As we approach the end of the season, the chill winds of change blow through the Premier League. Squad overhauls are planned, relegation and promotion is decided, managers are raised onto the shoulders of cheering fans or unceremoniously guillotined on a whim.
Though he has side-stepped the chop by stepping down voluntarily, Arsene Wenger still ushered in the end of an era this weekend by proclaiming that his 22-year reign at Arsenal will come to an end in the summer. So, we say:
Please Forgive Us, Arsene Wenger
Speaking about his responsibilities as Arsenal manager late last season, Wenger said: "It's very demanding. It's a sacrifice of your life. You have nothing else happening in your life. Basically, you get 90 percent aggravation and 10 percent top satisfaction, and you have to give everything in your life for that. I always say to all the young people who want to go into this job: 'Are you ready to sacrifice your life?' It’s like a priest. You’re a football priest."
After just over two decades at Arsenal – in which he won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup finals while inspiring some of the most aesthetically beautiful football ever seen in England – Wenger is not so much a football priest as football’s answer to Christ himself. Slandered by his enemies, pelted with insults and dragged through the dirt for struggling to realise his impossibly high-minded ideals in his later years, he has now sacrificed himself for our sins. If they do erect a statue of Wenger outside the Emirates, it should be of him crucified in his oversized cashmere cardigan on the spot where they film ArsenalFanTV.
Barring those who have relentlessly exploited his late-career struggles to promote themselves – Piers Morgan, Robbie, Troopz, Mr DT and Heavy D from Storage Hunters, Twitter’s "net spend" experts and all the grown men who vlog from inside the Emirates on match day from behind homemade "Wexit" banners – there can only have been a handful of Arsenal supporters who didn’t feel sincere remorse on hearing that Wenger had announced his departure. His tenure had to come to an end at some point, results have been getting progressively worse for years now, but there is a part of every true Arsenal fan which wants him to win the Europa League, call Piers Morgan a twat in his post-match press conference and, there and then, sign a new three-year contract.
Of the reactions to his departure, Wenger has said, "I don’t need to die anymore because I know what it’s like [to be at my funeral]," adding, "I would like to thank everybody who has been nice to me. I certainly got more praise than I deserved, and maybe sometimes more criticism than I deserved. It has been difficult but also fantastic."
Do Not Get Footballers Tattooed on Your Arse
You’ve spilled out onto the pavement outside the pub and the evening sun is bathing you in a warm, orange glow. The chat is a little bit stilted – the work gang only came out on your suggestion and Dan from HR has already made his excuses – but you feel like your colleagues are finally starting to open up and, who knows, maybe think of you as a friend. Looking for a conversation-starter during an awkward lull, you ask if they’d like to see something hilarious. Their faces fall as, before they have time to reply, you drop your trousers and show them the Arsenal-themed tattoo on your arse.
"Lacazette! The big man, Alexandre Lacazette!" you laugh hysterically. Blank looks, silence, someone clearing their throat in embarrassment. "You know, Laca! The Lac Attack!" you say, voice tinged with slight desperation now. "He plays for Arsenal, 15 goals this season," you explain weakly, looking over your shoulder like a sad flamingo as your bare arse cheek quivers in the fading sunshine. "Sorry, we’re not really into football, mate," says Keith from accounts.
Carlos Carvalhal’s Sardines
Swansea may have been battered 5-0 by Manchester City on Sunday, but a word in praise of Carlos Carvalhal. Not exactly beloved of Sheffield Wednesday fans when he departed the club in December after they had slid into the lower half of the Championship, his appointment as Swansea boss had the air of a complete car crash. Given his penchant for deranged soundbites ("We have money for sardines and I'm thinking lobster… I will look to the lobsters and sea bass, but if not we must buy sardines. But sometimes the sardines can win games," was his take on Swansea’s January transfer business), he appeared to be the perfect appointment for a team which has seemingly been trying to get relegated for the last few seasons.
Against all expectations, however, Carvalhal has turned things around in south Wales. Bottom of the table when he took over and looking like a mid-table Championship side at best, the Portuguese coach took them back to basics and they are now safe in 17th and four points clear of the drop. Barring an unlikely turnaround from either Southampton or Stoke, who both look like absolute dross this season, Carvalhal will have saved Swansea despite getting a pasting from City at the weekend. Maybe sardines are good at football after all, despite their lack of feet and indeed a functioning non-aquatic respiratory system.
The Myth of Silverware
This late in the day, it’s often said that only silverware can save a team's season. Shame for Tottenham and Southampton, then, because they were dumped out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage by Manchester United and Chelsea respectively this weekend. The truth is that silverware is overrated, so Spurs and Saints fans shouldn't worry. "The best teams are ultimately remembered by how many trophies they won" has been a common refrain among pundits this season, but it should be pointed out that is utter bollocks.
Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, famed for their iconic title race with Manchester United in the mid-90s and their manager's "I WOULD LOVE IT" rant, won precisely no major silverware during his tenure. Under Claudio Ranieri, a Chelsea team featuring club legends like Frank Lampard, John Terry and Claude Makelele played excellent football and won sweet fuck all. Under Brendan Rodgers, Luis Suarez scored 31 goals in a single season for a Liverpool side which ended up with zilch come the end of the campaign. Meanwhile, some teams to have won trophies in recent memory include Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic and Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City, all of whom were relegated soon afterwards. Silverware does not define the best teams in any absolutist sense: let’s debunk this bullshit once and for all.