The gulf that now exists between The Arsenal and the European elite, that we were supposedly moving to the emirates to compete with, was bought into sharp focus on the evening of the 19th February 2013. Prior to that we have seen the numerous games that point to the steady decline of our club as a force that could compete with the best in our league, let alone teams's from lower divisions. To try and make some sense of all that I think we need to look at the manager of the club and the facts that lead to our current position.
When discussing, what some refer to as, the genius of Arsene in finding players It could be argued that Wenger’s inheritance of players when he was appointed had a powerful effect as a starting point for him. There are those that choose to focus on the poor players that were in the 1996 squad but it should be remembered that Wenger took over a starting XI of George Graham and Bruce Rioch acquisitions that read Seaman, Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn, Platt, Keown, Parlour, Merson, Bergkamp, Wright. That’s a pretty good team to start a managerial career at Arsenal with. Without this base it’s hard to say what Arsene may or may not have achieved in his first full season.
There are views that Wenger has exhibited poor judgment in failing to buy players such as Alonso, Reina, Cahill and Given to replace players of inferior quality such as Denilson, Djorou, Almunia and Fabianski. There also appears to be a pattern of accumulating average players that consistently under perform and are then sent out on loan, Chamakh, Park, Squilacci and now Santos are just a few names in a litany of what appear to me to be poorly judged purchases with no resale value due to the healthy wage packet they receive as reward for under achievement.
Scrutinising the playing staff further leads to more questions as to the judgement of the man charged with overseeing the squad. Were players such as Vela and Merida going to deliver? It seemed unlikely yet they were retained for an inordinate amount of time. What was the purpose of Amaury Bischoff? Rami Shaban; another example of poor goalkeeping choices or just bad luck? Hoyte, Lansbury, Randall, Simpson,Traore,Cruise, Bartley, Miyaichi (the list is a long one) not every player works out but even so there appears to be a long list of failures at our club who never transitioned from reserve to first team. That's a list of players that, while being paid by the club were not contributing to Arsenal but plying their trade elsewhere for other clubs' benefit; an example of this being that during the 2011/12 season Arsenal had 29 players out on loan. It is a habit that our club seems to just hang on to sub standard players in the hope that perhaps they come back from loans having discovered some form of hidden talent whereas they generally appear to have picked up a packet of magic beans from a huckster.
Aside from questions and opinions about the actual players bought in to represent Arsenal Football Club let's look at the games under Arsene's stewardship themselves. One could argue that the defining moment in Wenger's career should have been the Champions League Final; it could have been the opportunity for The Arsenal to join the European elite. In my view Arsene fluffed his lines. Firstly going into the final with the best defensive record in ECL history he dropped Flamini for a newly fit Ashley Cole thus breaking up that record-breaking defence. By taking off Robert Pires when Lehman was sent off he removed a proven match winner from the fray. Losing by just one goal late in the game Wenger chose to leave 2 mercurial players on the bench in Bergkamp and Van Persie. Having scored first there seemed no tactical suggestion that Wenger was going to 'shut up shop' or 'park the bus' which would have been prudent given that Arsenal were a man down. The poor quality of our second string keeper certainly didn't help matters either. Of course there is no guarantee that any of these factors caused the game to be lost but I feel Wenger's decision making didn't give us the best chance of a trip to the European summit.
Then there are facts.
In 17 years Wenger has lost more finals than he has won (5-4 against). Arsenal have not beaten an English club in the Champions League under Wenger. Arsenal under Wenger have not won a trophy in 30 consecutive attempts (31 if you include the 2005 Community Shield) and as I think it's a fair assumption to say Arsenal are not going to win this season`s Premier League, only winning the Champions League will prevent 32 failed attempts to lift a trophy (perhaps a miracle in Munchen may take place, but I doubt it). Arsenal under Wenger have sold the best players (statistically supported) on a number of occasions without effectively replacing them (statistically supported).
Then there are facts that could be interpreted, as ‘a bad day at the office’ but are alarming nonetheless: Arsenal, under Wenger, have lost 8-2 to Manchester United. Arsenal, under Wenger, have relinquished a 4-goal lead. Arsenal, under Wenger, have been knocked out of cup competitions that were at a stage of being viable options of silverware, by lower league Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers.
All these facts are indisputable and for most the Penny has finally dropped. Certainly the majority of those that attended the recent Blackburn game and the Bayern Munich debacle would have heard an almighty clanging as a collective 4500 pennies hit the deck, but I guess that some will find mitigation. I think that the positive facts that support Arsene's performance relate to a period that is long gone and a lot of feeling is based on loyalty, but fear of the unknown remains a strong factor amongst those who are of the opinion that we should stick with Mr Wenger. The argument generally being: "who are we going to replace him with?". If we had stuck with fear of the unknown we would never have landed on the moon, invented Curry or experienced the dubious pleasures of the Rollercoaster.
The point I'm making is that if one takes emotion out of the equation and just considers the facts then it surely must stand to reason that one would conclude that Arsene Wenger is not currently an effective manager, nor has he been for a substantial period. If that is the case, which I believe it is, then I cannot understand why, with the facts at hand, the inevitable verdict has not been delivered.
I would suggest that we are stuck with Arsene until 2014 at a minimum and we have to get our heads around that (for me) unpalatable fact. The quality of playing staff that his inevitable successor inherits is more of a burning issue. I think that unfortunately the new guy, whenever he eventually arrives, will not be starting with as good a foundation as that which Arsene inherited from Rioch & Graham. It is truly saddening that Wenger's legacy will probably be one of erosion rather than of glory.
I think the following quote from the Bard sums up how an Arsenal supporter like me feels.
"Be patient until I finish. Romans, countrymen, and friends! Listen to my reasons and be silent so you can hear. Believe me on my honor and keep my honor in mind, so you may believe me. Be wise when you criticize me and keep your minds alert so you can judge me fairly. If there’s anyone in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, I say to him that my love for Caesar was no less than his. If, then, that friend demands to know why I rose up against Caesar, this is my answer: it’s not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more"
Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2- William Shakespeare