When Arsène Wenger took over the reins at Arsenal in October 1996, Arsenal’s fans wondered who on earth he was. There was a lot of scepticism about his managerial abilities as Wenger did not have an impressive CV back then but 20 seasons, 3 Premier League titles and 6 FA Cups later “Arsene who” is now one of the most celebrated managers in world football.
On the 12th of October in 1996, Arsenal played their first match under Wenger but after almost 20 seasons there is one thing that hasn’t changed – the Arsenal fans’ scepticism over his pedigree to lead the team to glory.
Wenger’s Arsenal career has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride that has seen some glorious highs and dismal lows. The Frenchman’s initial years at Arsenal were trophy-laden which saw Wenger bag 6 trophies in his first 7 seasons in-charge of the club and Arsenal fans were delighted with their new manager. But everything was not rosy in Wenger’s paradise for long.
Arsene Wenger’s greatest achievement as Arsenal boss has to be the triumphant 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ campaign that saw Arsenal go through an entire season unbeaten but neither Wenger nor the Arsenal fans have had much to celebrate after that. When clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City were splashing the cash Wenger had to make do with a paltry transfer budget, courtesy of a move to The Emirates. Wenger was forced to sell his best players to Arsenal’s rivals one transfer window after the other, and this significantly hampered Arsenal’s chances of winning the league.
Expectedly, Arsenal could never compete with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City for the title but there were two things that solaced the Arsenal fans- A place in the Champions League every season and finishing above arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspurs in the Premier League every year. The latter is undoubtedly more important for the Arsenal loyalists.
In spite of not having money to spend in the transfer market, in spite of selling off their most talented players every season, Arsenal have never finished below Spurs in the Premier League under Arsene Wenger. Arsenal fans have been enjoying the bragging rights for 20 years now but this season is threatening to put an end to all of that.
Arsenal are currently 3rd in the Premier League and trail Spurs by 3 points. Arsenal’s abysmal form has seen their title challenge falter and the best the Arsenal fans can now hope for is a finish above Tottenham so that they at least celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day (see google) yet again.
Arsenal face Tottenham in a pivotal Premier League clash on Saturday and if Arsenal are going to have any chance of surpassing Tottenham, they have got to win the North-London Derby. In case the reverse happens, Arsenal will not only have to bid the title goodbye, the bragging rights will also swap hands.
In the last 10 years, every season begins with renewed hope and belief for the fans but Arsenal’s title challenge turns into an annual top-four race as the season reaches its climax and this season threatens to be the same.
Apart from two consecutive FA Cup triumphs, Wenger has got nothing to show for his efforts in the last 11 seasons and if Tottenham end up finishing above Arsenal this season, then I am afraid the time for Wenger to go will have come.
Arsenal fans have been divided over Wenger for some time now. The AKB (Arsene knows best) brigade stand by their manager no matter what but the AOB (Arsene Out brigade) have had enough. If Arsenal do not improve in the final 10 matches of the season, most of the AKBs will switch over to the AOBs and the calls for Wenger’s sacking would only get louder.
While Spurs seem to have improved considerably under Mauricio Pocchetino, Arsenal look to have stagnated under Arsene Wenger. Wenger was famous for signing unknown players for peanuts and developing them into superstars but all seems to have stopped now. On the other hand, the Spurs youth setup is doing amazingly.
In the past, Wenger used Arsenal’s weak financial position as an alibi but the Gunners enjoy financial superiority over both Leicester and Spurs and Wenger will have to take the blame if Arsenal fail to win the league.
This is (or should I say was) Arsenal’s best chance to win the Premier League in years and if Wenger can’t do it now, he never will. ‘Le Professeur’ will have a year left on his Arsenal contract when this season ends but the respectable thing for him would be to walk away from the club if Arsenal do not finish above Spurs.