How Arsene Wenger lost his way, and the Arsenal fans

After 22 years in charge Arsene Wenger is to leave Arsenal at the end of the season - can he leave on a high with a Europa Cup win?
Updated 21 April 2018
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How Arsene Wenger lost his way, and the Arsenal fans

  • Arsene Wenger had "carried on as normal" despite new arrivals behind the scenes.
  • Arsenal have not won a single league point away from home this year.

As the news broke just before 
10am on Friday morning, Arsenal fans suddenly felt able to relive the glory years under Arsene Wenger. Previous apathy could give way to a warm wash of nostalgia and the anticipation that change can bring.   
The Arsenal years from 1996 to 2006 were a time of pulsating football and heart-stopping excitement. And the contrast could hardly have been greater to what had become of the club. With little riding on it, today’s London derby with West Ham was set to be played in front of an Emirates Stadium pockmarked with great swathes of empty seats. But now, with three home games left for Arsenal this season, the stage is instead set for what chief executive Ivan Gazidis on Friday described as “the send off he deserves.”
While Sir Alex Ferguson, his great rival from Manchester United and now retired for five years, got to write his own epitaph with a final, 13th Premier League title, Wenger hung on far too long and leaves at the lowest ebb of 22 years as manager of Arsenal. 
Arsenal are all but guaranteed to finish the season sixth in the Premier League table, their worst in 23 years. They have forged on in the Europa League but news of pulling Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the semifinal draw was greeted with a pessimistic gloom now converted into the hope that Wenger signs off with the European trophy missing from his curriculum vitae. 
Something had to give. Arsenal have not collected a single league point away from home in 2018, the worst record of any club in the top five divisions of English professional football. And those empty Emirates seats attested to a fanbase that had found something better to do. 
Gate money was still rolling in, since almost every seat is tied to a season ticket, but there were concerns within the club that the waiting list for those tickets, previously as long as 10 years, had shrunk. A once buoyant resale market for individual matches was barren.
Wenger’s abdication was a shock but not surprising. Behind the scenes, the organization’s tectonic plates had been shifting, with an influx of new executives working around the previously omnipotent Wenger. Ex-Borussia Dortmund chief scout Sven Misilintat and former Barcelona negotiator Raul Sanllehi came into the fold, while Josh Kroenke, son of American majority owner Stan Kroenke, has been spending time in London.  
The word, though, from a source close to the club, is that such arrivals had not prevented Wenger from attempting to carry on regardless. Eventually, matters came to a head and once Wenger was informed that Kroenke and Gazidis had decided his contract, with a year left to run, would be terminated it was agreed his departure would be stage-managed as a long goodbye that paid tribute to his historic achievements in North London. Misilintat and Sanllehi can now begin to properly prepare for a future beyond Wenger.
They and whomever the new Arsenal manager might be have a considerable rebuilding job, with many cobwebs to clear. At least Arsenal have started to spend big, having previously been hamstrung by repayments on building the Emirates, opened in 2006. 
In January, Mesut Ozil signed a new contract worth £350,000 ($490,000) a week and strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette cost a combined transfer outlay of around £100 million. Such expenditure, though, has brought no improvement to a team with great, aching deficiencies in midfield and defense. In this season’s Premier League, Arsenal have lost touch with their peers in English football’s top six. 
Off the pitch, further modernizsation is required. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire sees Wenger’s later years as a litany of missed opportunities. “Look at their commercial brand compared to Manchester United and Liverpool,” he told Arab News. “Arsenal should be the premier club in London but they have let Spurs and Chelsea catch up.”
Maguire thinks Wenger, historically resistant to lucrative pre-season tours from which clubs pull in multimillion pound deals and endorsements even if in recent years he had agreed to Far East junkets, had hampered Arsenal’s bottom line. “It helps when the manager is as big as your best player. What we have seen with (Liverpool manager) Jurgen Klopp and (Manchester City manager) Pep Guardiola is that they can expand the number of sponsors. Klopp is a fantastic ambassador.” 
And meanwhile, fans like Tim Stillman, who has not missed a home game for 19 years or an away match for 16, have the change they waited for. “Even if the next thing after Wenger is a failure then at least it’s something else,” he says. “At the moment, it feels like Arsenal has been cryogenically frozen.”
Arsenal, and the fans’ regard for their club’s greatest ever manager, can now thaw out.


Andres Iniesta nets reported $30m salary in Japan and vows to conquer Asia

Updated 13 min 22 sec ago
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Andres Iniesta nets reported $30m salary in Japan and vows to conquer Asia

  • 'This is a big challenge for me'
  • Iniesta wants success in the AFC Champions League

KOBE, Japan: Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta on Saturday made his first appearance at Vissel Kobe since signing for the Japanese side, greeting thousands of fans and vowing to make his new club the biggest in Asia.
Wearing the number eight shirt — like he did at Barcelona — the 34-year-old World Cup winner attended a welcome ceremony at the J-League club’s home stadium in the western port city of Kobe, together with team owner Hiroshi Mikitani.
“This is a big challenge for me,” Iniesta told some 4,000 fans through an interpreter two days after signing his contract at a glitzy unveiling in Tokyo.
He displayed his ball-juggling technique and kicked footballs into the crowd, delighting fans.
“I aim to contribute to the team as much as possible,” said Iniesta, who is reported to have agreed a three-year deal with an annual salary of $30 million, a J-League record.
“I think I should pursue the best objectives in both football and my life,” he added, saying he wants Vissel to win the league and “if possible, conquer Asia.”
The midfielder, who famously scored Spain’s winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, lifted 32 major trophies and made 674 appearances for Barcelona.
The Spain icon’s decision to choose Kobe arguably represents Japanese football’s biggest transfer coup, with many top players now moving to cash-rich Chinese clubs in the twilight of their careers.
Iniesta had said earlier this month that moving to a Chinese club was also an option for him.
His signing is a timely boost to the J-League, which used to attract luminaries such as Brazilian great Zico and former England star Gary Lineker when it began in 1993 but has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.
Following the World Cup in Russia, Iniesta will join former Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski at Vissel, currently sixth in the J-League first division after 15 games.