New clothes for Arsene Wenger, atop his empire of dirt
The house that Arsene built is not so much divided, any more, as it is teetering — soon to come crashing to its knees. There is only so much déjà vu all over again that one fanbase can take, after all.
It is a fitting end, really. With a set of inexplicably squandered opportunities followed by well-briefed backpage headlines about the warchest the Arsenal manager will be handed for summer transfers.
It is not the end in the traditional sense, one would assume. It seems unlikely that he will resign or retire and the Arsenal board has displayed little appetite to fire perhaps the greatest manager in the club’s history, a decision likely made easier for now by the apparent lack of obvious candidates to replace him. But the tide of public opinion must now have turned, if it had not before. The curtain has been pulled back. Though we have come to the end of the yellow brick road, as Boyz II Men didn’t sing, still Arsenal can’t let go.
When Arsene Wenger does leave the club that is now irrevocably, for better or worse, fashioned in his image, he will leave it stronger than he found it. The Emirates Stadium is, quite literally, the house that he built. For an entire generation of Arsenal fans, weaned on The Invincibles, he remains the only manager they have ever known. It is only a shame that his crowning glory is now but a distant memory.
It didn’t have to end this way. With their rivals floundering Wenger should have been able to guide an imperfect side to the Premier League title, yet ultimately he has been undone by what once made him great. The laissez-faire coaching style and reticence in the transfer market that allowed true greats to flourish has proven ill-suited to more perfunctory talents, instead exposing the flaws of a side that now seems to lack both defensive organization and that for which Wenger’s Arsenal became renowned and admired, attacking flair and creativity. Their passing less threads the needle of the opponent as it does tear a hole in their own shape.
For years the club have been able to explain away their failure by pointing to the excess resources of their rivals. No longer. Arsenal will lose the 2015/16 Premier League title to one of Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur, two sides with inferior resources but far superior strategies in the transfer market and on the pitch. Arsene Wenger, who famously breathed life into the careers of the ‘famous back five’ and elevated the likes of Bergkamp and Henry to new heights, can no longer get the best of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez.
At their peak, Wenger’s Arsenal played exquisite football, a technicolor dreamcoat to the rest of the league’s winter jacket. That made it all the more difficult to admit what now seems to be the only logical conclusion: he has been found out. His team does not really lack leaders, or passion, or bottle. It lacks a plan. Though the indelible image of the final years of his reign may be of Wenger fiddling with his coat zipper while Islington burns, the emperor — it turns out — has nothing on at all.
This is a sad and ignominious end to an era that was more often than not filled with great players, grand occasions and vibrant football. Yet the end it is. One can only hope Wenger bows out gracefully, with his dignity and a great deal of his reputation intact.
I am reminded — by way of The West Wing — of the movie The Lion in Winter. Imprisoned with his brothers and facing impending death, Prince Richard urges that they do not cower before the approaching King. “You fool,” exclaims his brother Prince Geoffrey, “as if it matters how a man falls down.” And Richard says, ‘When the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal.’”
If Arsene knows anything any more, let it be that.