Sport and Media Relations
April 16th, 2017
Arsenal Feature: Wenger’s Occupational Hazard
The man whose been at the helm for Arsenal F.C. for over twenty years, and has led the gunners to new heights during his tenure, finds himself at a most significant crossroads in which the only option is to either sink or swim. Manager Arsène Wenger has been synonymous with the Arsenal brand for over two decades, and while even franchise players come and go, he’s been constant through it all. The club has excelled under the tutelage of Wenger, experiencing such high’s as winning the 2002 and 2004 English Premier League, as well as making it all the way to the finals of the Champion’s League in 2006, before falling short to world power Barcelona. However, of late the major results just haven’t been there for the club, except for a few championships in the less highly regarded FA Cup. In the remainder of this feature article we will dive into exactly how Arsène Wenger’s aura has grown over his years at Arsenal, and how his legendary status combined with his high level of pull within the club has effected their performance on the field in recent years.
Arsène Wenger made his start as a prominent manager in his home country of France, where he was the head man for Ligue 1 club Monaco F.C. from 1987-1994. After a short stint with Japanese Club Nagoya Grampus, it was off to the big show and he took the helm at Arsenal in the fall of 1996. The hire was met with mixed emotions from the fans, players, and media. He had established a nice track record of winning football in the French club ranks, but this was seen as a whole different ballgame taking over such a prestigious club in England’s Premier League. He was generally unknown by the casual consumer, and certainly had a lot to do to prove he belonged in such a situation. Before Wenger’s hire, the club had been in the midst of a rocky patch of poor production on the field, leading to the firing of three different coaches within a span of two years. The stability he would provide proved to be much needed, and influential enough for the players to win their first Premier league title in almost ten years during the 97-98 season, which was Wenger’s first full campaign as manager. In Wenger’s first eight full seasons with Arsenal, the club never finished lower then second in the Premier League standings, and racked up three league titles as well as four FA Cup Championships. Following their runner-up finish in the 2006 Champions league, it appeared to all that Wenger had created a perennial contender in Arsenal, and that he was the man to lead this club and grow their brand internationally. These beliefs proved to be premature and slightly off base, as the club’s play in the last ten years under Wenger leading into present day has appeared to hit a plateau. They have been muddled near, but never atop the table, and have never able to have those break through performances necessary to win significant club football events. Constant third and fourth place finishes in the Premier league have become the norm, and Wenger and his club have become known as simply as a round of 16 club, as they have been bounced from the Champions league in that round for seven straight years. This rut they have sunken into has lead to dialogue focusing on the capabilities of Wenger and Arsenal to win together, and at this point have put their future together in question.
As Wenger’s time at Arsenal has progressed, his public image and internal power within the organization have evolved substantially. Naturally, the combination of being such an accomplished and winning manager as well as the sheer time he has put into one organization has allowed his sphere of influence to grow exponentially. He has been the one image and personality associated with Arsenal football for the better part of two decades, and as such he has exercised certain luxuries that accompany his distinguished resume. A recent story was published on a British news website called the Mirror, in which John Richardson describes actions taken by Wenger to block the hiring of Arsenal great Thierry Henry into a minor coaching position. This boardroom order conceived by Josh Kroenke was seen as an attempt to lift team spirits and infuse some young and fresh energy into a locker-room that is in desperate need of a lift. Currently sitting at a dismal 7th place in the table, there is a general consensus that this spiraling team could use some new ideas, but Wenger’s decision to block this move certainly nullifies any chances of that happening. This is a perfect example of the decision making power this managerial stalwart has within the organization, and shows how high of a level he has acceded to. However, based off of the club’s poor form of late and the overall plateau it appears they have hit under Wenger’s tutelage, there is now some opposition starting to form against the total control he has over the organization.
Wenger is undoubtedly the straw that stirs the drink for the gunners, and right now he’s not performing that duty at a high enough level. Although it appears to some that a two year contract extension is all but done, nothing is official yet, and Arsenal is still playing under a coach with an expiring contract. Were their play exceptional, this would almost certainly be a non-story, but their poor form as well as the fact that players are discussing this topic with the media makes it something worth looking into. In an Article published on ESPN FC and titled “Arsene Wenger unsure uncertainty over his future affects players”, Wenger even confessed that he’s unsure whether his unclear future with the club is affecting their product of the field, and he admitted that players have had private conversations with him about his future plans. This statement shows a serious tone shift from his earlier adamant stand that his unsure contractual standing had no correlation to bad performances on the pitch. Even star midfielder Mesut Ozil, whose contract expires following the current season acknowledged the importance of his manager’s contract situation. While talking to the media he stated that before he signed his own contract he first wanted to see what Wenger would do with his. Again, were the gunners playing top notch football and in contention for the league title none of this would be an issue, but their sub-par play highlights the issue further.
Arsène Wenger’s overall body of work throughout his coaching career has allowed him to ascend to a status that supersedes that of a normal manager. The accomplishments of the teams he’s ran have allowed him to gain royalties within the managerial side of the club that few coaches possess, and that have far a reaching impact in all aspects of Arsenal’s operation. His actions, his words have a direct affect on every member of the organization and every gunner fan. His word is final, and his proclamations can boost or crush the moral of his team and their fan base. Arsenal’s winning ways during the first half of his tenure allowed him to gain this power and a reputation he holds so dearly, but have also in a way cursed him. Such high expectations were thus set for every season, expectations that only a few elite clubs could ever meet, and that he and his players were doomed to eventually fall short of. Present day Arsenal and their seventh place standing in league play is an unfortunate example of falling short of expectations, and they sit in a position that not even Wenger himself can help them dig out of.