Invincible to Invisible - Arsenal's Lessons from Wenger Era

Glory days long
Bharath Ramachandran

Finally, Arsene Wenger has left, much to the relief of a majority of Arsenal fans, who did believe in him a few years back. It was a much eagerly awaited decision, as there was a feeling that Arsenal were making the journey reeling in their motorway when rivals around were jet rocketing their way forward.

The football club that has been so used to making it to Europe’s elite competition season after season now suddenly finds themselves in the less glamorous Europa League - again. What’s the worst that could happen as Tottenham Hotspur have surged ahead and have become a consistent top four club?

Arsene Wenger brought in a dignified and disciplined approach to the way the club operations were run and the manner in which the Arsenal players were taken care of.

The approach ensured that players were fit, and one could say that Arsenal’s mainstay players did enjoy a prolonged career, of course, mostly outside of Arsenal. Let us look at a few reasons why Arsenal turned from an indomitable assertive unit to a submissive, meek force. These are snaps from the past that I reckon the new manager should consider as 'Lessons Learnt.'

What happened to the Invincibles?

Undoubtedly one of the best ever squads to play in the Premier League was the Invincibles of 2003/04. However, unlike other major clubs that try to keep hold of their significant players, Arsenal left them to go by, and most of them started to ply their trade elsewhere after a couple of seasons.

From a sporting perspective, Arsene Wenger trusted and believed in youngsters over ageing players. But it is a fact now that the players he brought into the club in place of the Invincibles were unable to achieve the standards set by their predecessors.

For instance, Ray Parlour and Patrick Viera formed the pivotal midfield force of the record-breaking season. Ray Parlour left the very year to Middlesbrough and Viera followed suit to Juventus a year later.

These departures left a massive void in the central midfield for Arsenal, a position that the manager has failed to address forever since. However, it is noteworthy to mention that the financial stability of the club was achieved by such sales and the Emirates Stadium and training facilities are a testimony to the man, Arsene Wenger, and his overall club managerial abilities.

Trade with direct rivals

No other football club in the English Premier League other than Arsenal would have sold so many of its key players to potential opponents. Arsenal has made a name for itself in history for such sales under Arsene Wenger, and here are a few of such notable departures from the club.

Manchester United – Robin Van Persie, Alexis Sanchez

Manchester City – Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna, Emmanuel Adebayor

Chelsea – William Gallas, Ashley Cole

Liverpool – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The beautiful losers

The generation that came through after the Invincibles started playing a Barcelona brand of football and were scoring sumptuous goals. But Arsenal never really managed to win anything substantial and were at times even losing games in spite of playing the game in a beautiful tiki-taka style.

They failed to get a squad that had the depth to grind a win in tough situations, and moreover, were branding themselves as ‘beautiful losers’ with their obsessed and never genuinely working style of football. Arsene Wenger believed in this style of play despite poor results and trophyless seasons, which ultimately would lead to his downfall and his falling out with the players and supporters.

Arsenal Crest
Arsenal Crest

Unable to be assertive in the transfer market

For over a decade, Arsenal ended up second best in the transfer market, failing to land highly rated and wanted players, to other European giants. Arsenal became a haven for players at the fag end of their careers like Petr Cech and Per Mertesacker.

Arsene believed in forging a team of talented underachieved players alongside world-class talents like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Apparently, the team could not fare well in the league as well as in Europe, and it was clear that Arsene was running out of ideas.

Unlike other teams in the Premier League, limited success was accepted by the club management and owners, who seemed to be convinced with the profits made and not so much worried about the team’s performance. Alas, the announcement of Wenger’s departure can serve as a relief for the angry fans who have been gutted with the poor performances and characterless displays from the team on the field.

On a financial note, Arsene Wenger had achieved a great deal in improving Arsenal as a club. He had been a dignified professional defending his players during times of adversity. However, he watched his rivals improve and continuously scale up around him, and believed that Arsenal was not far behind, only to realise that success in the most competitive league was merely becoming a distant reality, and finally had to call it a day.

The future for Arsenal

Whether it is Mikel Arteta, Massimiliano Allegri, Julian Nagelsmann, or anybody else, the job to be performed at Arsenal will be quite straightforward. To Arsene Wenger’s credit, he leaves behind a cash-rich club to his successor. The squad, although not the best when compared with other big clubs, is quite decent to start with.

The players should be left to express themselves, and the managers in the picture are capable enough for inculcating new ideas into the stream. Arsenal lack character and leadership. Assuming there is a certainty for summer signings, Arsenal needs a strong leader like Patrick Viera from the era of the Invincibles.

There are other areas that we could point out, but the new manager must pull a leaf out of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City revolution by being patient and trusting his present squad for a year to well and truly understand the capabilities and drawbacks, and accordingly venture into the transfer market.

Chops and changes and a complete overhaul are not what Arsenal need or deserve. What Arsenal and the squad desperately require are confidence, patience, and a talismanic leader at the helm.

Edited by Shambhu Ajith
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