Arsène Wenger was a revolutionary. When the Frenchman arrived at Arsenal in 1996, he raised the bar in many ways. But those days are long gone now and after 20 years in charge, it is starting to look like the end.
Wenger was ahead of his time. His training sessions placed extra emphasis on technical work, while there were recovery sessions and players were given strict diets. Such methods were new back then.
His excellent contacts across the game in France also allowed him to bring in many of the very best players from his homeland, including Patrick Viera, Emmanuel Petit, Robert Pirès and later Thierry Henry.
It was “boring, boring Arsenal” no more. In the late 1990s, Wenger changed the culture of an entire club – and also that of the Premier League.
The Frenchman has won three Premier League titles in his time in north London, but the last of those came in 2003-04. The Invincibles. There was also an appearance in the Champions League final in 2006, when the Gunners lost 2-1 to Barcelona in Paris.
But his second decade in charge has been much more modest. In that time, Wenger has led Arsenal to two FA Cups and two Community Shields. To his credit, however, he has steered the Gunners into the Champions League every single season since taking over.
Now, though, many of the fans have had enough. The 5-1 loss at home to Bayern Munich on Tuesday and a 10-2 aggregate defeat is the latest embarrassment for a team that still plays fine football but has too much of a soft centre these days.
Whereas Wenger used to bring in the best French players around, now he has only Olivier Giroud. His methods, meanwhile, are no longer revolutionary. Everybody else caught up and many have overtaken him.
The lack of leaders in the team, the manager’s stubbornness and insistence on signing the same type of players, plus the inability to compete when it matters most means it is probably time for a change. An increasing number of the supporters are fed up and the mood is sombre.
Arsenal are being strongly linked with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri as a successor for Wenger and the Italian would be an interesting signing for the Gunners. However, there is no guarantee of success.
Wenger has worked wonders on a smaller budget as Arsenal saved their funds to build The Emirates and also since then, taking the Gunners into the Champions League every year.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham have all missed out on qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition in recent years and it is only a matter of time before Arsenal fail to make it as well. Without Wenger, they may not.
The Frenchman has perhaps been a victim of his early success in north London. That is unlikely to be repeated now, but Arsenal’s budget is still smaller than many of their rivals (including Chelsea and the two Manchester teams), so while a coaching change is now needed to freshen things up, there is no guarantee the Gunners will win the big prizes once again – or even be any better than they are now.
The grass is not always greener on the other side.