22 years, 3 league titles and 7 FA Cups later, Arsene Wenger has decided to leave his post at Arsenal after a generally glorious era for the London-based club.
The announcement did not come as the biggest shock – Wenger is 68 years old and has faced calls to step down for the past three seasons – but his departure still evokes huge emotion for fans of Arsenal and the Premier League.
Arriving on these shores in 1996, Arsene Wenger heralded in a new era for English football. His off-the-field approach, including an intrinsic belief in dieting and player recovery revolutionised the way other clubs managed their players, whilst he is largely responsible for persuading for forcing British managers to branch out and embrace the globalised world of football.
In recent years, the Frenchman’s magic has waned to the point of exasperation for Arsenal fans. They must’ve felt a strange mix of hate and love in recent seasons; their manager is a man that dragged Arsenal to the top table of European football, made them one of the most attractive sides to watch on the continent and was a leading force in the decision to leave Highbury and move to the state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium in 2006.
However, the last few years have seen Arsenal stagnate to the point of crisis. They currently lie 6th in the Premier League having fallen out of the top 4 for the first time in a generation last season, and they haven’t effectively challenged for a league title for several years.
Two FA Cup wins in the past three years have appeased some sections of the fan-base, but the mood around the club is that this is the ideal time for change.
The introduction of oligarchs and oil-magnates during the past decade has done much to blunt Wenger’s edge and dampen Arsenal’s quality.
Before Mr. Abramovich and Sheik Mansour arrived in England with billions of spare change in their pockets, Manchester United and Arsenal was the rivalry in English football. Whenever they clashed horns in the late nineties and early noughties, fireworks were normal. Huge figures such as Patrick Vieria, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichal, Gary Neville, Martin Keown, Theirry Henry, Robert Pires and Paul Scholes ensured that these fixtures were a mix of ballet and heavyweight slugger bouts.
Sir Alex Ferguson was perhaps his greatest enemy during this era – the pair swapped barbs that admittedly paled in comparison when Jose Mourinho rocked up in 2004 and branded Wenger a ‘voyeur’ – but the pair have always carried a mutual respect that lasted to this day.
Make no mistake, Arsenal were a major power under Arsene Wenger. Younger fans may not appreciate Wenger and all that he has done for Arsenal, but he will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest managers to grace the British game.
His 2004 Invincibles are regarded as one of the best teams ever assembled, whilst in 2006 he came within a Henrik Larsson-inspired final 15 minutes from winning the Champions League. Perhaps that’s his greatest regret in his career; the lack of a Champions League winners’ medal.
Still, when that is your one biggest regret in your career, you can safely assume it’s been a golden one.
As for who will replace Wenger, there are no glaring names that sticks out. Max Allegri at Juventus is a leading candidate, but it remains to be seen whether he will leave the Old Lady and set up shop in London.
Patrick Vieria, perhaps Wenger’s greatest ever player, has been mooted as his successor, but he is inexperienced as a coach and would represent a dangerous gamble for the club.
Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel are also high in the running to replace the manager. Whoever it is that will take the hotseat this summer, they have a very large job on their hands replacing Wenger. Like Manchester United under Ferguson, Arsenal has been controlled by one man for the past two decades. Every facet of the club has the Frenchman’s mark on it. Do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead for Arsenal.