Arsene Wenger may be finished but disrespect from Arsenal fans is unwarranted and shameful
Wenger's rise and fall has been well documented but this is not the sendoff he deserves from the fans
In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar, the first act sees a Roman soothsayer approach the all-conquering emperor to warn him, saying, “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar, on his part, pays no heed to the warning and brushes the wise man aside.
We all know what happens next. Caesar, the man who refused the crown of Rome three times, is stabbed to death in the senate and the treachery of the once-loyal Brutus (who stabbed in the back) killed him more than the half-dozen daggers that were thrust into his flesh.
Arsene Wenger now finds himself in a similar situation at Arsenal with the fans baying for his blood. The resemblance to Caesar is uncanny – a man who runs the club with nobody to usurp him and yet ready to relinquish his crown if he is asked to do so.
The Gunners’ season crumbling in the month of March every season has now become such a familiar outcome that betting companies probably slash their odds as soon as winter slowly gives way to spring. Such is the predictability of the squad in the post-Invincibles era that the norm has now manifested itself into various memes that pop up on social media every year.
However, the 2016/17 season has been different. This time, Wenger has had no place to hide. There are no more excuses for the shoddy performances that have sucked the joy out of watching football as an Arsenal fan.
Wenger is finished – there are no two ways about it
Wenger’s comments following a soul-destroying loss no longer hold any water. Even after losing 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich – the worst performance by an English side in the Champions League – Wenger was clutching at straws when he blamed the referee for ruining the second leg even when a mammoth task was set for the Gunners against one of Europe’s best squads.
It had become a familiar and yet unbearable sight for Arsenal fans as he focused on a decision in an almost pedantic manner when the bigger picture was there for all to see. Even the journalists assembled at the press conference felt a tinge of pity and refused to press him any further. Why beat a man when he’s down?
Wenger has a penchant for defending his players in the press. While he may admit a collective failure in the team and bandy about words such as ‘lacking mental strength’ or ‘playing with a handbrake on’, the philosophical Frenchman refuses to throw his players under the bus.
Exactly a year ago, I had written about why Wenger’s time at Arsenal was well and truly over. A lack of acumen and shrewdness in the transfer market, mediocre signings, the absence of a senior voice on the board and an absentee owner had seen the Gunners miss out on their best chance at winning a Premier League title in over a decade.
And yet, here we are. Simply replace the name of the team that beat Arsenal in the Round of 16 and the points expounded on remain relevant. What is damning is that Wenger’s record in the Champions League was better when the club was starved of cash; between 2008 and 2010 there were two quarter-final appearances and one semi-final.
Now, with a massive war chest at his disposal, the Round of 16 seems to be the only frontier Arsenal get to before they beat a hasty retreat to the relatively safer confines of domestic competitions.
Arsenal fans’ ire is understandable but the disrespect is shameful
“We should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich,” Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis in 2013
10-2, Ivan. The Bundesliga champions’ season ticket price varies from as low as £67 to a premium of £559. At Arsenal, they are upwards of £1,000 to get front row seats to watch them get pummeled and systematically eviscerated by top European sides.
In the past 20 years, Wenger has gone from ‘Arsene Who?’ to ‘Arsene’s Arsenal’ to ‘WTF Arsene?’. Banners have changed from ‘In Arsene we trust’ to ‘Thanks for the memories but it’s time to say goodbye’.
Such has been the rise and fall of the club’s most successful manager. As of last season, though, the protests never crossed any boundaries – booing is acceptable in a sporting arena where logic does come second-best to emotions while an organised protest this time last year was drowned out by chants of “One Arsene Wenger” from various sections of the Emirates.
But 'Wenger Out' banners have been commonplace this season with some fans even unfurling them at away games as soon as the Gunners go behind and once again at the full-time whistle.
A 300-strong contingent marched around the stadium on matchday in the terribly-named ‘Wexit’ campaign but it reached a nadir when a crowdfunding page was set up to collect cash to fly a plane over the Emirates with a message in protest against the club and the manager.
One fan even went as far as comparing Wenger to Robert Mugabe by drawing parallels with Zimbabwe’s president who ruined the country’s economy just like Wenger supposedly ruined the club. Others have branded Wenger a 'cancer that is killing our club’.
Now, this is where one draws a very thick line. The man may be stubborn in his approach but this is a man who rebuilt the foundations that made Arsenal a world class club. This is a man who revolutionised English football.
To humiliate a gentleman such as Wenger while he is trying to do his job on the pitch smacks of an elitist mentality from spoilt fans of a club that had never seen anything resembling consistency prior to Wenger’s arrival.
What next for Arsenal?
Yes, the game has finally caught up with his methods and some have even overtaken him in the process while Wenger stood still. No, he is no longer the messiah to take this club to the next level. He is no longer the swashbuckling manager with a killer instinct.
Even the most die-hard Wenger supporters realise that it is time for a change. But the sensible ones know that this is not how you give one of the most important men in the club’s history a sendoff.
“Arsene has a contract until the end of the season. Any decisions will be made by us mutually and communicated at the right time.” – Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick
Now maybe the right time, though. It is obvious that the club needs a fresh approach in squad management. If Wenger were to make an announcement on his departure now, it would rally the fans behind him as the Gunners battle for a top four finish and a possible FA Cup.
The FA Cup would be a fitting sendoff (as it probably should have been in 2014), also making him the most successful manager with seven wins while making Arsenal the most successful club with 13 wins. But there’s still a long way to go before that dream is realised.
And who would come in? Just as Brutus thought he was killing Caesar for the good of Rome, the fans of Arsenal now want Wenger gone so the club's progress is not stifled. However, Rome soon fell into disarray and descended into a series of civil wars before the Roman Empire was formed.
While Wenger will not allow the club he loves so much to burn, it remains to be seen what happens when he eventually leaves. He had once earned the right to leave on his own terms. But that may no longer be the case if the fans have their say.