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Retrospective Part One | Could Arsene Wenger have been saved ?

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Arsene Wenger is back in the news after a period in the football wilderness. The man of whom it was said couldn’t live a day without it , has proven everyone wrong. He didn’t jump straight back in , he took time out to assess his life and if he had the desire to manage in the cut throat world of football.

As a result, it’s good enough reason to re examine his reign, the reasons for his dismissal and if there was anything that could have been done to keep Wenger at the helm.

It’s not been forgotten that the first 10 years of Arsene Wenger’s career in North London, was filled with unparalleled success. However, it wasn’t just about the trophies, it was about establishing a football philosophy which was dependent on excellence.

It had to be exciting, exhilarating and entertaining, Wenger wanted football that made you leap out of your seat.  Fast paced, one touch football which left mouths open and was subjected to a series of replays, in an effort to marvel at its execution and deliver glowing analysis.

Wenger reshaped Arsenal and filled it with a steady supply of World class players that would set the bar for the premiership and the club.

Bergkamp was already there but for the team to function & flourish, Wenger searched the globe to build a succession of majestic sides that took on the all conquering Manchester United juggernaut and at times, played them off the park. The list is extremely impressive and is comprised of Overmars, Pires, Vieira, Anelka, Petit, Henry, Reyes, Cazorla, Fabregas, Ljundberg, Kanu and the Judas brothers, Van Persie and Sanchez.

However there were many wide of the mark and as success dried up and a steady exodus began, the quality of signings became more miss than hit.

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The Midas touch appeared to desert the great man and the eye that had been such a gem finder, tended to suffer from catastrophic cataracts.

The latter signings were more a roll of the dice or a spin of the roulette wheel and I recall Wenger himself saying that his transfer activity was in place of a gambling habit. He stopped short of risking the shirt on his back by refusing to pay exorbitant prices. In a way he was right to resist but he could no longer find the rough gem he was used to unearthing.

In terms of English talent, Wenger claimed the prices were deliberately inflated, which of course they were.  The sudden scramble for English players meant it was cheaper to shop overseas through a network of scouts and Wenger put out his recruitment tentacles across the World.

Overtime those sharp recruitment connections became blunt, as clubs around the globe employed a similar structure. Wenger’s kingdom was becoming a house of cards, deprived of success. Starved of cash, in conflict with those inside the club and at odds with the supporters. His loyalty and values meant that he was drifting further off course and his failure to be ruthless would be his undoing.

When he spoke of his team’s failures he often attributed it to youth of lack of consistency but never the personnel. He would never go against his protective instincts and would shield his players from criticism.

From early 2007, Wenger was a man under siege. Weighed down with debt and expectation because of the move to the Emirates. The man who enjoyed complete control lost it all to finance a stadium and that included the ability to compete and maintain success.

The inventive and revolutionary Wenger eventually got left behind, as everyone tried to emulate the style and success but not only did they catch up, they eventually left the Frenchman as a mere spectator, looking on as a victim of footballs equivalent of technical plagiarism.

His parting left behind mixed feelings. Firstly, there was relief because Wenger had become blinkered to his own failings and more importantly, that of his team. Like many great managers, their time comes and goes without explanation. They are unable to rekindle their success or work out what they need and Wenger could no longer stop the rot or keep up the pretence.

The truth is Wenger was ousted because he was reluctant to give up on his ideals. He was unwilling to compromise or ignore his loyalties. All which are fine virtues that technically make the world a better place but they don’t mean a thing in football.

Per Mertesacker recently revealed his thoughts on Wenger and said,

“Arsene Wenger was always the kind of manager whose belief in his team’s qualities was steady as a rock and who approached matters with never-ending patience. He didn’t lose his nerve during losing streaks, either. He stuck with his convictions and his players, no matter how strong the wind was blowing. It was his greatest strength. Wondering whether it was also his greatest weakness and whether he was too lenient with us in, in my opinion, a little too simplistic.”

Many more would say the same, Wenger is known for his stubbornness and single minded perspective and it was almost inevitable that the club and manager would part company, in the saddest of ways.

On reflection, could Wenger or Arsenal have made a change to gain a different outcome ? The answer of course is yes, but the Hierarchy weren’t ballsy enough to take on the pugnacious Frenchman.

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The Highbury Flyer
Anti Kroenke , anti Gazidis but always a gooner. Still wishes he could watch from the stands at the Highbury library.

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