Put the pitchforks back in the sheds. Lay down the torches. And the #WengerOut signs too.
In a month — come exhilarating Europa League victory in Lyon or a soul-crushing sixth place finish in the Premier League — Arsene Wenger will be gone from Arsenal. For good. For better, or for worse.
Just where Wenger goes from here is a matter of much fascination at this moment. But even more intriguing is how Arsenal go about replacing a man who has defined them in the Premier League era.
You may disagree with how long his reign at the London club lasted, differ over whether he damaged his legacy at the club by sticking around for as long as he did and not see eye to eye with the ‘Arsene Knows Best’ brigade, but one thing you’ll have to admit is that Wenger’s love for the club was unparalleled. Linked multiple times to the glamourous hotseat at Real Madrid, Wenger chose, always, to stick around at the library that was Highbury (and the Emirates Stadium after that).
When he came, he revolutionised English football, not just Arsenal. As he leaves, it’ll signal the end of an era. For, Wenger really was the last of a kind — his 21-year reign at Arsenal feels like a long marriage in the age of Tinder. Romantic, yet outdated.
In the time Wenger has been at Arsenal, over at Tottenham Hotspur a few kilometres away, 12 men have sat on the manager’s throne — the longest reigns belonging to Harry Redknapp (2008-2012) and current manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has been around since 2014.
At Chelsea, too, 12 managers have walked majestically into Stamford Bridge. Incredulously, Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink have done so twice. Liverpool (seven managers since 1996) and Manchester City (nine) have also seen their fair share of managerial upheavals in the time Wenger made his way to London from Japan. Only United have seen four managers since 1996, but that stat relies heavily on the longevity of another managerial doyen, Sir Alex Ferguson.
While many Arsenal fans will perhaps be giddy with the thought of what the post-Wenger era brings with it, it may be prudent to look at what has happened at United in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson leaving. In David Moyes and Louis van Gaal’s two seasons at the club, results suffered while silverware was at a bare minimum. Only with Mourinho’s arrival has some semblance of familiarity resumed at Old Trafford.
Wenger, if nothing else, brought stability to the Gunners. No buying and selling of players at the drop of a hat. That reassurance could evaporate with him walking out the door. Sans him, and under a new manager who will undoubtedly be expected to deliver from the word ‘Go’, expect the Gunners to be ruthless and pragmatic. But the romance will be dead.
In an old interview with BBC, Wenger was once asked what he would do once he steps down. “I’ll buy a season ticket and go to the games. I’ll become a normal fan in red and white and hope that Arsenal win on Saturday,” he famously said.
In his 104-word statement as he announced his departure on Friday, three lines stood out: “I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club. My love and support forever.”
Arsenal head into an era tinged with giddy possibilities as well as daunting uncertainties. The new manager may or may not take the Gunners to the promised land. If he does, it is likely there will be no one happier than Wenger. If he does not, you know where the pitchforks are!
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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 23:53:50 IST