Arsene Wenger’s departure will have some fans fearing a post Ferguson-like crisis at Arsenal, but Gerrard’s departure from Liverpool should offer some optimism.
The ball skidded underneath Asmir Begovic’s legs and rolled into the bottom corner of the net. Steven Gerrard, playing his last ever game for Liverpool, rather than wheeling away in ecstasy to celebrate, half-heartily gestured towards the ball in the net, ushering a teammate to collect, and jogged back towards his own half.
As he did, a warm chorus of applause filled the erstwhile Britannia stadium; a gracious and respectful acknowledgement from the Stoke City fans of a departing Premier League legend, who perhaps had scored his final goal for the one and only club he had represented in his successful career.
Perhaps Gerrard would have enjoyed the moment more, and no doubt he would have celebrated, were he and the rest of the Liverpool players not still reeling from the five goals Stoke had fired past them in the first half.
Peter Crouch added a sixth a quarter of an hour after what was indeed Gerrard’s final Liverpool goal, capping off an astonishing final result that in itself capped a miserable send-off for the Champions League winner in his final season in English football.
What had come before this totally unforeseen hammering hadn’t been much better in the way of a satisfactory farewell for one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players.
A 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace – the team that destroyed Liverpool’s title hopes the season previous – in Gerrard’s final Anfield outing, a 2-1 home defeat to United – made infamous perhaps for the Liverpool captain’s dismissal less than a minute after being introduced at the beginning of the second half, and away defeats to Arsenal an Hull all transpired on Gerrard’s valedictory tour, after announcing in January his decision to walk in the summer.
At the time, the question was simple yet worthy of deep consideration; how would this team, this club, cope without its iconic and influential captain?
It was already a team desperately lacking in trophy-winning calibre and any real air of adaptability.
And yet, two months into the 15/16 season, out went Rodgers, in came Jurgen Klopp. Two years on, is anyone still looking at the current side and seeing a Gerrard-shaped hole?
They’ve done the right thing when it comes to saying goodbye to long-term consistently-performing players; it’s not about finding an exact replica, it’s about how you adapt and change the style around their departure.
Arsenal fans who were very much of the “Wenger In” persuasion may now be studying even harder the period after Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, wondering if their own club may suffer a similar dip in performance and status; they may even be trying to pinpoint all the moments during the post-Fergie years where United suffered due to their own poor judgement, scribbling down notes and highlighting certain key points, perhaps even putting together a slide-show presentation that they hope can be screened for Wenger’s replacement, whoever that may be, when he arrives.
Surely what the Arsenal fans want is an example in football where a long-term component of a football club, integral to its function, departed, but in a matter of a couple of years, their absence was nothing but that; an absence, not someone whose presence is still longed for.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s four-trophy haul (which could yet be five with the FA Cup final to contest later this month) in his two seasons at Man United to date, a lot of fans still look back and yearn for the days under Ferguson when attacking, entertaining football was the philosophy.
Mourinho’s stubborn pragmatism in certain games that have cried out for a bit of ruthlessness only highlights more vividly what United have missed so dearly since Fergie’s departing. Five years on, and United are still in a sense finding their feet.
Arsene Wenger, whether they win the Europa League or not, whether Burnley creep above them in the table or not, will be given a grand send-off, one of enormous respectfulness and appreciation, which won’t be without a tinge of sadness, despite Wenger’s shortcomings in recent years.
It is the players’ jobs to ensure he ends his final season with the Gunners with a sense of dignity. Winning the Europa League and dragging Arsenal back into Europe’s premier competition would be more than a fitting farewell gift; Arsenal back in the big-time and a first European trophy for the Frenchman.
Arsenal fans who are chomping their nails, petrified at the notion of a Wenger-less Arsenal next season, need not worry if they remain positive that those with the power to make the big decisions, will make not just the big decisions, but the right ones.
Given Arsenal’s recent turmoil, you can maybe forgive those who no longer place faith in people such as Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke anymore.
But the Arsenal board’s mutual decision to part with Wenger, while he was still in contract, was the first big decision, and, depending on how you look at it, the totally correct one. The next big call comes with his replacement, and if Arsenal were willing to part with Wenger, a man to whom they will also be eternally grateful and in debt, then it won’t have been without at least one or two people in mind as potential successors.
Arsenal fans must look to Liverpool, and not United, as a template for how things could easily turn out.
Klopp is on the verge of sealing a famous Champions League victory at Liverpool, having all but secured their place in the competition for next season regardless of whether they win it or not. When Gerrard walked away three years ago, could many people have envisaged this scenario?
Remember Gerrard, Arsenal fans. Remember 6-1 at Stoke.
The very least that can be done for now is to hope the Arsenal players can give Wenger the victorious farewell that eluded one of the Premier League’s most legendary figures.