You are never able to change what has happened. What Arsene Wenger accomplished from 1996 to 2006 can never be taken away from him. The impact he had on English football in the same time period, can never be taken away from him.
You will never be able to erase the double he won in his first full season as Arsenal manager in 1997-98. You will never be able to take away the double achieved in 2001-02. You will never be able to take away the greatest ever season from a team in English football history (domestically speaking) with the fames Invincibles of 2003-04. Nobody will ever take away his phenomenal record in the FA Cup, being the joint record holder of trophies in the competition.
History will never be rewritten to eliminate the multitude of fantastic players that Arsene Wenger has signed at Arsenal. Long after he’s gone many Arsenal fans will still remember the fantastic run to the Champions League final in 2006 which culminated in the most heartbreaking experience in my sporting fandom.
He has won 9 trophies at Arsenal, 15 if you decide the Community Shield is a trophy (which I believe it is).
But the time period from 2007 to 2017 has been dire. For years we made excuses about the finances but we had squads and teams good enough to win trophies. Many of us appreciated Wenger’s commitment and work during the “financial restraint” years and many of us that stood by him during that time are increasingly being made to look like idiots. Many in the Wenger out camp have screamed for years that he is out of touch with the modern game and not fit enough to lead us to a period of success again.
Many of us, naively or not, believed that Wenger would take us back to being a competitive team again. Many of us, naively or not, pointed to the 2014 FA Cup win and subsequent drubbing of City in the Community Shield of the same year as evidence we were moving forward. After signing Ozil in 2013, we ended our long trophy drought in 2014 and brought in Alexis Sanchez. The 2014-15 season was as optimistic as I can ever remember Arsenal fans being for a season. We beat City handily, we were reigning FA Cup winners, we had just added the world class Sanchez to our squad. Yet before Christmas we were out of the title race. Eliminated at the same stage of the CL as previous seasons and finished off with our traditional no pressure rally that had us finishing third.
But the optimism has almost been eliminated from every single reasonable Arsenal fan.
We can’t change what has already happened. Therefore we can never take away from Wenger what he has accomplished here. But the facts are the facts, he has been a failure at Arsenal for a longer period than he has been a success. His first 10 years were a success. The subsequent 10 years have not been and by the end of this season it would have been 11 years since that Champions League final.
The 11 years since that final have yielded so many embarrassing moments.
8-2 at Old Trafford. Shipping 5 and 6 away to Liverpool and Chelsea. Being embarrassed by European elites. The League Cup final debacle. Finishing third in a two horse race for the title. Bottling the title race at Birmingham away in 07-08. Giving Gallas the captaincy. Selling RVP to Manchester United. Getting rid of Fabregas and Nasri in the same summer. And an honourable mention must go to our team having gone from being the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch in the country to a team barely capable of stringing together a cohesive performance let alone one that’s easy on the eye.
And now we have to ask ourselves, has Wenger damaged his legacy? He has become a laughing stock to so many and a figure of derision to many in our own fan base.
He is the club’s greatest manager. But equally, he has also led us through a period that I can only describe as sustained failure.
Wenger is in a position now where had had he left Arsenal at any period from 2006 to around 2010, he would have been heralded as one of the games greats. But to so many he is no longer someone who can be seen as one of the games greats. To be a failure for as long as you have been a success seems a damning criticism to our club legend but Wenger has outstayed his welcome by far too many years now. And you can’t help but feel the guarantee of a heavy salary and being able to operate the club under his own terms and conditions since the departure of David Dein have played a massive part of him staying for so long.
Wenger has turned Arsenal into his own vanity project. He abandoned the very principles that made him successful and his teams now barely seem like a functioning unit. For a man who has produced two of the finest footballing squads in the countries history (the 02-05 team and the 07-08 team played some of the best football we have seen as Arsenal fans), he has taken us so far in the wrong direction that I fear it will take years to get us out of this rut.
The club from top to bottom has Wenger’s philosophy ingrained within it. His vanity project has failed. Wenger has failed.
But has he damaged his legacy? And if so, by how much?
For me, he is a club legend but no longer a managerial great.