Sunday, March 24, 2013

Arsenal Chronicles: A Change 'OF' The Manager Or A Change 'IN' The Manager?

By Jeffrey Muriungi.

So, 7 years and counting since you know what, and now it is certain to be 8 with Arsenal gracefully bowing out of the Champions League after a hard fought win in Munich, after going out to Blackburn in the FA Cup. I'm sure we can all predict the headlines that will follow at the end of the season. It's all doom and gloom and Wenger has to go, or does he?

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane. The year is 1996 and Arsene Wenger has just taken over from George Graham after a somewhat disappointing season for Arsenal, having finished 5th and just outside of the Champions league places.

The 1996/97 season began with Pat Rice as the caretaker manager as Arsenal searched for a replacement for Graham. Then came a man wearing glasses and a grey suit with an exquisite French accent, or Le Prof as we like to call him now. In all honesty at the moment of Arsene's take over, Arsenal had reached a point of stagnation with a medium sized stadium and a nothing if not passionate fan base. Revenue had stagnated over the years and the general growth was minimal. This was the moment that Arsenal as we knew it changed forever! 

"Arsene Who?" was the headline that rung out in many of the newspapers on October 1st, 1996. Little did the football world know how big an impact he would make in football as we knew it.

Arsene Wenger, that name couldn't have been a coincidence, the man was just made for Arsenal. So the year is 1996 and Arsene Wenger has just taken over a month after the transfer window had shut, so he had to work with the same squad that Graham had finished 5th with; with the exception of a 20 year old, inexperienced, relatively unknown Patrick Vieira. (P.S We have Pat Rice to thank for his signature.)

Skip forward to the last day of the season and Arsenal are 3rd in the table tied on points with 2nd placed  Newcastle United. Champions league football a certainty for the next season and pride restored back top the Arsenal faithful. 

Then came the summer of 1997 and Arsene got the opportunity to sprinkle a little Arsene-ness to the squad. Matthew Upson became the first official signing of Arsene Wenger's reign. He was closely followed in by the graceful yet powerful Emmanuel Petit. At this moment in time, the jury was still out on Arsene Wenger as most fans had warmed to him but there were some doubters who labelled his 1st season a fluke. How wrong they were!

With Arsenal competing in 4 high profile competitions many expected Arsene and Arsenal to crumble under the pressure but Arsene was out to prove them all wrong. After going out of the Champions League to PAOK the doubters came out guns blazing, and with Arsenal 6th in the table and 12 points behind leaders United, the championship seemed all but unreachable for Arsenal. If any one could turn around the season, it was Wenger. A run of 10 straight wins (A New British record) and a strong run-in saw us claw back the 12 point gap and pip United to the crown and claim our first title under the newly named Barclay card premiership, now known as the Barclays Premier league. He had done it! The first non-British manager to lead a team to the title! Suddenly all newspapers and sports realated media were in awe of his achievement! I remember in particular one headline that read "ARSENE AND ARSENAL, A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN." But he wasn't done yet for the season. 

Arsenal had a pretty decent run in both the league cup and the F.A cup but got knocked out of the former in the semi-finals by Chelsea, the eventual winners.

After going through the likes of Boro, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Wolves, only Newcastle stood between Arsene and His Army and Double glory. Strikes from Overmars and Anelka gave Arsene his first double in England which made every one look up and take notice!

Arsene had transformed a club that had gotten used to playing second and third fiddle to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle to a club of champions!

He proved he could do it. I believe he can do it again. The one crucial thing people don't realise is that when Arsene took over the reigns at Highbury, English football was a game for the purists and barring a few signings here and there, it wasn't yet contaminated by money and financial muscle. There was what Arsene likes to call, a level playing ground and with that, not even Fergie and his association could shake him. Arsene pretty much tramped Fergie season after season until one fateful day when a young rich Russian billionaire decided to buy a wee club near Arsenal A.K.A Chelsea. That day in my opinion is when pure English football died. [A moment of silence] 

What most people like to blame Arsene for is developing talents into world class players only to sell them on to the highest bidder. Little do they realize that this is not a trend that has recently began at Arsenal. Ever since Arsene joined Arsenal there have always been high profile departures from the Arsenal dressing room with Anelka leaving for Real Madrid, Overmars leaving for Barcelona and being replaced by the "mediocre and relatively unknown" Thierry Henry and Robert Pires. 

This system had always worked for Arsene and Arsenal as he still went on to make profits as well as win plenty of trophies as many other clubs went bankrupt and into massive debt while trying to keep up with us. My only problem with Arsene is that he is too stubborn to realize that in the current financial climate and player market it just isn't possible to nurture and grow talent while winning trophies simply because other clubs are just buying ready-to-use talent at high prices. All he is doing now is the equivalent of beating a dead horse. It's time to move on and embrace the change.

This brings me back to my title, what does Arsenal need? A change OF the manager OR a change IN the manager. As some of us may or may not know Arsene has turned down offers from the likes of Real Madrid, PSG, Brazil National team, French National team and many more where he'd earn a lot more than he does at Arsenal. Many teams would love to have Arsene at the helm of their reigns but can't. Some don't think he's trying but he himself said how painful it is to watch a player develop and have to sell him. Other managers have failed with money. We can't doubt the love and dedication he has for the club.

This is for the "Wenger Out" band - if we sack the manager of the decade, as voted for by his fellow managers, football writers and players, who the hell are we going to get to fill his boots? Guardiola?He's already of to Bayern and had to spend a lot on an already world class Barcelona squad to keep it at the lofty heights the football world is used to. I don't think anyone else would take over and keep the footballing philosophy that Arsene has worked so hard to build around the club which I'd like to believe is the main reason most of us became Arsenal fans in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way satisfied with what Arsenal has done over the past 7 years but with the board selling off Wenger's gems and money getting into their heads, I really can't blame him. He doesn't own the club and only acts as a scape goat as the money hungry board members line their pockets.

With rumours of a take over bid looming, I'm praying hard that what I'm hearing is true and that Kroenke is almost leaving us. This could open a new chapter for Arsenal with a partnership between Usmanov and the Qatar consortium leading Arsenal to new heights under the stewardship of the man in glasses and now the synonymous long sports jacket or as we still like to call him, Le Prof. Till next time, One Arsene Wenger! 


  1. george graham...1996..? what happened to bruce rioch?

  2. How can you take this article seriously when this reporter/blogger didn't know that Wenger replaced Rioch. Is he really an Arsenal fan?