Not good enough anymore - Wenger a victim of his own success

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
To be blunt Arsenal need a better coach to face the future as results and performances are far beneath what was once taken for granted at the Emirates

Arsenal will never again see a manager like Arsene Wenger. Nor would they want to.

The structures that chief executive Ivan Gazidis has put in place over the past 12 months – such as hiring Raul Sanllehi as head of football relations, Huss Fahmy as contract negotiator and Sven Mislintat as head of recruitment – are designed to insure against a repeat of Friday's eventuality. Wenger was never going to last forever and Arsenal knew that a new framework had to be put in place before he left.

As underwhelming as their results have been lately – without so much as a point in 2018 away from home – the club would appear to be in pretty sound shape off the field. And with so many specialists filling out key roles, Wenger could not possibly hope to exert the same kind of power and influence around the club as had for the previous two decades.

When Wenger was hired in 1996, the buck stopped with the manager. The position of sporting director had long been popular on the continent but was regarded in Britain as a means to undermine the authority of the boss.

However, as time has gone on – and coaches became increasingly expendable – more and more clubs seem to be cottoning on to the advantages of a sporting director. It helps a club have a structure in place if, for whatever reason, a manager goes.

Players should not be signed or retained only on one man’s say-so. Indeed, any club that concentrates the power into one man’s hands runs the risk of having to rebuild from scratch when he leaves.

That, one day, might be the reality Manchester City have to face. That, arguably, is where Manchester United erred badly when Sir Alex Ferguson departed.  

Arsenal got out in front of it and began the process of weaning themselves off Wenger before he even had any intention of leaving and so are better prepared for what comes next. The key roles have been filled; Wenger’s influence was already diminishing and very soon he will be history.

The reality is that Arsenal need a better coach to face the future, even if Wenger’s continued commitment to expansive, attacking football should be commended now more than ever.

Arsene Wenger Arsenal Newcastle

Results have been poor and Wenger is – by any metric – old in football terms. There has never been a reversal of his methods or any compromise in his pursuit of success.

He wants to win playing beautifully and you’d struggle to find any other coach nearing 70 who favours such dashing football. Usually, people become more conservative when they age but not Wenger.

However, Arsenal need more now. It is said that Wenger could not properly prepare a tailored game plan in the glory days because every team would change the way they played when coming up against his Arsenal. They were so good that they could impose their will on any team. Resistance was futile. A run of 49 league matches unbeaten proves that.

But the problems began when that team died off one by one. Wenger oversaw the move to the Emirates but the quality wasn’t the same. Almunia followed Lehmann, Gibbs followed Cole, Diaby followed Vieira, Walcott followed Henry. More of those examples abound. Wenger couldn’t force those lesser players to conduct football the way he liked it. It was impossible.

There were extenuating circumstances, of course. The stadium move ranks alongside any of his on-field achievements. To sell off, year after year, his better players and still sustain Champions League football was remarkable; to do so at a time when Chelsea and then Manchester City began their money-backed assaults on the Premier League made it all the more impressive.

Wenger and Henry - Jan 2 2007

Arsenal, though, are now back in the game. They can sign players for mega money – like Pierre Emerick Aubameyang – and pay the big bucks, as the renewal of Mesut Ozil confirmed.

And yet anyone who has witnessed Arsenal in the last few seasons will be struck by their flaws. There is a worrying tendency to surrender in matches. There are lulls during which the team cannot raise a tempo. They have conceded the same type of goal season after season, with their fans justifiably at the end of their collective tethers.

The club have taken no mercy on the playing staff, with Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Francois Coquelin and an increasingly-disruptive Alexis Sanchez all moved on in January. The scale of Arsenal’s rebuild is big and it will be brutal.

But it should never be forgotten that it was Arsene Wenger who gave the club the right to be so ruthless and so demanding. He is the one who made the team English champions three times and European finalists.

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He is the one who gave them the 60,000-seater stadium. He is the one who signed Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and coaxed the best out of Dennis Bergkamp. He is the one who has written the modern history of the Gunners.

However, now better coaches like Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte and - most stingingly for Arsenal fans – Mauricio Pochettino outflank him. Twenty years of continued Champions League access has ended. They are on course for their worst season, defeats-wise, under the Frenchman.

FA Cups? Not good enough anymore. Not good enough to prevent Wenger becoming a victim of the standards he set.