All good things come to an end. Sports, in particular, are cylical - teams are good, then they’re not, then they are again. Despite what the narratives will have you believe, no sports team is perpetually a champion, or even perpetually in championship form. The Yankees, the Islanders, the Oilers, the Niners, the Bulls...you get the picture. They all had great eras, then they all came back down to earth and were no longer all-conquering heroes.
Even in soccer, the most relentlessly capitalistic of all sports where, if you’ve got the money, you’ve got the power - even there, past dominance is no guarantee of perpetual dominance. Manchester United had a run that few teams in the history of the English game can claim, but then in the last three years, they have finished 7th, 4th, and 5th, and are hardly the dominant force they were. They’re good, but they’re not Good the way they were.
And in all of the cases where a team was great and then wasn’t, there was ugliness. In United’s case, it was the Moyes season, and in the Bulls case, it was the angst of trying to cope without the best player in the history of the game, and how to rebuild a team without that. But whatever its manifestation, the change from dominant master of all to run of the mill good team is rarely graceful.
During all the transitions in the Premier League over the last 20 years, those of us fortunate enough to be Arsenal fans could sit back and say “well, at least that’s not us” as Arsenal just kept racking up good season after good season - even when the good season didn’t end with a trophy, at least it ended with Arsenal facing nothing more daunting than the prospect of an extra Champions League qualifier the following summer, which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly a “problem” in the view of most teams in the league.
And now, guess what? We find ourselves in the middle of a big ol’ mess. Arsenal are facing the very real possibility that, for the first time in 20 years, Arsenal will not qualify for the Champions League, and on current evidence, may struggle to qualify for the Europa League. This, of course, is causing a tremendous amount of consternation, frustration, and anger among the fanbase, and that’s entirely understandable.
For a good portion of that fanbase, Arsene Wenger is the only manager Arsenal have ever had. For another portion, Arsenal have had the same manager since before you were born. That’s a big damn deal, assuming that you’re not an incredibly literate three year old reading this, in which case, go you but get some perspective because three years is nothing in the managerial game. You’ll learn that as you get into double digit ages.
Anyway. Arsenal are, seemingly, coming to the end of an era, and it’s not ending well. One league win since February has seen the club drift down to fifth place, five points behind fourth place and its Champions League spot, and the road ahead, based on the past few games, will not be easy nor will it be fun. Many fans are hoping for a heroic run to end the season and see Arsenal sneak into fourth place, thus continuing the CL streak, and many others, while in no way rooting against Arsenal, would be OK with the streak ending, because it would presumably force the change a great many people want to see happen in the front office.
Either way you fall in that discussion, though, something that we always say about players wanting out or bitching about contracts applies in the managerial situation too.
Nobody is bigger than the club.
We all know Wenger’s contributions to the game, and to the club, and to the business that is Arsenal. We’re all grateful. But that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, nor does it mean that the vanishingly faint hope of a late league run should make Arsenal fans happy or OK with things as they are.
What it means, though, is that Arsenal will be around after Arsene. It will survive his end, and it will survive his replacement. It will be a different club, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing - CL appearances will no longer be a guarantee, for instance - but, again, change is never easy. We would have all loved a fairytale ending last year of Arsenal winning the league and Wenger riding off into the sunset, but we didn’t get that, so we get what’s happening this year.
Nobody wanted this; nobody hoped this would be how the season would play out. But here we are, seemingly on the verge of a truly historic change in the direction of the club, and honestly, I’m excited for the breath of fresh air that said change will entail. Even if that change means a step backwards before striding forwards again, the time for that change is here, and now it’s apparently only a matter of timing until it happens. And when it does, no matter what, I’ll be watching.