At any other club, Arsenal’s form this season would have seen the manager removed. But Arsenal aren’t like any other club.
One of the things I resent Arsene Wenger for the most is the way he makes me feel about him. Sure, it’s probably not fair to blame someone I’ve never met for how I feel about their existence as Arsenal manager, but the fact is, the longer he holds on and the worse things get, the more fans feel compelled to take firmer action to get him to leave and I don’t want to not like him. I want him to go while I still do. But he won’t, will he?
I get that fans of most other clubs see Arsenal fans as spoilt little brats. We just made another final – our fourth in five years. Some fans can’t even dare to dream of four finals in their lifetime, let alone in half a decade. And we won three of them too, in a competition far bigger than Sunday’s League Cup.
We’re also in Europe, albeit at the kiddies table, with a glamour tie between two old Giants and a chance of picking up another piece of silverware that also comes with the gilded carrot of Champions League qualification.
But for fans of Arsenal, none of this means anything.
Since the move to the Emirates, fans have watched the gradual slide of a once great manager who has found it harder and harder each season to compete with teams the stadium move was meant to bring us level with.
Spurs and Liverpool have finally got their act together. Chelsea are still a bit all over the place, but they won the league last year. Manchester United are a disgrace of a footballing team under Jose Mourinho, but he has them on course to finish second and has already won a load of trophies despite stinking the place up. Manchester City are, of course, on a different planet altogether and that’s not *solely* down to money, even if that is a big part of it.
Common sense tells you that, when this season ends without a trophy or Champions League qualification, the manager should step aside or be shoved. Arsenal don’t want to do the latter, respectful as they rightfully are of what Wenger has done for the club since he arrived. There is no denying we would not be quite so spoilt had it not been for the Frenchman.
But allowing him to stay now out of a sense of loyalty means undoing all the good he has done. No manager has won more for the club or done more to lift it in the eyes of the global footballing world, but when he finally leaves, he risks departing a club sitting level in the league with where they were when Bruce Rioch was sacked.
Arsenal were 12th when George Graham was shown the door. Rioch had one season with the club and guided them to fifth before he was ushered out too.
Fifth, for Arsenal at present, is eight points away – the same number Burnley are behind us. We have a game in hand on both, but given that’s against City, it’s safe to assume we will still be eight points away from both by 10pm on Thursday night.
Arsenal are on track to register 63 points in the league this season. That’s 12 worse than last season and it was supposed to serve as a ‘catalyst for change’ this. Wenger has never collected fewer than 68 points in a full season in charge at Arsenal.
Wenger’s points tally is actually quite consistent over his tenure, but as he has slowly slid backwards, the teams around Arsenal have taken leaps ahead – the same sort of leaps the Emirates was meant to afford us.
Defeat on Thursday won’t bring the sack for Wenger and all the noise from people who know more about this than me seems to indicate that the club will allow Wenger to see out the contract they never should have given him, out of respect for what he has done for the club.
Those hoping that the club will cancel his contract or that the manager will break from a lifetime tradition and walk away from one are going to find themselves disappointed when the summer rolls around.
Arsenal have changed the players. They’ve changed the formation, the assistant manager, the transfer negotiator and the chief scout.
At the rate they are going, they’ll change Gunnersaurus next before moving on to the tea lady.
Anything but face the fact that they are letting 20 years of building be destroyed by the very man they revere for building it in the first place.