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    Arsène Wenger: Legacy of Success or Failure?

    As Arsène Wenger comes into what may be the final year of his 21 year career at Arsenal, he probably wishes Jose Mourinho never uttered the phrase 'specialist in failure'. At the time, Mourinho was referring to the fact that Wenger hadn't won a trophy with Arsenal since the 2005 FA Cup (they have since won back to back FA Cups in 2014 and 2015). 

    It provokes an interesting question however, has Wenger lived off his past successes for too long and allowed Arsenal to stagnate? Or does his record justify the Arsenal hierarchy's continued faith in the Frenchman?

    Wenger has found himself in the firing line from Arsenal fans in recent years

    He has been in charge at Arsenal for almost twenty years, having officially taken charge in October 1996 and led the club to the league and cup double in 1998, becoming the first foreign manager to do so. Many of Arsenal's rival players and managers have since admitted that they consider this side to be Arsenal's greatest, with both Gary Neville and Sir Alex Ferguson claiming that no side in Premier League history had such balance. With a solid defence built upon Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon and Winterburn, Vieira and Petit running their midfield alongside the width and creativity of Overmars and Parlour, and then Bergkamp and Anelka heading the attack it is hard to argue with them.

    Early success continued to come to Arsenal and Wenger, and only Manchester United's unique treble side stopped them from a consecutive double in 99', however a second double did follow in the 2001/02 season in a team supplemented by the additions of Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg. The 2003/04 season brought perhaps Wenger's greatest achievement - the invincibles. They won the league and remained unbeaten throughout the entire season, a feat that had only been achieved once previously in 1889 by Preston North End.

    Arsenal would again win the FA Cup again in 2005 against arch rivals Manchester United, but it was from this point that things began to go downhill for Wenger. The club sold captain Patrick Vieira to Juventus, citing the emergence of Cesc Fabregas as the reason, however selling their main players would become a similar sight in the coming years. The club ended their final season at Highbury by making it to the Champions League final for the first time, but came up short against Barcelona. They have not made the final again since. 

    Many people have criticised the club for prioritising the clubs move to the Emirates Stadium ahead of adding new players the the team. Between 2006 and 2015 Arsenal didn't finish inside the top 2 once, and even though they finished second in 2016, they did not realistically challenge eventual champions Leicester which many fans and pundits saw as hugely disappointing. 

    In that same time period many top players left and moved onto better things, and were not replaced by Arsenal. Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri have since won the Premier League with Manchester City, Robin Van Persie left for rivals Manchester United and helped them win their 20th League Title (scoring winners in both games against Arsenal along the way), while the clubs top scorer ever and captain Thierry Henry left for Barcelona and helped them to a domestic treble in 2009. Eventually, in one of the most protracted transfer sagas in British football history, Cesc Fabregas returned to Barcelona for £35 million in 2011.

    A criticism that Wenger has faced on multiple occasions is a perceived lack of mental strength in his sides. The Eduardo incident immediately comes to mind. On February 23rd 2008, Arsenal went into a Premier League match with Birmingham City leading Manchester United by 5 points with 12 matches remaining. This was easily their best chance at winning the league since their invincible side of 2004. In the opening minutes of the match their striker Eduardo broke his leg after a horrific challenge from Martin Taylor.

    The injury visibly affected Arsenal's players, however they were hanging on for a valuable 2-1 win when Gael Clichy gave away a silly penalty. Arsenal duly conceded, prompting William Gallas' famous sit down protest inside the penalty area. Wenger's post match comment did little to calm his players down, claiming Taylor should receive a lifetime ban. Arsenal then went on a run of 4 consecutive draws and United would go on to be crowned champions.

    Another common criticism is a failure to spend big money in the necessary positions. This has improved in recent seasons with big money acquisitions of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. However when you look at last season, many agreed Arsenal would not have a better chance to win the league given so many teams were in transition. At Christmas, they found themselves in a good position but needed a striker, someone to lift the burden from Olivier Giroud (who for all his positives is not a top striker). It didn't happen, and they stuttered to a second place finish, despite beating eventual champions Leicester home and away. 

    Arsenal failed to kill off games and it cost them

    Despite the fact that Arsenal have qualified for 19 consecutive Champions League since 1998 (an English football record), their record makes for grim reading. There is only one final to mention, an unlucky 2-1 defeat to a Ronaldinho inspired Barcelona in 2006, but a defeat nonetheless. You would think they had gotten close to the final on many other occasions, but a semi-final thrashing by Manchester United in 2009 is the only other time they have made the last four. To put that into perspective, in the same time period Liverpool made two Champions League finals with one victory, Chelsea made two finals with one victory and Manchester United made four finals with two victories. 

    All things considered, Arsenal have shown great consistency under Wenger, having never finished outside the top 4 in the previous 20 years. He has also become the joint most successful manager in the FA Cup with 6 victories. However if this does turn out to be his final season he will be remembered more the the failures to get Arsenal success in Europe or to lift more Premier League titles. With so many missed opportunities over his tenure, those famous words 'specialist in failure' may linger around Wenger for quite a long time.

    By Darren Beck (DarrenBeck13)

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