Arsene Wenger was probably Arsenal’s greatest ever manager (and certainly the best since Herbert Chapman).
And his influence on the club persists long after the man himself exited the building stage left, fiddling with the zipper on his puffer jacket.
Indeed I have a theory that the ghost of Arsene is currently playing a significant role in keeping Unai Emery secure in his position, even though our head coach has a recent record that’s patchier than Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant.
It’s all about psychological conditioning. Cast your mind back to the time when Bruce Rioch was let go as Arsenal manager and replaced by a man of whom few if any of us had heard.
It wasn’t “Arsene Who?” for long. In quick succession he became:
“Arsene Wow” (winning the Double in his second season).
Then “Arsene Knows” (as he piled success upon success with a team that was a joy to watch).
After that it was “Trust Arsene” (when the money dried up after the stadium move but he somehow kept us competitive for years while spending net zero on transfers).
Finally it was “Arsene Why?” (as the money taps started flowing again but the long awaited success in the Premier League did not).
His time at our club was like a marriage: a long-term relationship filled with love, togetherness, shared triumphs, crushing disappointments and, finally, a cooling of ardour and a parting of ways.
But the important thing in today’s context is not the emotions, but the sheer length of time the relationship lasted. As Arsene’s tenure rolled deep into its second decade (almost unprecedented in the modern game) we fans took great pride in the stability of our club.
Not for us the casual casting off of managers as if they were fashionable training shoes: one minute a must have accessory, the next dangling by their laces over a telephone cable on the Holloway Road. We could laugh at the shenanigans at clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and the N17 miscreants, not to mention Manchester United after Fergie’s retirement.
Those other clubs displayed characteristics we were glad not to share: disloyalty, capriciousness, impatience, ungratefulness, a type of mercenary shallowness. While the likes of Ancelotti, Rogers, Di Mateo, Hughes, Pellegrini, Hodgson, Redknapp, Hiddink and Benitez came and went through the revolving doors, Arsene Wenger remained a permanent fixture. And that’s something we were proud of (rightly so).
Many younger fans grew up knowing only the Arsenal of Arsene and for us older ones, the days of George Graham (and his playing style) seemed an age ago.
In psychology there is a concept of conditioned behaviour. When things have always been a certain way, we have a tendency to believe that that is how they will (and should) always be in the future. We have conditioned ourselves to close our minds to change.
in our case, we have become so used to being a club that sticks with managers through thick and thin that even now we are more reluctant than supporters at other clubs to call time on a head coach who is just not cutting the Colmans. Loyalty to our manager has become a virtue we’ve embraced and now we feel duty bound to embrace it further.
The serious doubts about Emery should really have started during and after the capitulation at the end of last season, but for most of us the instinct was to make excuses: “He hasn’t had a proper transfer window yet… these are not really his players… it’s his first season in a new league… he’s just beginning to get to grips with the language…”
They are all legitimate points, but they were influenced by the fact that we just don’t see ourselves as a club that might sack a manager after only a season. We would rather rationalise away obvious shortcomings than see our club behave in a way we have criticised at other clubs.
If Emery’s first season at Arsenal had been replicated at, let’s say, Chelsea or Manchester United, he would likely have been out on his shell-like in the summer. Just look at what has happened at Bayern Munich this week.
But that’s not the Arsenal way, so here he still is, making the same mistakes, continuing with the same brand of joyless and shapeless football, persevering with players in roles that don’t suit them (Granit Xhaka being Exhibit A).
The tide is beginning to turn against Emery among supporters now, although it’s clear that we are doing it with a heavy heart. We don’t want to be another Chelsea but, reluctantly, many of us are coming to the conclusion that we would rather change the habits of a (recent) lifetime than see things descend into a vicious spiral where results and performances continue to deteriorate, causing us to miss out on the top four and for our world class players to up sticks and leave.
I take no pleasure in saying that it’s probably time for change and time for a new head coach.
As I said in comments the other day, if the club sticks with Emery and he proves me wrong I’ll be all over that humble pie like Phil Dowd in a doughnut factory.
There is a French saying that goes “le plus ca change le plus c’est la meme chose.” It means “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” But like many things French, it’s all cockeyed. The real problem is that “le plus c’est le meme chose, le plus c’est le meme chose,” (“the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same”).
As another Frenchman once said: “At some clubs success is accidental. At Arsenal it is compulsory.”
The speaker was Arsene Wenger of course. And If he’s right, then the time for the club to act is fast approaching.