And with that, Arsenal became like everyone else. The end of Arsène Wenger’s 1235th game for the club saw the end of the period when Arsène’s Arsenal—or was it Arsenal’s Arsène—were different because of the identity of their manager. Of their rivals in England, Wenger saw off Ferguson at United, Mourinho at Chelsea, Mourinho at Chelsea again, Moyes and Van Gaal at United, Mancini and Pellegrini at Manchester City, Benitez and Rodgers at Liverpool, and a host of losers, like George Graham, at Tottenham Hotspur. Now, with the end of Arsène Wenger’s twenty-two year reign at Arsenal, they will become like everyone else.
It is, ultimately, Arsenal growing up. Wenger was never going to accept a management structure at Arsenal, not when he had controlled everything for so long. Ferguson was the same way, though Ferguson had David Gill. After Dein left, Wenger did not have Gill, just a series of gutless chairmen, chief executives, and owners, who let Wenger take every bullet aimed at the club, who let Wenger become owner, director, and manager. Arsenal, now, are going to be like everyone else. The next manager, likely Mikel Arteta, though perhaps someone else, will work within the system put into place by Ivan Gazidis over the last year: the head coach, the chief scout, Sven Mislintat, the Director of Football Relations (Director of Football, come on now), Raul Sanllehi, and Gazidis, the chief executive. This is how it goes at other clubs: Chelsea are going to soon be onto their eighth manager of the decade. United have had three since Ferguson left; only Mourinho is making it into a third year. It’ll be a great loss to Tottenham Hotspur if Pochettino leaves for a bigger, better club, but control will be retained by Daniel Levy. Arsenal are like the rest, if not a little bruised and a little devalued because of a second straight Europa League campaign.
If the next manager does not work out, he can be disposed of, easily enough. The board, though, cannot sit too pretty. The ire that was delivered towards Wenger will make its way to the next manager once results are poor. The attention given to those who get nude, red, and mad online has seen to that. Yet ultimately, sacking managers in search of one that works will see the anger directed towards the board. We’ve already seen it; we saw it again, today, when a plane flew over Huddersfield with a banner that said “you’re next, Kroenke.” At West Ham, at Swansea, at countless other clubs with a revolving door of managers, fans not only blame the manager; they rightly blame the board. In Wenger leaving, Arsenal’s board have lost their human shield. They must ensure that they make it possible for the next manager to succeed if they don’t want to be next.