Arsene's Arsenal: Wenger remains class act in a crass sports world

By Samuel Charles

The job security of Arsene Wenger  is once again front and center in London. With the Premier League title slipping through his fingers, again, and Arsenal headed for a 12th consecutive season without sipping the champagne of English champions, only one thing is certain, the Frenchman will not waver.

On Saturday, Ronnie McFall stepped down after nearly 30 years at the helm of Portadown in Northern Ireland, leaving Wenger as the longest serving coach in Europe. Hired in 1996, Wenger's reign at Arsenal dwarfs his Premier League peers, none of which has four seasons at their current club -- and 15 of the league’s 20 coaches were hired less than two years ago.

Does this dizzying game of musical chairs imply that Wenger is a 66-year-old dinosaur that should've been fired a long time ago?


It’s up to every institution to determine its own priorities, but shouldn’t the manner in which they behave factor into the merits of hiring and firing employees?

What is winning? Jose Mourinho’s churlish behavior found London’s tabloids eating out of his hands for years, with Wenger the butt of his best jokes, and the Portuguese one of the only men who could illicit boorish behavior from Wenger.

Mourinho would happily remind you he won three Premier League titles in five full seasons at Chelsea, while Wenger’s won three league titles in 19 years, with Arsene retorting he’s brought two decades of stability to Arsenal, juxtaposed with the chaos that has followed Jose’s success, while making seven coaching stops since 2000.

It would be overly simplistic to say that every fan of Chelsea favors winning at all costs, or to extend such generalizations across stereotypes of other Premier League clubs, leagues, or sports. Teams and fans are free to determine their own priorities, and they aren't always one and the same.

The sports world would be a boring place without characters like Mourinho, but I shudder to think what it would look like if all coaches and athletes were judged solely on results, with nuance-free conclusions by those with the loudest megaphones hard to refute in 140 characters or less.

Slumbering giant. Arsenal is a huge club. According to the Deloitte Football Money League, the Gunners’ Champions League game against Barcelona involved the highest ever combined revenues at this stage of the competition, at nearly $1.1 billion.

There is, it seems, annual disappointment over the fact high-priced stars aren't disembarking at The Emirates in droves, with mixed results from those who did. Mesut Ozil is one of the favorites for Player of the Year, after failing to justify his record price tag in his first two seasons, while Alexis Sanchez has disappointed this year after a scintillating first campaign in England.

Arsenal’s 16 straight years reaching the final 16 of the Champions League is a staggering achievement, but the glaring absence of a Champions League trophy, and no league title since 2004, is equally painful. And 2016 offers the frightening possibility of falling from title favorite just weeks ago, to finishing behind little Leicester City, and two lower-profile London rivals.

Falling in London. East London’s West Ham is currently fifth, under first-year coach Slaven Bilic, and just three points behind Arsenal. While Saturday's enthralling 2-2 draw between second-place Tottenham and third-place Arsenal, which included a red card for Francis Coquellin and spectacular goals from Aaron Ramsey and Harry Kane, saw the undermanned Gunners display the kind of grit and character that Arsenal seems to save for its annually exhilarating Champions League exits.

Arsenal’s been knocked out in the round of 16 by Monaco, AC Milan, Barcelona and Bayern Munich twice during the last five years, while being outscored by just three goals in 10 games.

Chelsea could reach the UCL quarterfinals in West London on Wednesday, by beating Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues snatching sunshine from the dark clouds of its early-season implosion while a fog remains over The Emirates would somehow make Wenger’s team failing to overturn a 2-0 deficit against the world's best in Barcelona next Wednesday more embarrassing.

Things could get worse, with injuries to Aaron Ramsey, Pers Mertesacker and Gabriel, Tuesday's 4-0 FA Cup win over Hull City came at great cost. The two defenders join Laurent Koscielny on the injured list, leaving no healthy bodies in central defense, which only increases the prospects of finishing behind Leicester, West Ham and Totenham.

With West Ham and Manchester City lurking, Arsenal’s Champions League berth is very much at risk -- but it all pales in comparison to the possible horror of watching its North London rival lift the trophy for the first time since 1961.

“And the ultimate nightmare would be for Tottenham to finish as champions instead. My God, I don’t even want to think about that possibility. It would be unbearable for all us Arsenal fans," Thierry Henry wrote for The Sun after Arsenal's loss to Swansea on Wednesday.

The annual circling of hungry wolves around Arsene's den is once again in full swing. Henry's name is among those circulating as possible successors for his former coach. The current favorite is another superstar from Arsenal's unbeaten Invincibles, 46-year-old Dennis Bergkamp, assistant at Ajax since 2011.

Perhaps it is time for a change at Arsenal, although considering Wenger's supposed shortcomings -- which include an aversion to pragmatism and winning at all costs -- it isn't readily apparent how hiring men who personified the fluidity, grace and style that Arsene’s always embraced will change the club’s culture, but perhaps that's entirely the point. (And Irish fans might question Henry’s sportsmanship).

People gravitate toward the Premier League like no other destination on earth, and Arsenal's popularity is no accident, whatever Forbes is currently valuing the club at, Arsene’s fingerprints are all over the profit margins.

With announcers constantly encouraging blokes in England to "have a hit" when they’re not putting in aimless crosses until the cows come home, or they trundle home a goal, whichever comes first, the Gunners of 'Le Professeur' have always been an oasis of beauty pursuing goals in a combat zone.

The man himself. On Monday Wenger addressed the latest speculation about his job security, and he wasn’t about to flinch after answering the same questions for years at a time.

"I'm not on Twitter, I don't invite anybody to go out for dinner with them. I work and work and work and work. If it's not good enough, somebody will tell me one day, that's all I can do. I do not worry what you say about me, or what fans say about me. I try to do my job in the proper way, and with full commitment. After that continue my job or not.”

For those who say Wenger would’ve been fired long ago if he hadn’t consistently offered intelligence and sportsmanship while his teams play attractive soccer, those qualities are in short supply, and I for one endorse teams including those attributes in equations attempting to weigh the pros and cons of hiring and firing.

That said, whether or not Wenger is coaching Arsenal next year isn’t my point, it’s the qualities he embodies that are to be respected, whether they’re found in coaches, in athletes, in sport, or in life.

Soccer is among the most democratic of sports, and in this beautiful game, that so often chases its own tail while calling it leadership, surely there’s room enough for billionaires, buffoons and introspection.

Regardless of where he is a year from now, analyzing a game he’s been involved with his whole life, or illuminating the impact of a recently deceased rock icon, no matter the context -- Arsene Wenger will remain a class act.

7 comments about "Arsene's Arsenal: Wenger remains class act in a crass sports world".
  1. Lou vulovich, March 9, 2016 at 8:48 a.m.

    As great of a coach and as much of a gentleman
    as Wenger has been through the years, he should get fired for the simple fact that Mertesacker is his starting center back and Giroud is his starting striker. How do you play Sanchez, Ozil, Cazorla,Ramsey with Giroud. Mertesacker the worst center back in the premier league.
    Class act for sure, and probably an amazing teacher of the game for young players, championship coach. Hardly.

  2. Wooden Ships, March 9, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.

    I can quibble slightly with Lou, in that player selection is and always will be subjective and style related. I watch pretty much watch any league given the chance. For my preference and history, I enjoy the Premiership fourth. I don't live or die with any particular team. My greatest hope is for our National teams. However, I will try to watch Arsenal because of Wenger. I appreciate his manners and the style his team plays. I'm glad he chose football as his vocation.

  3. Allan Lindh, March 9, 2016 at 11:38 a.m.

    Mertesacker was center back for last WC winner, if memory serves me well. And the Premier League winner is often the club with the fewest crucial injuries down the stretch.

  4. Lou vulovich, March 9, 2016 at 12:26 p.m.

    Let me correct you Allan, Germany started with Mertesacker and after two poor games, switched to Lamb, Hummels, Boeteng and Howedes. I guarantee you if Mertesacker had played the final
    Messi would have won his firs World Cup.

  5. ROBERT BOND, March 9, 2016 at 2:06 p.m.

    Lou, should go just for keeping Arteta & Rozicky....

  6. R2 Dad, March 9, 2016 at 7:01 p.m.

    Arsenal are one world-class player short of the title. In previous years they have been short 2 or 3. Their bench has always been light given the historical injury record of the squad. How many more years will Ozil, Cech et al wait around for Wenger to do the math? Perfect is the enemy of good; Wenger could go another 10 more years without winning the league or getting to the CL quarters. The main problem is his replacement won't get any of the patience afforded AW. See Fergie/Moyes.

  7. Robert Robertson, March 10, 2016 at 8:26 p.m.

    Aren't we forgetting the multimillionaires club who came on the scene over the last several years. Chelsea and Man City. etc. Arsene Wenger had to field a team after Man City had continuously raided the team. The Gooners are a wealthy club but not like Man City and Chelsea. I think he has done a great job in a much more difficult environment than his predecessors.

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