I ’m going to put a statement out there: I like Arsène Wenger. I’m going to put a second statement out there: I like Arsenal. Judge me on that basis if you like, but it’s just one of those things that I could never explain. Of course, West Ham is my ultimate love, nothing will change that, but when Super Sunday shows West Brom V Arsenal, for example, I generally want the reds to win – unless it affects the fortunes of my beloved Hammers in any way.
I’ve always had a great respect for Wenger. I generally look up to his composure, his values and his loyalty, and I do sometimes question what life would be like if the Frenchman was managing West Ham. How suited is he to the ‘West Ham way’?
On the surface, all signs point to the idea that Wenger would have been an ideal candidate for the West Ham hot seat many years ago, post Harry Redknapp. To look at some of his credentials, we have to start with his longevity. West Ham is a proud club with a prominent history, and there was a huge sense of pride in the fact that ‘Arry was just the eighth manager since its formation. Aft er that, the club fell in to the trap of modern football – managers were given less and less time to prove themselves and build a team. Although, it has to be said that West Ham were still not as dismissive as many Premier League and Football League teams.
There is no doubt that Wenger is a loyal manager with the footballing brain to keep him impressing his bosses for nearly 20 years. Chairmen and fans alike would love that stability in theory, but it doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Despite the setbacks, what Wenger has done is injected the Premier League with some style over the years, even if substance has been hard to come by for the Gunners.
Watching ‘Th e Invincibles’ in 2003/04 was pure joy as a football fan. It was a strong team sheet: Henry, Vieira, Cole, Pires, Bergkamp, Toure all played their part and made football in England sexy. When a team gels and succeeds like that, you have to look to the manager and give a massive amount of credit for training, tactics, team spirit and signings. West Ham fans know that our players over the years have been more than capable of pulling off eye-pleasing football, but that just doesn’t seem to have come together in recent seasons.
Of course, that has all changed – while we used to blame the likes of Sam Allardyce, Avram Grant and Glenn Roeder for lack of imagination on the pitch, we now bask in the delight of Slaven Bilic’s style injection. But who knows for how many years we could have been enjoying such luxuries with the talent and flair that was available to us.
Would a manager such as Wenger extract that in anyone willing to work for the cause? It can’t be ignored that Arsenal is a hugely under-achieving club. As previously mentioned, successes can be pinned to great management, but in the interest of balance here, it also can be said for relative failure. Therefore, with the constant pressure that Wenger seems to be under, it’s vital that he holds himself well. He is someone who would have suited the integrity of a club like ours.
As fans, we love a bit of honesty and intelligence, something that Wenger has to show on a regular basis. He is so often under scrutiny, especially in post-match interviews and press conferences, and yet rarely loses his rag. I find him refreshing, which as the longest reigning manager and at the age of 66 seems strange to say. If only every manager was as considered and intellectual.
This all goes without saying that with the way things are at the moment, I wouldn’t want to have changed the West Ham path for anything. As a firm believer in ‘everything happening for a reason’, all the rough times that the Hammers have battled with over the last few years have given us a greater feeling while things are looking up.
No one’s perfect, and although Wenger would have been a great fit in East London, who knows what way the stars would have aligned for him should he have been at the head of the Hammers. In light of the situation Wenger finds himself in now, it’s something that he appears to be able to deal with on a media level.
The calls for his head have been simmering for a few seasons and Arsenal fans still battle between themselves arguing for and against sacking the Frenchman. I find it very hard to see managers under such pressure. It’s a near thankless job these days and I’d love to see Wenger stay for as long as it takes to win that elusive Champions League trophy. Without a doubt, whenever Wenger’s reign comes to an end, the Gunners can look back on their years with a great and memorable Premier League manager.