The Oberlin Review

Arsenal FC Loses Wenger, Manager of 22 Years

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After 22 years of managing Arsenal Football Club and providing the club with some of its most successful and memorable years to date, the sun is finally setting on Arsène Wenger’s career. Last week, Wenger announced to the public that he was leaving the club after the season finishes, marking the end of one of the most well-known managerial careers of all time. Regardless of the discourse revolving around his departure — much of which centered on whether his leave was overdue — it is necessary to sing the praises of a man who did so much for English and international soccer during one of the last tenured managerial careers seen today.

When crunching the numbers, Wenger’s success is obvious. He managed 1,229 games for Arsenal, winning 705, drawing 279, and only losing 245. Under his leadership, the team scored 2,285 goals and conceded only 1,219. Wenger has also brought in trophies, winning three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups, and five FA Community Shields. These feats are noteworthy, but actually fall short when compared to the profound changes Wenger has more broadly evoked in soccer.

When Wenger was originally hired by Arsenal, British soccer players and managers predominantly composed the English Soccer League. Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United, once asked, “What does [Wenger] know about English football, coming from Japan?” in reference to Wenger’s previous coaching stint. Wenger, who is French himself, signed a handful of international players like Frenchmen Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit, and Patrick Vieira, and Dutchman Marc Overmars. The international influence subsequently shook up the league and later defied critics when Arsenal claimed the 1998 FA Cup and proved their worth. Nowadays, the League is one of the most diverse in the world — and of course this is in part due to Wenger.

Even though he has seemed to favor enlisting international talent — at one point establishing a starting roster that did not have a single British player on the field — Wenger does not have a preference for international players. Rather, he has a commitment to signing good players in general; he has a keen eye without considering nationality a part of the criteria of a player, and ignoring English nationalist mentalities. In response to the critics of this school of thought, Wenger said, “We represent a football club which is about values, and not passports.”

Wenger also changed the style of play that Arsenal implemented under his leadership. When he joined Arsenal in 1996, the football club was considered a boring team to watch. Their old-school tactic was to equally distribute attention all across the pitch, making both defense and offense stable in numbers and ensuring strength at all times throughout the match. Wenger forwent this idea and elected a style that implemented speedy attack at the expanse of a vulnerable defensive effort. By keeping possession in the opponent’s half and structuring themselves to dominate the effort by numbers, Wenger managed a team that not only won, but was entertaining.

With that, it is understandable why Wenger was able to keep his position for so long, especially when managers are now just as disposable as used tissues. Some teams go through as many as three managers a season if their club is not meeting their ownership’s standards, but Wenger had the faith of his spectators and employers.

Wenger’s legacy as a manager both on and off the field is why it is upsetting to know he is likely departing from the club to avoid being fired. After the past couple of seasons, Arsenal has struggled — struggling only by Arsenal’s standards, which is by no means struggling by general standards. But they do not look like the Arsenal the world of soccer has come to know so well under the controlling hand of Wenger. Even Nick Hornby, author of Fever Pitch — a collection of essays entirely devoted to the glory of Arsenal FC — believes the future of the club is in better hands with Wenger gone. But his attitude is surprisingly valid, and the attitude I think all admirers of Arsenal FC and Arsène Wenger should take on: Hornby explains in an article written for ESPN that “there will never be a better Arsenal manager and there will never be a smarter or more likeable one,” but Wenger’s legacy does not serve as reasoning for his staying at Arsenal or for the future of the club to be compromised without him.

I began watching Arsenal in 2010, four years after the most successful season of Wenger’s career and well into the decline that has led to his departure. Even though I missed his heyday, I still grew to love the team and their distinctive style. I owe Wenger several years of the joy of waking up on Sunday mornings to watch Arsenal play some of the prettiest soccer I’ve ever seen. While I understand the reasoning for his decision to exit the club, I can’t imagine a future Arsenal team without Wenger on the sidelines.

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