Arsenal fans who argue that Arsene Wenger should not be sacked can only come up with one reason – “He’s our most successful manager ever”. Others might also point to his unearthing of talents like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. The theme here? It’s all stuff from an increasingly long time ago.
Wenger himself resorted to this sort of petty, defensive attitude today when explaining the inexplicable decision to take off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, our best player against Manchester United.
He said: “I’ve been a manager for 30 years and have made 50,000 substitutions. I do not have to justify every decision I make.
“I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work, but he had started to fatigue.
“You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who’s captain of his country and they are querying the substitution? Let’s be serious.”
So there we have it. Wenger is the expert and the fans know nothing. How about your captain, Arsene? Van Persie was another who was visibly annoyed at the decision, a player who is crying out for other good players to provide him with assists.
Just as the team was really finding some momentum, mostly provided by Chamberlain, Wenger took the lively and exciting youngster off for Arshavin, a player who hasn’t provided anything in most games this season. To say it cost us the game would be a bit far-fetched, as we are always prone to a) missing easy chances and b) giving away stupid goals, but just as we were getting on top of United, Wenger removed a key component of that domination.
Was he really fatigued or at risk of injury? Considering he has hardly played this season I imagine he should be full of energy. Compare that with Arshavin, who plays at limping pace. I just don’t think that’s a good enough excuse, and I think Wenger knows it, which is why he is clingint to his “I have been a manager for 30 years” line.
If Arsenal fans think Wenger is still a great manager, then maybe George Graham is still a great manager? Maybe Liam Brady would still be a great midfielder? No. People change, and people can lose it. People can crack under the pressure, or people can become complacent, and believe their past success excuses their mistakes now and will somehow make everything right again.
Wenger is not perfect. Even when his start at Arsenal was beyond his and everyone’s wildest dreams he made mistakes. And now, having cleared out positive influences and old heads in the dressing room, he has a bigger job to do and is not up to it.
One positive is that he made a bold decision and started Chamberlain today. Perhaps this means we will see more of him. But can you be sure that under Wenger he won’t just stop doing what comes naturally, and pick a cowardly pass back or sideways over a run, trick or shot?
The list of talented-looking players that have gone backwards under Wenger surely now excedes those who have come from nowhere and flourished. At first he brought us Vieira, Petit, Anelka, Ljungberg, Pires and Henry, but in recent years he has brought us Eboue, Denilson, Walcott, Squillaci, Almunia, and Diaby. Not only that, he’s stuck with them through YEARS of repeated mediocrity.
It’s time for everyone to start living in the present. Wenger is no longer a manager who delivers great players or trophies. The way things are looking at the moment, he’s not even a manager who delivers Champions League football.
We did not sign up for some failed youth project. In 2004 we were in a very good position to dominate English football for years to come and we threw it away. Thanks for the memories, and thanks for moving us to a brilliant new stadium, but we didn’t move here to finish 5th.
For more of my thoughts on Arsenal and other football, follow me on Twitter @markbrus