Arsene Wenger’s comments at the recent Arsenal AGM were really interesting. The Frenchman touched on the possibility of leaving the Gunners, mentioning ‘that is for me very important that I leave the club in the shape that the guy who comes after me can do better.’
Interesting comments, and sentiments that can’t help but give a glimpse to the future. Wenger’s successor will walk into a job where everything is ready for them.
The stadium is a burden Wenger himself has almost personally accepted responsibility for. With the worst over, it is beginning to offer substantial returns such that the future of the club is secure. Cash reserves are large, and the club is in a position to compete financially. The wage structure at the club is shifting gradually as well, to accommodate the cream of the crop.
The training facilities are right out of the top drawer as well. Wenger’s famous sale of Anelka (bought for £500,000 and sold for £23 million) took care of the initial overhaul, and the facilities are currently second only to the like of Manchester City’s new mega-complex.
The academy, which has promised so much for so long, is in fine shape. The introduction of Andries Jonker as well as the acquisition of Thierry Henry on his coaching badges seems to be doing the trick. Academy hopefuls such as Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom are enjoying prosperous loan spells while other gems are developing well at home, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Krystian Bielik and Alex Iwobi chief among them.
Perhaps two of the biggest myths Wenger has busted recently have been signings and trophies. The captures of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech have opened up new horizons for anybody incoming at Arsenal; this is a club which can attract world-class talent. Two FA Cups have removed any doubts that Wenger has lost the mentality to win.
Anybody who comes to Arsenal next will find it all set up for them to win. Pep Guardiola’s contract at Bayern is up this summer. Should he leave and take a year out like he did after Barcelona, his availability would synchronise perfectly with Wenger’s current contract running out in 2017. A Guardiola appointment could perfectly convert Wenger’s kingdom into an all-conquering side, but if this is the case, why are Arsenal still waiting?
Arsene has been through the mill with the stadium scenario. Having watched Mourinho’s 2005 vintage Chelsea blow Arsenal out of the water, he carefully and meticulously built a budget side capable of challenging for the title. Let this be considered in the knowledge that the ‘Invincibles’, arguably the greatest domestic team ever to grace Britain, were reportedly days from going unpaid.
Wenger enjoyed title aspirations in 07/08 as well as 10/11, but ultimately his sides came up short. Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor jumped ship during that period, but the most traumatising of summers came at the beginning of the 2011/12 season. With Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri departing, Wenger’s careful work was undone and, with the business concluded so late in the window, Arsenal’s hand was forced into a transfer deadline day of chaos. Andre Santos, Yossi Benayoun, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker were hastily brought in, and Wenger’s mission became simply to preserve top four status.
Times have changed and Arsenal are now a team ready to challenge at the top again. Signings such as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker are experienced Arsenal heads now. The club has identity and maturity again, and not a little stardust with Alexis Sanchez a bargain at £35 million and Mesut Ozil fully settled. Others such as Theo Walcott are reaching their prime, while young breakthrough players Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin add vibrancy and desire. Petr Cech could well be Wenger’s RvP.
So where does all this leave Arsene? A European Cup is all but written off by the fans. With the recent domination of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s as much as we can do to have a good time in the group stage, although it would be nice to see Wenger reach the business end one more time. Of more realistic ambition is the Premier League.
Arsenal are entering the twilight of Wenger’s era; a period of romance which dictates Wenger be given the chance to end his career with Arsenal on top in the manner of Alex Ferguson. The next manager will come, but for now a Premier League title would surely be one of Wenger’s greatest achievements; to have taken Arsenal back to the top again; his crowning glory.