Arsene Wenger’s legacy has been complicated by a decade of underachievement, but the structures are there for his successor to succeed.
Arsene Wenger will leave Arsenal after 22 years as manager. In the course of those two decades, the Frenchman revolutionised the football club, and the Premier League as a whole, winning three league titles and seven FA Cup titles in the process. That said, he will leave the club as a less distinguished manager for the failures of the past decade.
The end of an era is in sight at Arsenal with the confirmation that Arsene Wenger is to step down as manager at the end of the season.
They say you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.
Had Arsene Wenger left the club a decade or so ago, his legacy at the club would have been ironclad having claimed three Premier League titles and revolutionised almost every aspect of that football club for the better.
However, after a long period of underachievement (limited to that of a couple of FA Cup wins), Arsenal fans had become jaded, exasperated at their side’s failure to compete with the big boys of English football or make any significant inroads in Europe.
Murmurs of unrest soon grew to a crescendo of boos with each spineless submission to a Man City, United or Chelsea.
And just as expansive, attacking football had become the hallmark of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, in recent years that style of play was undermined by an exasperating submissiveness in big games.
In the heady years of the early 21st century when Arsenal dominated the game, smaller clubs went to Highbury with ambitions of little else than avoiding a hefty defeat. In the last few seasons the likes of Southampton and Watford come to the Emirates expecting points.
Then there was the galling 6-0 loss to Chelsea and the even more galling 8-2 loss to Manchester United, a side who Wenger had once upon a time considered a rival on same level as Arsenal, but who have since left them in the rear view mirror to compete with bigger sides.
His rivalry with Alex Ferguson was one that enraptured football fans around the world. Some of the best Premier League games of all time occurred when Wenger and Ferguson locked horns in the pursuit of Premier League glory.
It will be fourteen years since the Frenchman last guided Arsenal to the Premier League title and in those intervening years his side have rarely threatened the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
And despite having loosened his purse strings in recent years with the acquisitions of Mezut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal never looked like a team who could fend off all rivals and claim a major title.
His side became known for a lack of character and bottle and the results backed up that belief.
And it is impossible to critique the Frenchman’s reign in England without considering the failure of the past decade. While his Invincible side of 2003/04 will forever be remembered, ensuring his legacy along with it, it is clear that this legacy has been somewhat eroded with every passing year without a title.
And yet, Arsenal Football Club are hardly in a bad place right now.
Under Wenger’s stewardship the club have become a financial force and the transition to the Emirates Stadium from Highbury has been, for the most part, a successful one.
Arsenal is the sixth richest club in world football and undoubtedly has the means to compete with the best. And while Arsene Wenger has not been able to deliver that himself, it is quite possible that another manager can by building on the rock solid foundations that Wenger has helped to create.
Whoever succeeds Wenger as the next Arsenal manager will inherit a team with some obvious weaknesses, particularly in defence, which will need to be improved upon. But they will also inherit a team studded with quality and the potential within that club is obvious.
Arsenal fans are more than entitled to have been disaffected over the final years of Wenger’s reign given the all-too-predictable collapses that have become their forte. But they should also consider the overall impact that Arsene Wenger has had at their club and reserve a special place in the club’s history on account of it.