
Imagine a man who has everything that he could possibly desire who feels a sense of entitlement to what he has created. There have been numerous examples through history of men who fit this description. We’ve seen plenty of leaders that have just stayed a little too long and in their delusion have watched their empires crumble beneath their feet. Maybe this is a human trait, where our ego gets overly enlarged, and our pride prevents us from seeing the truth. After all these years, it’s a real shame to see Arsene Wenger steadily falling into the same delusional trap. It’s a sad state of affairs because I genuinely respect the man and what he has done for the sport in general.
As most Arsenal fans would agree, there is a widening gap between expectation of the team and the final product delivered. There were years of great football that saw huge rewards and Arsenal standing at the pinnacle of English football but those days have gone. The changing of times is the inevitable fact of life and it is what most Gooners are trying to comprehend this is evident in the irritating moaners of social media whose sense of identity depends on an Arsenal victory.
This article takes a look at the role that Arsene Wenger has played in taking Arsenal up and then bringing them back down to where he found them all those years ago. Many players have come and gone during his reign at the club, and a running dialogue that follows those players to the next club is that Arsenal FC “lacked ambition.” Now, that is a dangerous thing for any sports team, as that is more or less what drives them every season to go one better. The manager is a fundamental cog in driving that ambition, and a running theme is a development of an inferiority complex embedded in the side.
Now, I see this complex arising out of being a team that has lacked the final product. A few seasons ago, the side would create a ridiculous amount of chances, only to see many not being converted. I’m not sure if this is down to training and not enough focus on finishing being the culprit or a lack of a killer instinct in the team. There’s only so many times you keep on trying before your determination begins to wane which is so evident in how Arsenal look on the field. It hasn’t surprised me that players as talented as Alexis Sanchez, had enough of the club and decided to go up north.
I can see the significant moment when things started to unravel on the pitch, and this has to be the 2006 Champions League Final in Paris. An unbeaten side that had not even conceded a goal throughout the tournament faced a classy Barcelona team who were almost destined to create a dynasty. His decision to tinker with his starting lineup was a practically criminal decision, and for me, that added to the pressure already on the team. The anxiety of the occasion was evident throughout that side who were made up of many members of the ‘Unbeatables.’ It was a distinctly tense affair which was made that little tenser by an erratic error by Jens Lehmann.
Arsene taking off one of Arsenal strike weapons in Robert Pires, for me, signaled a lack of ambition and it was a shocking decision. The team completely lost its shape against a side that could create something out of nothing. The side choked in Paris and the player who optimised this was the leader, Thierry Henry who let the occasion get to him and was a shadow of himself on that Stade de France field. This loss did feel like the beginning of the end of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, as the side soon after was dismantled and Arsenal’s position in subsequent league campaigns after started to slip down.
Another mark of Wenger’s time in charge at Arsenal has been the inability to keep star names at the club. Apart from the financial balancing of the books which of was to blame for allowing these names to depart, didn’t the club forsee what was going to occur to the league in the future? The massive television deals over the past few seasons have brought in cream of talent from other leagues. Was the club that unaware of what the future earnings could be moving forwards? For me, most of it was down to top directors taking big dividends and poor reinvestment back into the playing side. Other clubs adopted Arsenal’s model and made it even better. Significant players left the club during these bleak times and under the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger. Contract disputes have been a common theme, and it is laughable that rivals could and still do meet the terms demanded. A significant moment was Robin Van Persie’s contract and subsequent departure to a big rival which was a colossal loss to the club. There hasn’t been that desire to build a team around a player who commands respect from fans and players alike, as every time there’s been an opportunity to, that player has moved on. For me, this reflects on a manager who isn’t willing to learn from his lesson and too headstrong to realise his shortcomings.
These shortcomings are reflected in the heavy losses that have plagued the team over recent seasons in Europe and the Premier League. Worse still these have been to rivals, and it’s clear that the psychological edge has been lost and it looks as if it’s hard to regain. Confidence in big matches seems to be something that the club lacks, and the crushing defeats only go on to highlight that Arsene Wenger has lost his way. His tactics seem to lack the maturity of a manager of his experience, with many younger managers showing greater awareness of the tactical shift of top-level club football. For him to walk away after a cup final victory, would be fitting for a man who has had a profound impact on world football. He has had multiple chances to do so and end his time on a high. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end that way for Arsene Wenger. It appears that the sultan’s time is nearly up, with his empire disintegrating through a combination of neglect and stubbornness. I guess a man’s greatest enemy is his own pride and history does love to repeat itself, just in different guises.