Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have been nothing if not stable.
Arsene Wenger must have breathed a sigh of relief in December when his Arsenal side managed to steer clear of European giants Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last 16 Champions League draw and instead match with the Frenchman’s former side AS Monaco. Predictably, Wenger has become the central figure of this tie given his history at both clubs.
Arsenal, an organisation modelled on consistency and sensibility, will face a club catapulted from the bottom of the French second division to a 2nd place finish in Ligue 1 within the space of three seasons, fuelled by the wealth and audacity of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. Monaco were the biggest spenders in Europe in 2012, splashing outrageous sums of money on stars such as Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez. The Colombian duo have since departed the French Riviera as the club have recently opted to downsize their lofty ambitions and implement a more modest transfer policy.
Nevertheless the nature of Monaco’s rise to prominence over the last few years has undoubtedly interested Wenger, given that it is at odds with his own governing philosophy. One wonders how Wenger, notoriously cautious and stubbornly pragmatic, would cope if he were Monaco manager today. Jose Mourinho recently remarked that Wenger has the dream job at the Emirates.
“In this moment he [Wenger] has a dream job that we would all love to have. Every manager in the world would love to have stability he has year after year with a chance to buy, to sell, to rebuild, to wait for success… and wait and wait.” Mourinho on Wenger
Mind games or not, it is an interesting hypothetical. Wenger’s strength lies in the trust built with his players, staff and board over the last nineteen years. Other managers do not have the essence of time to build that trust. It is unlikely that Wenger will ever be forced to compromise his own governing beliefs. Russian billionaire stakeholder Alexander Usmanov is the greatest threat to the equilibrium at Arsenal, however, he doesn’t seem to possess enough clout on the Arsenal board to significantly change the culture at the club.
As for the fate of the knockout tie, the power rests squarely at Arsenal’s feet tomorrow night. If Monaco can thwart Arsenal’s attack and salvage a draw, they will stand a chance in the second leg. Otherwise, the game at Stade Louis II will be a mere formality.
Patrick O’Connor, Pundit Arena