As a supporter of our great club, this has been the most stress-free of international breaks I have experienced in 10 years, apart from constantly worrying whether Alexis will emerge from his South American World Cup qualifiers with his groin intact. Post Manchester United, there has been very little for the malcontents to stir the pot. Adding to the mood of positivity, instead of the usual boredom and ennui of the international break, Gooners have had a lot to cheer about as most of our first team players made significant contributions to their national teams. Despite some efforts to paint Arsenal as the evil enemy, by Wednesday the English media were extolling the goals and assists of Theo and the Ox, and no doubt by force of reflected glory had to acknowledge those of Aaron, Santi, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud and Campbell.
But there has been something eating away at my innards all week which refuses to go away. It originated with a certain popular Monday podcast which I frequently listen. In the midst of adding to the brouhaha and hype surrounding Klopp becoming the new coach at Liverpool, the esteemed podcaster-in-chief posited that if Arsene Wenger was to be retained as manager of AFC when his contract expires in 18 months he would have to at minimum win the league title. By the way, he pointedly excluded another FA cup run as a positive.
It was the flippant way in which he reduced Arsene’s qualifications to “must winning a title” that got my ire. He was speaking of someone who has been the most successful manger ever in the history of the club, attaining the rarest of achievements in managing a team of Invincibles, 3 league titles, 6 FA cups and a 57.51% winning percentage after being in charge for 1,078 games with, 620 wins, 250 draws 208 losses. In other words Wenger has lost less than 20% of games in 19 years in charge, a virtual miracle for such longevity.
So I had to ask myself, why would such a clever, intelligent man who is reflective of a broad swathe of Arsenal fans be so dismissive of Arsene Wenger? Is it Wenger’s age? He will be 66 years old on 22nd October but it is obvious that he has not lost the capacity to out-coach other big-time managers in the Premier League. According to the Sunday Mirror Ronald Koeman is reported to have criticized Chelsea’s Mourinho for being too defensive-minded and who he thinks should teach “fantastic football” like Arsene Wenger has Arsenal playing. There can be no bigger praise than one by a peer and fellow competitor.
Are these guys caught up in the new toy syndrome? The hype that surrounds the hiring of a big-name coach like Klopp may give a short-term rise but rarely leads to lasting success. The brief honeymoon for Daglish’s second tenure at Liverpool, Villas Boas disastrous tenures at both Chelsea and Spurs, and Moyes horribilis annus at Manchester United should be a cautionary tale. In the case of the latter club, during Van Gaal’s first year it was touch and go for a while as to their coming in 4th. The constant churn and turmoil in club management throughout the PL has done nothing to change the relative position of the majority of clubs. Sunderland has had six managers in 6 years and they are again rooted in the relegation zone.
Maybe the podcaster-in-chief should take pause from the continuing unease at United two years after the end of Ferguson’s 20 year reign. There have been two new managers in three years plus a net transfer spend of £144 million yet two-weeks ago they were stuffed by Arsenal, the club which was roundly criticized by the “presstitutes” for being the only top club in Europe which did not buy a new outfield player in the last transfer window.
Despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, this podcast suggests to me that many of our middle-of-the-road supporters are too easily dismissive of Arsene’s achievements and take it for granted, something the Black Scarfers and permanent malcontents are quick to exploit. I found it very timely that in his speech at Thursday’s AGM Wenger reminded us of the achievements of the club in his 19 years.
“When I arrived we were 80 people at the club, the share price was £400. Today we are about 550 and the share price is I don’t know how high at the moment [£15,000-£16,000]. But I have none, don’t worry. I never wanted one because I never wanted to be accused to make some decisions to favour the share price to go up in value. And I am quite happy I didn’t.
“But I must say the first years of my career here were quite easy, from 1996 to 2005. It was a period where it all went really easy, smooth and well. We were always dominating, mostly in the league or the FA Cup.
“Then came a second period when we moved into this stadium. It became much more difficult because we face more competition and because we were under restricted finances and the target was to stay at the top of the league and to qualify for Champions League every year to repay our debt back. I must say we did it. Sometimes within a sceptical environment, and most of the time having to fight until the last minute of the last game of the Premiership.”
“When you are the supporter or manager of a club you are always told what you don’t do. I understand that, we are in a society that is like that. But looking back I am, of course, proud we won titles and FA Cups, but as well I believe the first quality of a club is to be consistent. If you look back we have 18 consecutive years in the Champions League qualified.
“Sometimes it is important to remind people that to remain at the top is difficult. We do not rate that enough.
“Only one club in Europe, Real Madrid, has done better with 19. I can understand it is not enough. It shows the quality of our behaviour has paid off at least with consistency of results. We want more and I am the first to agree that it is not enough. If it was easy everyone would have done it. Sometimes it is important to remind people that to remain at the top is difficult. And we do not rate that enough.”
As for the chances of winning the title, Arsene said pretty much what any rational supporter has observed over the past three years as the club shook off the financial restrictions and began to acquire top-top talent:
“You want to ask me: “Will we win the championship this year?” I think we are back in contention and we have a good chance. All the numbers confirm we have the potential to be in the fight – the chances made, the number of chances we give away, the number of dangerous situations we create. And as well in 2015 from 1 January, what was for me the turning point in the history of this team, in the calendar year we have taken more points than anybody. That means the trend is right.
“What we do is consistent. Even if we had a bad start to the season we managed to come back and are only two points from the leaders. That means we have recreated consistency. We have to show what we showed against Manchester United. Be capable to win the big games, show that level of urgency in every single game and show the consistency we have shown since the start of 2015.
“Last year we finished third and won the FA Cup. We won it for the second year running and I think we have won it more than anybody else. We want, of course, more. We have the potential to do more and will fight very hard for that.”
Surely, that is the minimum we can ask of Wenger that our club be in contention. There are no guarantees of success. An injury to Alexis and or Ozil means our chances fall to between zero and slim in the same way if City lost Aguero and Silva. Why in hell would we push out our manger if he failed to win the ultimate prize. Leave that to the rest of trigger-happy owners who are pandering to their fans and the media firing their managers to cover up their own shortcomings.
It is interesting Wenger gave not the slightest inkling of whether he was likely to continue after 2017. He was certainly explicit that he would never ever repeat the challenge of managing the club in those barren years:
“I believe too if you ask me to do it again I would say no, let somebody else do it because I will not take that gamble any more because it was so difficult.”
Who would blame him when you have so many ungrateful fans ready to throw him overboard after his herculean efforts in successfully steering the club to its current position of strength, footballistically and financially.
As Wenger emphasized it may not have been good enough for some but we belittle his achievements at our own peril.
Maybe after reading-listening to Wenger’s speech Mr. Podcaster may start singing a different tune.