A defiant group of Arsenal fans staged the first anti-Arsène Wenger protest ever at the Emirates last week. Pundits and Wenger supporters have since dismissed its significance, claiming the small size of the protest logically meant most fans stand behind the embattled manager.
That’s not necessarily true. It could be that some fans would rather enjoy the game than protest. Other supporters might feel it’s disrespectful to the club to air their grievances during a home match. There is any number of reasons why so few people followed through with the “Time for Change” protest.
However, with the Premier League on the cusp of significant change, the fact that the “Wenger Out” cries are at a fever pitch could signal the end might be near for Arsène Wenger.
Arsène Wenger leaving Arsenal FC would certainly be the end of an era in and of itself. Wenger first took his managerial position with the club in 1996 — exactly 20 years ago. During that time, dozens of other professional coaches have come and gone. Even Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson knew when to bow out and preserve his legacy.
Arsène Wenger has run into the opposite problem: His achievements at Arsenal are so far behind him at this point that some fans are simply too young to know they exist.
Arsenal’s golden era for Arsenal under Arsène Wenger wrapped up during his first several years with the club. During that window of time, Arsenal won things. The team was competitive. But things changed. Arsenal was no longer about winning, just doing passably well.
As Soe Latt Naing from The Gooner Ramble explained to Tribal Football, “I can’t speak for all Arsenal fans, but I respect Arsène. I can’t think of any other manager who could have done what he did during his time at the club. He built title-winning squads, one of which went the entire season unbeaten, brought through uncountable youth players, and guided the club through the stadium debt repaying years and kept us competitive.”
He added, “I wanted him to succeed this year as much as I wanted the team to succeed because he deserves it.”
Naing and other Arsenal fans found their final straw in the form of the unexpected success of Leicester City. Wenger himself acknowledged it to be a sign that the “Big 4” era of Premier League was ending. For frustrated Arsenal fans, it left Arsène with no more excuses.
While Arsenal continued its tradition of stable complacency, a former Championship team that battled relegation only one season prior exploded up the table and took the crown. They represented a fire that was now foreign to the respected London club. Indeed, Leicester represented everything that Arsenal fans dreamed of for their own club but probably won’t experience under Wenger’s watch.
To many observers, it’s not because Arsène Wenger is a terrible football coach. Indeed, the fact that he’s not outright terrible is what makes the case for his departure such a difficult one. Instead, Wenger’s sin is the sin of “good enough.”
His aspirations are simple.
- Make the Top 4 every season
- Secure a place in the Champions League
Winning a major prize or title of note is simply not on Wenger’s “to-do” list — and it hasn’t been for some time.
Loyal Arsène Wenger supporters would hurriedly bring up Arsenal’s FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015. However, and to be brutally honest, many football fans will admit that given the choice between the FA Cup and more significant honors such as the Premier League title and Champions League trophy, they’d be much more eager to obtain the latter awards.
The FA Cup hardly qualifies as a consolation prize in the modern English football era. To believe otherwise may be a sign of just how complacent Arsenal has become under Arsène’s largely bland managership.
The argument for keeping Wenger hinges on the belief that getting rid of him is far riskier than holding onto him. Arsène is the devil Arsenal knows. From his style of play to his monotone expectations, the London club knows exactly what it’s getting from him. A new manager means change and unpredictability. It could mean a Premier League title. It might also mean mid-table mediocrity — or relegation.
As the makeup of the Premier League changes so erodes the possibility that Wenger’s tried and true methods will guarantee his club a third- or fourth-place finish. No one saw Leicester City coming. What other surprises are on the horizon? Gone are the days when you could use the past to predict the future.
If Wenger is too stubborn to adjust tactics on the field when Arsenal’s best-laid plans fail, how can he possibly adapt to a reality where his team doesn’t finish in the Top 4? Keeping Arsène Wenger just might end up being as risky as letting him go.
There are no definite answers on either side of “Wenger In” or “Wenger Out.” However, for the sake of ambition and growth, it must be said that seeking a new manager is the optimal solution. If only so that a club as good as Arsenal would no longer be known as a glorified bookmark.
[Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images]