Opinion: a defence of Arsene Wenger

By Dominic Dixey

An article recently published on this website drew the interesting comparison between Jeremy Corbyn and Arsene Wenger. The point being argued was that both men represent “outdated philosophies” and that neither have “a viable chance of winning the ultimate prize they seek.” Furthermore, they are responsible for a “toxicity” in their respective institutions and are “espousing a failing ideology” in the face of “overwhelming evidence.” This is the fashionable view of our times: Wenger is an old fogey who won’t change and has never been the same since the glorious Invincible, Highbury-based days. Corbyn is an out of touch extremist who represents only his inner ring of feisty Corbynistas and will never win power. Such hyperbolic views that claim to represent most “expert” opinion should always be treated with suspicion. The “toxicity” and lack of unity at both Arsenal and in the Labour Party is not due to their leaders, but the whining, insufferable commentators who refuse to accept the fine record of both men.

The criticism levelled at Wenger in the previous article seemed to relate solely to our lack of a world-class defensive midfielder. Others love to point to the centre forward position. This is faintly ridiculous. It is widely accepted that before signing Özil in September 2014 we simply didn’t have the money to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Man City, as the club needed profits year in, year out to finance interest and debt repayments. It’s testament to Wenger’s leadership that in the early Emirates years me managed to finish fourth with the squads we did. If Klopp achieved as much with players like Song, Almunia, Bendtner, Denilson, Djourou, Chamakh and Squillaci, everyone would be singing his praises, just as they did when swooning over his glorious home draw with West Brom. Hopefully one day, people will get bored of him too – his celebrations are detestable.

Fans and commentators alike rightfully demanded better results from Wenger when more money became available. In 2010, the Highbury development became debt free and started to make revenue. Emirates signed a new stadium and shirt sponsorship deal in 2012 worth £150 million. More recently, the Puma deal brought in even more money when they replaced Nike, alongside the latest Broadcasting deals. What has happened since then? We’ve climbed a league position each year, getting up to 2nd last season and have won two FA cups. In just three years, the cumbersome, clunky and slow attack of Podolski, Arteta, Ramsey and Giroud has been injected with the world-class creativity of Özil’s left foot and Sanchez’s right, a well needed dose of pace from Sanchez and a rejuvenated Walcott, and the now seeminly forgotten grit and aggression of Coquelin. Cazorla had a new lease of life (until he was irrevocably broken by Norwich), leading world class performances from deep in midfield such as in a 2-0 win away at City. As for up front, Sanchez is currently third top scorer in the league, with the highest combination of assists and goals. The only reason he isn’t top goal scorer is unlike Kane and Lukaku, he sometimes plays on the wing. Now he’s second striker, Giroud’s height and finishing at the near post, especially from the bench, have been first class. People don’t want to see all this, however, because they are blinded by an anti-Wenger agenda that is perpetuated by the media.

English football is as chaotic, unpredictable and competitive as ever. In the face of such complexities people resort to simple untruths. “Wenger out.” No other man would have maintained Champions league football in the early Emirates years in the way Wenger did. No other man would have so rapidly rebuilt and consolidated a dilapidated squad when money became available. No man is better placed to continue this progress and fulfil the original promise of making Arsenal a top European club. Unfortunately, however, it increasingly seems that fans just don’t deserve him.

Corbyn has been victim to a similar witch hunt. Apart from Nigel Farage, no politician has had such a strong mandate as Corbyn’s to lead their party in decades. After being challenged, he only increased his voting support within the party. And still people like to focus on his suits, ties, top buttons and facial hair, rather than the multiple government U-turns that have been as a direct of his leadership. Instead we piously declare at the dinner table that he’s “ghastly” and that we should all feel so very proud of ourselves because we’re “democrats” so we believe “this country really needs a strong opposition.” Well, he’s provided it, despite the best efforts of the two-faced evil attempts of Blair and Campbell to derail the PLP with constant interventions, mainly about Brexit.

Both Arsenal FC and The Labour Party are historic English institutions. Arsenal is the club of Chapman, Adams and the “Spirit of Highbury.” The club that drove out the National Front in the 70s to welcome Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, and Ian Wright. The club that paid for Gazza’s rehabilitation when Sp**s refused. The club of class, loyalty, the Invincibles, and Arsene Wenger. Arsenal has history and prestige that have and always will place it above clubs like Chelsea with their fans chucking black people off the metro. Arsenal is built on values – much like the Labour Party. The Party that has always fought for working class communities. The party that gave us the NHS, National minimum wage, legalized divorce and homosexuality, and ended capital punishment. It is a great shame to see both overrun by the Wenger-Out brigade, who refuse to see what’s right in front of them, and the Blairites who still won’t accept that they ripped the heart out of politics in this country. At this stage, all that can be done is to remain hopeful that both Corbyn and Wenger will go on fighting the good fight, despite all the hurdles that lie before them. Maybe, one day, they’ll get the unity and credit they deserve.


Photograph: Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr

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