Phil Smith: If Wenger’s Arsenal empire is a failure he is welcome to build it at Sunderland

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger

One pub had promoted it as the ‘Wenger Out v Moyes Out’ derby.

In the end, neither manager faced particular venom, apathy far surpassing anger among both sets of fans. This season, they have been united in a desire for dugout change, but divided by just about everything else.

Their discord tells of the fascinating contrast, and yet also the parallels, of life at the top and the bottom of the Premier League.

A visit to the Emirates Stadium never fails to leave you in awe, the majesty of Wenger’s empire, this stunning 60,000+ capacity ground the symoblic legacy of how he has transformed Arsenal to one of Europe’s most glamorous football clubs.

From Islington’s serial 1-0 winners, to a cathedral of the modern game.

An arena quite fit for the genius of Ozil, Sanchez and co, who may not have found top gear on Tuesday night but did enough to leave a lasting impression. The movement and the vision a class above, wearing Sunderland down and eventually overrunning their defences.

This is the quality at the top end of the Premier League, the benchmark for those looking to establish themselves in the top tier.

In this task, Sunderland have comprehensively failed in their ten-year stay. This current side, poorly led, directionless, lacking verve, creativity and pace, cannot compete. The Stadium of Light, potentially one of the most ferocious in the land, has quite understandably been drained of life by the side playing in it.

Premier League in no department other than the goalkeeper, and earlier in the season at least, the supreme poacher up front. Arsenal are a class above, playing a different game.

So to see the ground so empty, so flat, grates. Why would you spurn the chance to watch Ozil drift between the lines, to watch Alexis burst into the box, to watch Giroud tee them up with a raft of delicate backheels and one-touch passes?

Perhaps it is because Arsenal, like Sunderland, have fundamentally failed at their own aspirations. The haves have very different expectations to the have nots.

Arsenal are a European super club in everything but their performance and cabinet, without a Premier League trophy in an age and set to miss out on the Champions League. Their fans are much derided but for those who go to the ground at least, they are paying eye-watering amounts for the very elite. The sloppy defending, was symbolic of a team that has simply not reached that level.

Their mistakes and shortcomings are easy to identify even from the outside, the repetitive nature of their failure perhaps more infuriating than the failure itself. Perhaps that is why Wenger is seen as yesterday’s man, stubborness personified, the last barrier to Arsenal joining the top elechons. Why someone like Thomas Tuchel is so coveted, a bright new face to match the glamorous surroundings.

Still, should Wenger find Old Father Time catches up with him at Arsenal, he is more than welcome at Sunderland.

It is hard to imagine how revered a manager would be who delivered back-to-back FA Cups would be, a third in four years potentially on the horizon. Who constantly dielivered European football, oversaw a booming financial return and showed such an almost flawless eye for glittering attacking talent.

Brian Clough, the man who hated football administrators more than any other, was wise enough to say that his directors would push him when the time came, and build statues once he was gone.

Wenger, who will be remembered as one of football’s most influential decision, probably knows the same awaits him. His departure, whenever that may be, will quickly heal the cracks and he will be celebrated for the visionary he has been.

For now, thanks are in short supply, not that it is for a Sunderland follower to judge.

Sunderland’s portrayal - always shots of fans leaving the ground, always about the poor soul without a prayer in the dugout - has frustrated, and so followers of the Wearsiders know better than to cast judgement on others too readily. Arsenal inhabit a different world to the Black Cats, their goals and dreams then radically different.

The overwhelming sense, nevertheless, as Sunderland bid goodbye to this world which they could simply no longer compete, is wonder.

Wenger’s Empire may well be a failure to some, but not to those further down the chain.

This fascinating character is welcome to bring to Sunderland his stubborness and supposedly outdated coaching, his seeming disinterest in defensive displicine, if he also brings his vision, his leadership, his levelheadedness and above all else, his football that so often stirs the soul.

Watching Sunderland you see so much of the bad, you know a good thing when you see it.

Whatever happens from here on in, visit his empire even just for an evening and you are left with nothing to say other than Chapeau, Monsieur Wenger.