A revolution devours its own as history teaches us. Arsene Wenger, known as the Professor, should know that. But he seems to be oblivious to the fact that having been the greatest agent of change in English football he cannot stand still and needs to evolve if he is to move forward and not fall victim to his own revolution.

That Wenger has been the greatest revolutionary in British football cannot be doubted. This is all the more remarkable because English football, before Wenger, was intensely insular. So insular indeed that when the directors of Manchester United considered appointing Alex Ferguson as their manager their main worry was that no manager brought up in Scottish football had succeeded in England. Matt Busby and Bill Shankly were Scots but they had had a through grounding in English football. In contrast Jock Stein, perhaps one of the greatest managers these isles have produced and Ferguson’s mentor, failed to make it in England.

We all know how groundless the fears of the United directors proved to be but it was against this background of ‘the-foreigner-just-cannot-hack-English-football’ that Wenger arrived at Highbury in 1996 to newspaper headlines of Arsene who?

The Premier League website, while celebrating 20 years of the league, had a picture of Wenger being interviewed outside Highbury’s marble halls, looking dishevelled and very like the ‘Professor’ players in the dressing room nicknamed him due to his appearance and mannerisms. His clumsy manner also led to him being called ‘Inspector Clouseau’ after Peter Sellers’ bungling French cop. As Wenger would later remark: “One of the biggest bets was how long I would last. Everybody was betting that I would be gone by January 1.”

But Wenger, to the astonishment of his critics, not only succeeded but made changes to the way the game was played. And what changes! He not only won trophies, which included the incredible 2003/04 season of the Invincibles when his team went undefeated, but completely remodelled the traditional way Arsenal had played. Wenger converted a team that was built on attrition play to a team that married power to an exquisite passing – making Arsenal one of the most attractive teams in the land.

To do this he revolutionised the way Arsenal had trained. Wenger may have looked like a geography teacher but his training sessions were meticulous in their detail. Sessions were shorter, sharper and timed to the second – unlike the physical tests of endurance that were commonplace under traditional English regimes. Silence was encouraged at half-time so his players could relax and calm themselves down properly rather than rant and scream about the match. The temperature was often turned up on the team bus to keep players’ muscles supple. “To work hard the whole week and then spoil it by not preparing properly is silly,” he once said.

Embedded in my memory is the occasion when Wenger won his first Premier League championship in 1997-98. Then Arsenal overhauled an 11-point gap on Manchester United to claim the title by a point and victory in the FA Cup secured the Double. But it was the way they clinched the league that stood out. In their final game on May 3, Arsenal thrashed Everton 4-0 at Highbury. Tony Adams scored the final goal. But this was not one of his trademark headers from a set-piece, but a goal any forward would be proud of. Beating the offside trap as he ran on to a through-pass from Steve Bould, another defender, he thumped a sumptuous half-volley into the Everton net. For the Arsenal fans nothing could be sweeter, for under George Graham, Adams and Bould had become experts at deploying the offside trap to stop opposing forwards. Now they were showing they could spring it perfectly as well. As Adams disappeared under a pile of delirious Arsenal team-mates, Wenger exchanged handshakes with all his coaching staff in the dug-out overjoyed by the success of the play.

So wedded did his team become to a passing game that in a match against Manchester City, when Arsenal won a penalty, Pires even tried to pass the ball to Henry from the penalty spot. He actually fluffed his pass and no goal was scored but it was clearly a ploy that had originated on the Arsenal training ground. And this is in a match where when the penalty was awarded Arsenal led by a solitary goal.

This was supplemented by changes in players’ diets, encouraging them to take vegetables and vitamin supplements and discouraging intake of alcohol immediately after matches. Like a good revolutionary Wenger had learnt on his travels. As he later put it his two-year stint in Japan as manager of Grampus Eight had opened his eyes to the importance of dietary requirements. “It was the best diet I ever had. The whole way of life there is linked to health. Their diet is basically boiled vegetables, fish and rice. No fat, no sugar. You notice when you live there that there are no fat people. I think in England you eat too much sugar and meat and not enough vegetables.” The combination of pre-match stretching and use of masseurs and osteopaths added years to the careers of his veteran players.

But while all this marked the first eight years of Wenger’s rule, the period that brought him all his triumphs, the last eight barren years has shown that the revolutionary has forgotten the first principle of revolution. This is if you want to stay ahead you have to keep on changing, you cannot rest on your laurels. For the fact is, English football having been stunned by this unlikely looking Frenchman quickly cottoned on to what Wenger was doing. So much so that now many clubs are way ahead of Arsenal in terms of diet for players, medical facilities, fitness regimes And this is also the case even in scouting. This was such a Wenger strength in his years of triumph, but now picking up young players from France and trying to develop them seems to have become a Newcastle speciality. Wenger the revolutionary has been surpassed by his imitators.

And Wenger seems incapable of understanding that. His virtual melt down at the press conference before the Bayern Munich match shows how rattled he can get when questioned fairly innocuously. And what has not helped is that the Arsenal board have failed to provide a football structure which could have both sustained and restrained their manager.

Such a structure was there when David Dein was still running the club. But his departure not only meant Wenger lost a soul mate but also a person who could be a check on how the Frenchman ran things. The board now give the impression that they are scared of their manager. Aware that it is Wenger’s success that has built the Emirates and provides the revenue for the high priced seats – they seem petrified of even slightly disturbing the goose that has laid so many golden eggs.

So what is the solution? Those Arsenal supporters who feel Wenger’s time is up, and there are many, should realise that for their wish to come true Arsenal must have a really bad end to the season. This means Wenger’s team finishing well outside the top four and not qualifying for the Champions League or even, perhaps, the Europa League. Wenger’s ability to always play in the Champions League has been seen as a mitigating factor. But should the Gunners fail to do so this season then perhaps either Wenger will see he has to change or the board will realise that life cannot just go on and it must bite the bullet. Arsenal watchers do doubt if there is any appetite in the Board for change, unless Wenger himself signals it. But should he fail to qualify for the Champions League, then it is possible Wenger will put up the white flag.

But somehow I doubt if all this will happen. Arsenal, I suspect, will finish third with Wenger fashioning the sort of late finish he has mounted so often and did so spectacularly last season. And that means he will just carry on oblivious to the fact that he is now an ageing revolutionary who has long been surpassed by younger ones. They have not only absorbed all that he has taught over the years but are hungry for success.


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