English Premiership

‘He’s the Robert Mugabe of Arsenal’

2017-03-26 06:21
LOST HIS TOUCH: Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger has been walking the tightrope for some time due to bad performances by his charges. (Nigel French, Empics Sport)

Johannesburg - The problem with football coaches is that they are not wine, so the notion that they get better with age – as does a bottle of good wine – does not hold the same sway.

Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger is 67 – well past the retirement age in most professions.

But having been with the Gunners since 1996, the Frenchman has become something of an institution at the club, and institutions seldom just move aside and make room for something new. In more cases than not, they have to be pushed aside.

Recent games

And that’s exactly what is happening as fans have publicly started to call for Wenger to leave at the end of the season, with banners and placards proclaiming All Good Things Must Come to an End – Wenger Out being displayed at recent games.

Fans even went so far as to crowdfund a plane that flew over the Hawthorns during their 3-1 defeat last weekend against West Brom with a banner flying behind it that said: “No New Contract #WengerOut”.

Long-time supporter Dave Murray summed up what many fans are thinking: “The writing is in the air and on the wall, and it is in banners. The only person who can’t see it is Wenger himself.

“Rather than get the respectful and emotional send-off he deserves after 21 years of excellent service, Wenger risks taking his relationship with the Wenger Out brigade to a new low,” Murray said.

Another fan was filmed outside the Emirates and brought an African angle to the ongoing Wenger debacle.

“I used to live in Zimbabwe and I’ve watched President Robert Mugabe ruin the country. Wenger is doing the same. He’s the Mugabe of Arsenal.”

But it is not only the fans who have questioned Wenger’s reluctance to leave the club. A few days ago former Chelsea and England striker Chris Sutton, who is now a television pundit, said Wenger was like the “uncle who doesn’t want to leave the party”.

Best sides

However, the manager has received some backing, with former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who had two stints at the club under Wenger, saying that the fans were being disrespectful to the manager.

He might have a point because there has been plenty of success in the past.

Among the Premier League clubs, only Arsenal can look back at a run of 20 consecutive Champions League appearances, and no other coach has won the FA Cup more often than Wenger has – six times.

And that, of course, is not his only success.

He has won the Premier League title three times and the Community Shield six times. His championship-winning team of 2003/04, which went unbeaten throughout the season, is still considered one of the best sides in English football history.

En route to the title, they beat Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 games without defeat. Between May 2003 and October 2004, they were undefeated for an astonishing 49 matches.

With all these accolades, why are fans calling time-out on Wenger’s long – and clearly – successful career?

Embarrassing defeat

Undeniably, the Holy Grail in European club football is the Champions League. The Premier League title comes a close second in England. It is here that Wenger has failed to deliver, at least in Arsenal’s recent history.

The last Premier League title dates back to 2004. In 2006, the club made it to the final of the Champions League, but they lost to Barcelona.

After winning the league in 2004, they finished second in 2005, but, since then, they have not really put in a consistent challenge to lift another title.

What makes the situation worse for the fans is that the Gunners often start the season like a house on fire, but their title challenge would fizzle out as the season enters the new year.

The same seems to be happening this time around. They have lost four of the nine Premier League matches they have played this year. This has seen them slip down to sixth in the league, and they are in danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 1997/98 season.

Next season

To add insult to injury, they suffered an embarrassing defeat in the last 16 round of the Champions League by being beaten 5-1 by Bayern Munich home and away for a 10-2 aggregate defeat.

That notwithstanding, the American club owners have offered Wenger a two-year contract extension, and media reports throughout England suggest that he has taken up the offer.

However, neither Wenger nor the club have confirmed (or denied) the reports.

This means that, should he be at the club next season, he will be facing protests from the word go.

It could well be that the only way to bring fans back onto Wenger’s side would be for him to bring them the league title – a success they have craved since 2004.

Read more on:    arsenal fc  |  arsène wenger  |  johannesburg  |  soccer
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