Ahead of every weekend this season, I will give you my three thoughts on what’s going on in the Premier League. These might not always be the biggest stories, but rather my personal observations as the games approach each Saturday.
I am not sure that anybody has featured as prominently in this weekly column since its inception than Arsene Wenger. Therefore, I will dedicate all three thoughts to the man who will say farewell to his love at the end of the season.
Wenger did it his way
The final connection to the beginning of my career in sports media has been severed. As an intern in 1997 at The Score, I would shot-list hours upon hours of Premier League action, with a somewhat odd looking Frenchman earning enough of my time, as I entered his various sideline antics and press conference sound bites into the database.
At that point he was still fairly unknown in English soccer, having recently arrived from Japan where he coached Nagoya Grampus. However, a French title with Monaco prior to his stint in the Far East had given the Arsenal ownership enough confidence to take a flier on Arsene Wenger.
Soon after, Wenger won his first of three Premier League titles in charge of the Gunners. Arsenal would add the FA Cup that same year, and suddenly Wenger was famous.
I remember old-fashioned, English fans reacting in horror as Wenger brought in foreign players, preached about rotation within his squad, and introduced a wonderful possession based, passing style of the game that the Premier League was not familiar with. Wenger always did it his own way – to hell with the critics. He never wavered in that attitude, and despite the struggles in recent years, such belief in his principles must be admired.
The #WengerOut campaign
It was sad that Wenger was eviscerated in the press, in the stands, and on social media in his final years. The #WengerOut campaign was born out of desperation, aimed at a club that showed a genuine lack of leadership at the very top that prevented the team from consistently pushing for titles.
The club will never admit that the protests had any effect on their decision making, but I strongly believe that they did. Now might not be the time to ask if Wenger was fired or did he walk. But there are enough reports from people in the know to suggest Stan Kroenke’s loyalty to Wenger had finally run out.
Indeed, the haters have short memories, but let’s hope as time passes by that Wenger will be remembered for the sublime football he brought to the country, modernizing the methods of a backwards sporting culture, and bringing some of the greatest continental talents to the Premier League.
Who replaces Wenger?
So, who is next? The shortlist isn’t very short at all. Regardless of where the club is in the table, the Arsenal job is massive, and will attract elite candidates. Wenger’s replacement will have a decent collection of player talent, although more money needs to be spent, and dead weight must be tossed overboard.
If Arsenal can do all of that this summer, then a return to the top four is not out of the question. Maybe Arsenal will opt for a big-name manager, or maybe they will go off the board like they did when they hired Wenger. For the record, Yahiro Kazama is the current coach of Nagoya Grampus.