An Open Letter to Arsene Wenger from a Gooner
Dear Monsieur Wenger,
Eight minutes of magic, and the world seems a much brighter place, doesn’t it, boss? Nobody even seems to remember the obituaries that had started rolling in the minute the full-time whistle reverberated at the Stade Louis II, not too long ago. But you will know, so much better than I do, that we’ve been exactly here before, a million times over. That the rollercoaster ride we go through every season somehow lands up exactly where it always does – in the comfort of another Champions League appearance. Maybe that, right there, is the problem?
Do you know why I did not write to you after the oh-so-close glorious win against Monaco? It seemed boring, predictable, just the same old Arsenal. The “honourable defeat“ is perhaps one English concept that this team has taken on far too readily.
And why have I chosen to write to you now? This latest win against Liverpool has the ability to finally act as a springboard for greater things to come.
A decade of perseverance, of biding our time, and we finally have a chance to truly join the elite. You had asked for patience when you saw the tide turning against us all those years ago.
And so we waited. While new champions were throned and old ones resurrected, we waited. All the while there was a belief, a calm that told me that we would have to ride out this storm, one way or another. There was no short-changing in this new era of money, not when we had seen that it could deliver you the Holy Grail of the Premier League in a few short years.
And then it seemed like the shackles were free. Mesut Ozil arrived at the last minute in a summer that looked like it would be remembered just like any other – with a touch of resignation. But our darling German took to these shores almost instinctively, and we were dreaming again.
It would all go wrong, though, just as predictably as it always did. But for a while, we would once again see what this team was truly capable of. Flashes of brilliance that would just take your breath away, and reassure us, the ones who had taken such a beating over the years, that the boss was right all along.
The first seeds of doubt, however, were beginning to take hold. Here you were, a manager who, at the time of writing, had taken this club to the Champions League a record 17 times in a row. Certainly not short on experience.
Managers like Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho are given a year of bedding-in time before a veritable trophy haul is expected. And more often than not, they deliver. Would I have to remember my hero as a nearly-man when it came to the biggest trophy in European club football?
I was shocked when you revealed, in the aftermath of that famous win against Manchester City, that the players had demanded a more tactical approach. Yes, your penchant for letting your team’s footballing brain grow and thrive on its own, in the heat of a game, is well-known. But, if the team itself has been on tenterhooks about that approach, then it loses any of its potency to evolve in a match situation.
All this while we have been criticising the players – their very apparent inferiority complex has come to haunt them when the stakes are high, time and time again. It baffles me to think that they have been thrust into these matches with little but a very broad idea of what it means to play Wengerball.
The very basis for a lot of your success has been in your ability to turn very good, potentially great players into world-beaters. And while the financial realities of the last decade have seen that project fall by the wayside, we are once again on the cusp of something great.
It is a testament to the side’s collective strength that they had the bravery to see their limitations for what they were, and were compelled to bring that to your attention. The game today demands in-depth pre-match and post-match analysis. While we scoff at the incessant sacking of coaches in our less fortunate peers around the continent, it points to a sense of accountability that is a pre-requisite for success in any business structure, and not just football.
My greatest fear is that in biding our time for today, when we can actually make the jump to mount a legitimate challenge for the continent’s biggest honours, we have lost that cutting edge that defines great teams everywhere. That the last ten or so years have beaten us down to the point where we feel like we belong in that second tier of also-rans.
This culture of no accountability has seeped down to the players themselves. Aaron Ramsey, a glorious tale of redemption with the Wenger-stamp across his forehead, found it fit to continually abandon his defensive responsibilities in that tie against Anderlecht, when we were leading 3-0 at one point. Mertesacker was quite horrible on that night at the Emirates against Monaco, and it wouldn’t be the first time someone would say that he looks far too slow. Record signing Ozil has been continually out-muscled and out-manoeuvred when the stakes are highest – last night’s encounter against Liverpool was perhaps the lone exception.
These three are by far not the only culprits. I have brought them up because two of them happen to be World Cup winners, and the third was our Player of the Year last season. They should be our leaders, brought to the fore by a system that strives to emphasise their strengths, and minimize their weaknesses. The Invincibles were a long, long time ago – this group cannot function in the same way that one did. Especially after a decade that has seen technology become fiercely embedded in our game, to the point where trusting your players’ abilities to find solutions is nothing short of naivety.
And you, the man who has done so much to revolutionize football as we know it today – you cannot sit still and let the rest of them call you a dinosaur. Le Professeur, you have done far more for this sport, for this club, than any of them can comprehend. And you’re not done just yet.
We have already seen the benefits of a far more tactical, cover-your-bases approach. If our defensive nous allowed us to walk away from Manchester City with a controlled win, our relentless pressing of Liverpool’s three centre backs allowed us to tear them apart in typical Arsenal fashion.
I still believe that people do not give you enough credit. Alexis Sanchez has been everything we hoped he would be, and more. Santi Cazorla’s mini-evolution in the centre of the park was nothing short of inspired. You took the shine off your role in Francis Coquelin’s emergence with your brutal honesty in admitting that it surprised you greatly. Nacho Monreal has gone from being laughed at in every quarter to displacing Kieran Gibbs in the starting line-up.
But that theme still remains – that Arsenal are very, very good, but not quite great, and nor will they ever be. If nothing else, that is the one responsibility you do have to us, the supporters – clearing up the identity crisis we have been fighting with for so long now. You cannot say we could potentially be title-challengers only to be happy with a top-four spot when all is said and done.
Will our hero rise from the ashes, and prove to the world that he is far removed from the passive figure they’ve all gotten far too used to? Your charges, your fans, every single one of us aboard the Arsenal F.C warship look to follow your lead, because no one knows better than you about what it takes to be a winner. And if you have to shove Jose Mourinho a few more times to get there, we certainly wouldn’t begrudge you that either.
Just another Gunner