For the first time in two decades, Arsenal hasn’t finished in the top four in the English Premier League. All of those seasons have come under the management of Arsene Wenger, the longest tenured manager in the league by a huge margin.
For the casual soccer fan, top four doesn’t mean a ton. But finishing the league’s season in one of the first four spots guarantees a place in the next season’s Champions League, an intercontinental tournament pitting the best teams from all over Europe against each other during the course of the domestic season. And being in this tournament means all the difference in the world for teams.
It impacts transfers, as all the best players want to be part of the competition. It impacts the financial bottom line, with big TV revenue and extra ticket sales for matches against Europe’s best. And it impacts the fans, who want to count their club against Europe’s best.
Arsenal’s fans have been on the fence with Wenger this season. Fans have commissioned planes to fly over Arsenal matches with anti-Wenger banners and with pro-Wenger banners, even at the same match.
For all their troubles, Arsenal fans should give Wenger at least one more season.
This season isn’t a complete failure for Wenger. They’re in the FA Cup final, so there’s still some silverware to play for. And finishing fifth by one point in a top-heavy Premier League is disappointing, but with the introduction of other successful managers like Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool and Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, that top four competition is pretty fierce.
All of these teams have replaced managers several times over the last few seasons under different circumstances. Some were trying to get back to being competitive and others replaced managers because they didn’t win the whole league. Granted, Wenger hasn’t won the league since the 2003-2004 season.
But part of Arsenal’s charm is that they aren’t a Manchester City or a Chelsea. They don’t replace managers on a whim and one season falling short of the team’s goals. It’s hard to be patient while fans see Arsenal’s rivals changing managers and knocking the Gunners out of the top four.
Arsenal is Wenger. His cast has changed immensely through the years. But one bad finish over 20 seasons really shouldn’t mean the end of an era after all that he’s done for the Arsenal.
This summer will be a challenge for Wenger or whoever might replace him. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez look certain to leave over the summer. They’ve been vital for Arsenal in recent seasons. Allowing anyone other than Wenger to rebuild the team and make them competitive again would be a shame.
And if anyone other than Wenger is in charge next season, it’s not a guarantee that Arsenal will play the way Wenger has for the last 20 seasons. Perhaps his greatest credit is that Wenger always goes for it. He never sits back to defend. He teaches his players to play creative, attacking soccer that is anything but boring. That could all go with a new manager.
No matter how badly some want a change at Arsenal, the change might not be for the best. Not for the club, not for the players and not for the fans.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that.”
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