ProSoccerTalk’s Arsene Wenger roundtable
Let’s talk about Weng, baby.
[ MORE: Arsene’s best Arsenal XI ]
So, it’s (almost) over. What has your reaction been to Wenger’s final weeks, in particular his goodbye to the Emirates on Sunday?
Joe Prince-Wright: It was a fitting farewell tinged with a little sadness to not see him finish on a high by winning the Europa League to make the Champions League again. He is a legend of the game and history will be kind to him. He changed British soccer and his impact will always be remembered. The emotional scenes at the Emirates summed up how fondly he will be remembered by Arsenal fans and neutrals alike.
Nicholas Mendola: There’s a good chance it’s my journey deep into my thirties, but I thought Sunday was wonderful. To see Arsenal’s attack flourish -- cheers for the help, normally stingy Burnley -- and then hear Wenger’s club-first, me-second speech was pretty great. As for the last few weeks, I’ll echo what Joe said: I was aching for Arsenal to at least make the Europa League Final, and for the French legend to lead his side against Marseille in Lyon as he says goodbye to Gunners. It would’ve been star-studded.
Kyle Bonn: It’s sad, but it’s time. I’m glad to see him so appreciated after years of abuse, because he deserves it. Still, this has been coming and is a necessary change for Arsenal.
Daniel Karell: It’s been a bit muted, up until the final home game which finished in a 5-0 shellacking of Burnley. Arsenal fans are still upset over the team’s failure to win a single road match in 2018 on the club’s way to its worst season in 22 years. The reception for Wenger, Per Mertesacker and some members of the backroom staff were a nice change of the negative atmosphere over the past 5-8 years that has clouded the future for Arsenal fans. That cloud appears to be lifted.
Don’t overthink it: What is the first thing you think of when you think of Arsene Wenger?
JPW: Beautiful football. Whatever you say about the recent years, Wenger has always stuck to his principles and has developed teams who are fantastic to watch going forward. Arsenal are known across the world as a team for purists and that’s because of Wenger. He’s a true teacher of the game. Also: the Invincibles.
NM: This is a bit out of left field, but I’ve heard from so many people who’ve told me that Arsene Wenger treated everyone at Arsenal with the same respect. Those things stick with me, and he could’ve operated with some kind of ego when you consider all he accomplished. Honorable mention: Nagoya Grampus Eight, getting in Jose Mourinho’s grill, and the smile on his face when Thierry Henry embraced him after scoring in the FA Cup off the bench in his Arsenal “redebut.”
KB: The Invincibles. That team should be and will be his legacy.
DK: The style of play. Wenger - for all his faults - fiercly believed in himself and especially in his players. There’s been multiple reports that the team never really prepared for opponents, instead just working on movement on and off the ball and building chemistry with teammates. Wenger preferred for his players to control play and pass their way through opponents, Barcelona style. Of course, while the team was able to do this, they also conceded simple goals. Anyways, it’s the silky smooth, beautiful football.
How long, if at all, will it take Arsenal fans to miss Wenger as their boss?
JPW: Not long. This feels like a very natural time to split and everyone needs a fresh start. Sure, some will miss him, but most Arsenal fans acknowledge now was a great time to move on.
NM: There’s a romance to his tenure that won’t disappear any time soon, but it depends whether they -- American football comparisons -- replace a Bill Cowher with a Mike Tomlin or if they replace Bill Parcells with Ray Handley (No offense, Ray Handley. I’m mostly talking age).
KB: They won’t - or, they shouldn’t given how much crap they flung in his direction for years. Most of it deservingly so. Wenger was stubborn in his final years in charge, and a change in scenery is good for everyone involved, so if the Gunners continue to decline from here, it’s because they made the wrong hire, not because Wenger left.
DK: I’ll give it at least 12 months. Arsenal fans, at least the Wenger Out faction, will likely be willing to sit through a rough season or two just to see something different, with the hopes that it could lead to greater success.
Look into your crystal ball: What are the next few years like for Wenger? And Arsenal?
JPW: I’d like to see Wenger take the France national team job after this summer. They have a plethora of exciting, young attacking players and it would be fantastic to see him do well at Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup with his home nation. For Arsenal, a struggle to finish in the top four on a yearly basis. It will take a long time for them to catch up to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United and Man City.
NM: For Wenger, I suspect it depends on how big of a challenge he wants next. Is it taking PSG to the Champions League promised land or trying to take an upstart Ligue 1 or other side against a legendary power? Or is it time for international football (see last question). My guess? A reinvigorated Wenger leads a club to overachieve. As for Arsenal, well, if the rumors of what they plan on spending this summer are true, they may well finish sixth again (Sixth is the new fourth?).
KB: I wish I knew. I have my own opinions on where they should go from here, but I do not even pretend to know what this club has in mind. They have done nothing but surprise the last few years ago, and if there’s anything I can predict, it’s that it will continue to do so. What doesn’t help is the plethora of viable options on the table for them to choose from. First things first, the club needs to pick on a direction and philosophy, and then make a hire based on those answers, not the other way around.
DK: For Wenger? I think he’ll stay in management, returning to his native France. He may take a smaller club over, one where he can have more control than he would at a club like PSG or Lyon. For Arsenal? It will likely be up and down. If the Gunners really want to compete with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (and Man City), they need to replace nearly their entire starting lineup. It takes time to build chemistry, and the new players will need time to settle.
If the season is replayed with a new manager, is Arsenal higher in the table? More bluntly put, how much responsibility does the manager bear for sixth place?
JPW: Nah, they’re about where they deserve to be. Their defense has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese and that’s been their Achilles heel for several years now.
NM: In 95% of cases, no (unless he magically knows how to stop an injured Aaron Ramsey from missing scoring draws with West Brom, West Ham, Liverpool, and Chelsea). This was down to personnel. And on the manager responsibility point, it’s really hard to say. Was Wenger responsible for not selling Alexis Sanchez and maybe Mesut Ozil in early August and replacing them with new talent? Was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang available in August?
KB: The manager bears a lot of responsibility. However, if the season is replayed, not much changes. The wounds of this season were fostered years ago in transfer policy and team makeup, not necessarily tactics.
DK: He bears 100 percent responsibility. Okay, maybe 99 percent. Of course, the players are on the field, but he’s the one who sets the tactics and determines who is signed. He’s failed overall on both aspects, though Aubameyang looks like a hit so far!
How badly has his legacy taken a hit?
JPW: It’s taken a hit but over time I think the damage done over the last few years will be repaired. Wenger is a legend and has achieved so many wonderful things at Arsenal. He should have left about five years ago... but then he added a few more FA Cups to set a new record.
NM: A little, but it will rebound if Arsenal doesn’t begin to spend. And it’s easy to forget how little they did while “paying off the new stadium debt.”
KB: It has taken a slight hit, but that was cemented over the last few years with club stagnation. This season doesn’t have a ton to do with that, only adds to the narrative. Wenger’s decline has been on the cards for a while, and this season doesn’t do much but prove a part to the whole.
DK: I think for all his achievements, you have to also mention that his final 12 years, his teams never reached the heights they climbed in the late 90s, early 2000s. An appearance in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006 was the last time Arsenal threatened to make a European final, or even play at a level close to that of the European giants.
Of all the names you’ve heard or read, who’s the best fit for Arsenal?
JPW: Nobody really stands out to me, which is a big problem. Diego Simeone would be great but I can’t see him leaving Atletico Madrid anytime soon. Honestly, someone like Liverpool’s assistant Zeljko Buvac would be a great fit. Low expectations, just like Wenger when he arrived, but someone who obviously has a fine tactical brain.
NM: Simeone, but it won’t happen (at least not this go-round). As Joe said, the Buvac move seems appropriate because Jurgen Klopp would’ve been the right call three years ago. I’ll shout out Patrick Vieira. Knows the culture, commands respect. Sorry NYCFC.
KB: I think Arsenal needs to make two hires. They need to hire a world-renowned name to follow Wenger up, take over the club for 2-3 years, make the necessary philosophical changes, attract good talent, overhaul the squad, and then depart for a younger, more long-term boss. Hiring the long-term solution now would be a massive mistake, because there are SO many changes that need to be made. It would be too much to bear for a manager in his first big job. Therefore, I think hiring Carlo Ancelotti or Diego Someone right now would be the right move. They would have the experience and the guts to make widespread changes needed, and someone like Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe can take over in 3 years when things have leveled out.
DK: Nobody? Personally, I think Arsenal should sign someone who can impose their style on the club and grow into the job.
Say he’d take the job: Would you like Arsene Wenger as USMNT boss?
JPW: Yes. That would be fantastic but I just can’t see it happening. Unfortunately.
NM: Every day and twice on Sunday. Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, and Christian Pulisic learned how to carve it up together under AW? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KB: Yes. 100% absolutely. Wenger would be a great fit for the United States. It won’t happen, but I would sign up for that right here right now.
DK: Uh. Probably not. We need some help defensively, over here. I’m not sure if he could bring that.