Wenger last real manager standing amid the chaos
THE Ancient Regime of Arsene Wenger is the greatest Christmas attraction. Commonly thought to be fading fast, the last autocrat in English football has seen off another Tottenham Hotspur manager while guiding Arsenal to the top of a Premier League convulsed by uproar and sackings.
If ever a facial expression has fired a manager, the disdain scored across the face of Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy did for Andre Villas-Boas during last Sunday's 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool.
AVB's demise came 15 fixtures after Arsenal had lost at home to Aston Villa on the season's opening day and pundits had lined up to say how well Spurs had spent the Gareth Bale money.
We may have called that wrong. We may have assumed too soon that Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli and Co could form a cabinet of all the talents to outweigh the loss of Bale.
We assumed, too, that Arsenal would never deliver on Wenger's promise of confiture tomorrow.
Approaching the halfway point in this Premier League title race, though, the big stories are Liverpool's rise under Brendan Rodgers, the stylish football played by Everton, regime change difficulties at Manchester United and vindication for Wenger, who has come to look like the last guardian of managerial honour.
Consider the chaos around him. Villas-Boas, the young technocrat, is no more at Spurs. Steve Clarke has been sacked by West Brom.
Malky Mackay, who has transformed Cardiff City, is messed about by a capricious foreign owner. The man who owns Hull City is obsessed with adding 'Tigers' to their name.
Martin Jol was fired by Fulham. West Ham's owners have cast doubt on the wisdom of buying Andy Carroll. Ian Holloway found it all too much at Crystal Palace. Sunderland saw sense over Paolo Di Canio.
All sorts of shenanigans sour life at Newcastle. And so on.
Even Jose Mourinho seems to be struggling with the myriad complications of managing Chelsea: specifically, the struggle between his own obvious temptation to go back to 1-0 victories and the pressure to give Roman Abramovich something to rattle his jewellery at.
By any standards (and the Premier League is more histrionic by the year), this season has been tough on managers -- who, you may have spotted, are sticking up for one another more and more in news conferences.
"I find it astonishing, what he's had to go through," Rodgers says of Mackay, who has to put up with the eccentricities and provocations of Cardiff's owner, Vincent Tan.
You hear this all the time now. As a breed managers know they are being emasculated by owners and chief executives who want to strip them of their power and turn them into mere heads of department.
Villas-Boas, remember, was booted out for failing to mould players bought largely, we believe, by Franco Baldini, Tottenham's head of recruitment.
Huddled together for warmth in a trench, managers will never recover their power base.
The Premier League has sold itself to foreign speculators and megalomaniacs who are unlikely ever to concede that the old model was the best.
But after 17 years, and eight without a trophy, Wenger (left) is still up there on his throne looking down at the other 19 outfits, including Spurs, who are employing their 11th permanent or caretaker manager since 'Arsene Who?' arrived in 1996.
Again all this could sound like another superficial judgment lurch by May.
Spurs might appoint an alchemist and shoot up the table. Arsenal might pay for their over-reliance on Olivier Giroud up front and implode.
As Christmas approaches, though, Wenger is the last custodian of the Old Ways.
He has never wavered from his vision of how he wants Arsenal to play. Tactical fads have not swayed him. Only with Mesut Ozil has he ceased to pinch his nose at farcical transfer fees.
In the face of scepticism and downright hostility, Wenger has maintained his dual status as artistic director and de facto boss of the whole club.
With Alex Ferguson's retirement he stands alone, one giant leap removed from the survival struggle faced by most of his 19 rivals.
In his world there is no Daniel Levy, with a lemon-sucker's grimace when the team lose; no interfering owner, even though Stan Kroenke versus Alisher Usmanov might have been a recipe for instability.
If you are Steve Bruce at Hull, you cannot be sure what the team you manage will be called tomorrow. At Cardiff, Mackay's head of recruitment, Iain Moody, was replaced by a 23-year-old Kazakh friend of the owner's son, who later had to stand aside while immigration officials queried his visa.
Against this backdrop, Wenger's eminence feels like a barricade we can all get behind, against the new charlatans. It gives us some slim hope that 'business' will not destroy football, however hard it tries. (© Daily Telegraph, London)