Will Arsenal see a Man United-like downfall after Arsene Wenger leaves?
Written by: Punit Tripathi
With the Frenchman set to leave at the end of the season, we look at the similarities and differences between Arsenal and rivals Manchester United.
Football, sleek and intuitive, is finally over in North London. Arsene Wenger has announced that he’ll step down as manager of Arsenal at the end of the season and it has evoked mixed feelings for fans, both at Arsenal and worldwide.
The Frenchman did not have equivalent success in the final stages of his timeline at Emirates Stadium, but journey-wise, the man has seen up-and-downs like no other manager in modern football history. His teams were synonymous and had a different Wenger-esque style of football about them, something the world will certainly miss.
His biggest contemporary and adversary, Sir Alex Ferguson led the tributes to the Frenchman saying, “Proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man.” Here, we take a look at the similarities in situations faced by Manchester United and Arsenal as their longest serving managers bid adieu.
The Red Devils had an ageing side but had won the Premier League, with Arsenal’s one-time go-to man Robin van Persie giving Ferguson the best farewell he could expect. The gaps, though, were clearly evident and haven’t been filled yet. Will Arsenal also follow suit?
Arsenal won the 2016–17 FA Cup, the last big trophy in Wenger’s bag. Let’s look at the current Arsenal team and the loopholes that it presents.
With Petr Cech still going strong and two years of good football left in him and David Ospina a capable option, the scenario under the bar looks bright. Matthew Ryan Macey and Dejan Iliev are no pushovers in their own right and have enough ability to fill in when the time arrives.
At 32 and 33 respectively, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker aren’t expected to be lightning fast. The German has been under the radar for his speed and his proximity to injuries. While Koscielny is still going strong, Shkodran Mustafi has done little to cement a spot in the playing XI, having already spent more than a season at the club.
While Nacho Monreal has matured well into a third centre-back, he is also on the wrong side of 30 and that must be a worrying situation for the board. Rob Holding is a promising defender, but has made his fair share of errors. Calum Chambers has been a disappointing outcome, after all the praise of his talent.
Sead Kolasinac has been a crowd favourite at Arsenal since he joined
On the left wing, Sead Kolasinac looks strong, and Monreal can fill in when needed. On the right, talk of Hector Bellerin’s transfer has died down and the Spaniard looks content to stay. Ainsley Maitland-Niles looked comfortable replacing him earlier this season, showing there’s no cause for concern there.
Thus, it is the central defence that looks shallow for Arsenal. While Mustafi is a capable ball-player and Holding is proving his worth, Chambers, the only other young option hasn’t lived up to his billing. West Bromwich Albion look keen to sign him and the move could only help the Gunners.
Futuristically, this is the main area of concern for the North London club. With Santi Cazorla and his injury problems not regressing and Granit Xhaka still ‘adapting’ to the Premier League, a lot falls on the shoulders of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Wilshere’s love for the treatment table is not unknown and Ramsey is a better #8 than a #6. Mohamed Elneny did burst onto the scene right but has not really set the grass on fire since.
Cazorla will turn 34 midway into the next season and expecting the man who’s returning from a long injury lay-off to control the midfield, while also playing the destroyer is too much to ask. While Cazorla’s dedication and ball-playing is under no doubt, his physical abilities remain under the scanner.
The former Dortmund duo were reunited at Arsenal
If there’s one thing the incoming Arsenal manager would be looking at and smiling, it would be the team’s attack. With Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan calling the shots behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, no opposition can call itself safe at the prospect of facing the quartet, if they’re groomed right. With Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi on the sidelines, the FA Cup dominance looks set to continue.
Arsenal cannot fall further, because they are already experiencing a low by their high standards. There's no question of the quality of the side, barring the defensive unit. If the incoming manager rallies his troops well, he can change mindsets and help this team turn into something stronger than what Wenger created, but will need to drop/tweak the playing style, suiting the needs of the Premier League and the Champions League, as and when the Gunners make a comeback to European football's top table.
What next for Wenger?
The man, if not by his trophy haul, will certainly be happy with the kind of football his teams play. Wenger holds the record of being an ‘invincible’ in the Premier League, the only time a team has gone undefeated in England’s top division from 1888 to the present. Wenger will now, expectedly, look for calm and peace and will nurture youngsters in his home country, and AS Monaco look like his soulmate waiting for him to make a comeback.
Under Leonardo Jardim, the club has played youth football with a streak of uncanniness, brevity with responsibility on youngsters. Wenger, who has previously managed at the Stade Louis II, is one of the best groomers of young talent and can make best use of players like Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Keita Balde, Youri Tielemans and Adama Traore, added with the power and experience of Radamel Falcao and others.
Nicknamed 'The Professor,' Wenger has been known to promote youth throughout his career
In the last 15-odd years, Wenger has unearthed French talents like Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires. Back home, he’s certain to contribute more to the already booming French football, which currently boasts of an abundance in talent.
The change in the footballing scenario on the whole
As long as most modern football fans remember, Wenger was the last name and flag-bearer of managerial loyalty. The story ends here. The Premier League has lost one more of its gifted possessions, and its not Wenger, it is his 22-year old association with a romantic football club. Modern football has stopped expecting long associations at the top level and turning back the pages will be tough in the times to come.
For Wenger, getting into a cycle of changing clubs looks improbable. The man would likely go to a club in his country, manage it, groom national talents and will fade away silently. The world will mourn, football will mourn as players and competitors vouch for the quality the man brought onto the pitch. Parti mais pas oublié, Wenger, Arsenal fans would agree.
Published: Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:23 PM IST