If you were to ask a football fan “who are the two best managers in the English Premier League?” they will most likely answer Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The two managers are currently the longest tenured managers in England, with a much storied history between the two of them.
In the mid 2000’s the Arsenal-Manchester United fixture became the most anticipated fixture on the Premier League calendar. The two sides faced each other in fierce battle after battle. Both teams hated each other, and there were often dirty tackles on the field, and confrontations off the field. To make it even better, these two clubs had combined to win every Premier League title between 1995 and 2005. It seemed that whenever one club was on the cusp of accomplishing greatness, they were stopped by the other club.
This rivalry between the two clubs was quickly turned into a rivalry between the two managers, as people quickly began calling them the two greatest managers in England. But perhaps people failed to see this for what it really was. Perhaps Wenger was just getting the better of Sir Alex Ferguson? Perhaps Arsene Wenger is not really as great of a manager as we all thought?
When Arsene Wenger took over Arsenal, Manchester United was the most dominant club in England. They had won every Premier League title except for one, in 1994, when they lost it to Blackburn on the final day of the season. There was no doubt to how great of a manager Sir Alex Ferguson was.
In his first full season at Arsenal, Wenger pulled off what seemed to be the impossible, winning the league with Arsenal. But Wenger wasn’t done there. In his first seven seasons with Arsenal, Wenger would win the Premier League two more times, including the incredible “unbeatables” in 2004 — when Arsenal did not lose a game all season. Wenger would also win the FA Cup four times, for a total of seven trophies. Over that same timeframe, United won the league four times, as well as the FA Cup for a total of six trophies. Suddenly there was a battle for who was the top team in England, with many of the signs pointing towards the club from North London especially after Arsenal defeated United in the 2005 FA Cup final.
But unfortunately for Arsenal, that 2005 FA Cup was the last time Arsene Wenger has won a trophy at the club. Since 2005 United have won the league four times, two League Cups, the Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup. In head-to-head matches, Wenger had defeated Ferguson 14 times in their first 27 matches. Since then, Sir Alex has gotten the better of Wenger’s men with United now winning 20 times, compared to Arsenal’s 16, in 45 head-to-head matches.
Wenger has come under fire recently as many fans are growing tired of the lack of trophies, as well as Wenger’s trust in his youth policy at Arsenal, a policy that is clearly not working. Wenger has been given plenty of leeway though, mostly because of his reputation and what he has done in the past.
However what Wenger did in the past has nothing to do with what he is doing now. When Wenger came to Arsenal he inherited a team with stars such as Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Nicolas Anelka, and Patrick Vieira. Over his first few years, Wenger developed world class players such as Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Jose Antonio Reyes. When these players reached their peak, they were sold to other clubs where they continued to succeed. Arsenal then pocketed the money and built a new stadium rather than investing the money back into their team.
While Wenger has continued to rebuild his team with young players, he has no results to show for it. Meanwhile in the same time period, Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to rebuild his team not once, but arguably twice. The first time as United won three straight Premier League titles. And the second coming this season after losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez two seasons ago.
What makes matters worse is that even though Wenger is no longer winning, he is still running his mouth and complaining about everything going on in the league. One of my good friends who is an Arsenal fan recently said to me, “I just wish that when Wenger spoke, he didn’t sound like an idiot. I mean every time he speaks to the media he just sounds like a moron.” There really isn’t a better way to say it.
This season, with Arsenal still very much in the thick of the title race, Wenger said it would be an accomplishment if Arsenal finished second (hey it turns out he was right about that, second place would have been much better then fourth). Later, after a home draw with Liverpool that saw Arsenal blow a lead that they had taken with less then a minute to play, Wenger criticized Liverpool for trying to defend the entire game. The irony of that was that just days earlier Arsenal had become the first team to fail to take even one shot in a Champions League match as Wenger tried to defend a 2-1 lead over Barcelona for the full 90 minutes. After a couple of third and fourth place finishes, Wenger complained that United and Chelsea had an advantage because they got to play all of their rivals at home during the second half of the season. This season, during the second half of the season Arsenal played home games again Chelsea, Liverpool, United, and Manchester City. Meanwhile United traveled to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool. United won the title by nine points, and finished 12 points above Arsenal who finished fourth.
For Arsene Wenger, it is becoming very obvious that the team he inherited was far better then the team he has developed. Instead of focusing on football, Wenger seems to be focusing on talking to the media and coming up with one excuse after another for Arsenal’s shortcomings. You must give credit where credit is due though, Wenger has done a phenomenal job at using his inherited team, and his early battles with Manchester United, to convince the rest of us that he was, and still is one of the best managers in the Premier League. Unfortunately though, that is just not true.