Perhaps the most infamous of all the “Wenger Out Brigade”, Piers Morgan, proudly announced today that he has wanted Arsenal’s longest-serving manager to leave the club for eight years, hinting that this season’s failure to make the top four and the consistent disappointments in the Champions League in that time have proved him to be right all along.
It has been common for members of this brigade—known as WOBs in the ever-bemusing world of Arsenal social media—to say with pride that they have been anti-Wenger for many years, as if to say that this season’s collapse proved their steadfastness in not changing their viewpoint to be worthwhile. Further scrutiny of this debating tactic, however, suggests that it might not be the most rational one.
The Wenger Out Brigade Were Not “Right All Along”
A very common boast for one to hear will have something to do with being “Wenger Out since 2006“. This is merely anecdotal and not representative in the slightest of the vast majority of fans who think that Wenger’s time has come, but every vocal minority likes to behave as a majority, and their ‘entitlement to an opinion’—however useful it may turn out to be—means that they are as entitled to have their views assessed.
There is no need to analyse the current reasons for wanting Wenger to stay or go; that has already done in a most boring and repetitive way by pundits, newspaper outlets and bloggers all year long. Why someone would have wanted him out of the club in 2006, however, is less obvious.
In 2006, Arsenal reached the Champions League final for the first time in their history, and completed the move to a stadium which would massively increase their financial capabilities in the long-term. The former may have ended in a tragedy from which the club has never fully recovered, and the latter may not have turned out as hoped due to the advent of the billionaire owners who control most of Europe’s biggest clubs, but there is no denying that this was a very exciting time in the Gunners’ history.
Why, then, would someone want the manager who was making this happen to go? Was the misery of the defeat to Barcelona in the final too much to handle; the last straw after the fall from grace since going 49 matches unbeaten, which saw the team pick up only a measly third FA Cup win in four years? Were the young players, like Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie, making their way into the side not good enough? Was winning at the Bernabéu with Emmanuel Eboué, Kolo Touré, Philippe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini at the back too embarrassing for the fans of this once-proud club to take?
More importantly for the topic at hand, why does their being anti-Wenger eleven years ago make them “right all along”? A stopped clock tells the right time twice every day, but it is not “right all along” when this occurs. All these fans are admitting is that they have held an agenda without stopping to think about whether they might be wrong and, now that things are going badly, they are able to revel in their stubbornness: ‘stubborn’ being an insult which is levelled at the manager on a day-to-day basis.
Believing something is true for a long period of time does not make one’s belief any more correct or forward-thinking. Fans can claim to have been Wenger Out for even longer than eleven years if they like—perhaps there were too many draws in the Invincibles season and it was time for a change then—but it does not mean that they were right then or right now. Without doubt, there is a stronger argument for wanting a managerial change now than there was in 2006, but that does not mean that wanting a change when there was a very weak argument for doing so was an intelligent opinion to have.
Those who make the strongest case for Wenger leaving the club have looked at the evidence on either side, thought about it, and come to their own conclusion. Anyone who decided that they wanted him gone years ago and ritualistically repeated their viewpoint in the succeeding years without ever ceasing to think rationally about the matter at hand is not making a balanced or useful argument.
All Piers Morgan is doing when he claims that he wanted Wenger to go eight years ago is that he was on the weaker side of the argument for many years, but never stopped to think before he spoke. It is not difficult to see why there was not much of a case for wanting one of the most influential managers in the club’s history gone until relatively recently.
There have been some terrible moments in the last five or six years, many of which will have caused people—quite rightly—to question their faith in the Frenchman, but the moments of brilliance will have changed people’s minds as well, regardless of how frustratingly few and far between these moments have been. What’s more, in the context of each terrible moment one should have been able to consider the potential which each side in the last ten years had at the time, regardless of whether that was proved right in hindsight.
In a debate which is becoming more and more toxic by the day, those who have rationally come to either conclusion are the ones worth listening to. Those who have supported the manager in his project but decided that, on balance, it is time for him to move on have every right to be taken seriously. People who rely on hindsight, pettiness or hashtags should be ignored; particularly if those trying to belittle Wenger’s history at the club have their own history of making life very difficult for Arsenal fans.