Arsène, oh Arsène. How times have changed.
If the Carabao Cup final from a fortnight ago and last week’s game at the Emirates were anything to go by, it’s almost evident that the baton for the most innovative coach in the Premier League has now most certainly passed on from Arsène Wenger to Pep Guardiola. The 3–0 scoreline was the biggest margin that Arsenal has ever lost by in a cup final. The kind of exciting football that we’ve always come to expect of Arsenal in years past has a new successor in Manchester City. One could have perhaps forgiven the Gunners if they played entertaining soccer but failed to win trophies like in the past — at least they’re fun to watch, right? But in recent weeks, maybe months, and as embodied in those two games, Manchester City look inspired, dominant, hungry and ready to win. Arsenal is simply looking for answers.
Arsène Wenger reminded everyone that he has “turned down the whole world” so that he could honor his contract at the Emirates. In the era of disloyalty in sports, that’s very romantic. But sports is also a results business. The Arsenal board had a chance to move on and start planning for the future this past offseason, and it took the easy option out by simply betting on Wenger’s historical legacy.
Many Arsenal fans keep telling me, “Well, if you do sack Wenger, who would you appoint?” I’m not denying that appointing a manager is a difficult decision. But Arsenal should make a move while it is still considered a top European club at which managers want to test the team’s skills. One almost wonders what coaches like Eddie Howe could do with more resources. What about Thomas Tuchel? And despite Frank de Boer being damaged goods after his spells at Inter and Crystal Palace, or Peter Bosz at Borussia Dortmund, it’s still interesting to ponder if Arsenal’s traditions might be the best fit for the Dutch philosophy of soccer.
Season in and season out, we keep asking ourselves if Wenger’s time is up. It’s almost as if the Arsenal board is just content to be “best of the rest.” The problem is that the pool of “the rest” is becoming smaller and smaller. We’ve seen how it’s becoming harder and harder to restore clubs who are in decline. Look at Leeds; look at how long or how much it’s taken Liverpool and Manchester United to continue to restore themselves to relevancy again.
And as I watched the Cup final, or just Arsenal games in general this season, I keep wondering if one was to form a team of players from the top six teams, how many Arsenal players I would pick? Probably only Mesut Özil would make that team, and even then that’s a tough choice given the general quality of players at all other clubs.
Wenger’s time might not necessarily be ticking, but Arsenal’s relevance to the English and European elite sure is.