This afternoon will see Manchester City visit the Emirates Stadium amid speculation over the future of Arsène Wenger and also the future of Arsenal’s two star players. For the first time in a long time, Arsenal find themselves out of the top four positions and in real danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League.
His 21-year reign at the club looked to be coming to an end, but now everyone is unsure as to his next move with reports that a new two-year contract is on the table. He himself, is the last of a dying breed, a manager that has given unbelievable longevity in a ferocious and fierce football world in which clubs change managers more often than they do their toothbrushes. After Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 he became the last man standing.
When he first arrived in England from Japan, he was an unknown quantity and his appointment certainly raised a few eyebrows as did his methods of change which his implemented immediately into Arsenal. No more drinking, the correct diet and training tailored for each player amongst other methods that no one had seen done before. His first ten years were a triumph: three Premier League titles, four FA cup titles and four Community Shield wins and not to mention the Invincibles. However the last ten or so have not been anywhere near good enough, the club has won just two FA cups in the last twelve years. Unacceptable for a club of Arsenal’s size.
Wenger has been in a comfort zone, where if he qualifies for the Champions League each season everything is fine with pwner Stan Kroenke and the board. This is something that Arsène has managed to do every single year he has been at the club; again, a fantastic achievement of continuity, but what’s the point of being in a competition that you are never going to win?
I am well aware that Arsenal were fifteen minutes away from winning the Champions League in Paris in 2006 but it was not meant to be: that’s football and Barcelona were the better side. If they had won the trophy though would things have been different? We will never know. I’m certain that it’s Arsène’s biggest regret, not lifting the holy grail of club football.
Once again it’s a story of same old Arsenal this season. Emphatically knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich, Out of the League Cup before Christmas and now most definitely out of the title race as leaders Chelsea show no sign of letting up in their rampant pursuit of title glory.
This familiar story has seen a great division amongst the fan base and the atmosphere is toxic. We have seen the return of the ‘Wenger Out’ banner in grounds and even flown over the Hawthorns last month during a terrible 3-1 defeat against West Brom. This divide has caused infighting, but there is still a large set of supporters who do want Arsene to stay.
Seasons upon seasons have seen it finally come to an impass and Arsenal have some very, very big issues to resolve both off and on the pitch. In previous seasons Big players left the club in order to win trophies, and they were justified in doing so. Clichy, Adebayor, Fàbregas, Song, Nasri and Van Persie saw that they couldn’t achieve this with Arsenal and were right to move on. This was also at a time when Arsenal were a selling club, finances were tight and Wenger persevered.
In order to replace these players signings must have been brought in and the recruitment to replace those players has not been good enough. Giroud still splits opinion, Podolski has come and gone. Arteta struggled with injury and was collecting a wage and the list could go on. It was only in recent seasons when Wenger decided to loosen the purse strings, slightly, and bring in Özil and Sánchez but unfortunately the damage is done. Arsenal have fallen too far behind.
There is now a real feeling that the squads that he builds are left together for too long and become stagnant. Arteta should have been sold but was allowed to retire. Abou Diaby played 125 games in 9 years at the club before finally leaving on a free, Rosický a similar number over 10 years. There a similar stories through the years. The current squad of players is no different.
Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson, Gabriel, Yaya Sanogo: none of these are good enough to play at that level. Theo Walcott has not achieved anything at the club in ten years and has overstayed his welcome. Wenger allows players to stay longer than they should and then they either get released or sold for a very small fee. For someone who was financially astute and weary of spending he certainly doesn’t know a bad investment when he sees one.
Wenger is a stubborn man, who deeply believes in his principles but those principles are not working and have not been for a while. The club have not progressed in the last decade and as tactics and managing has evolved, he has not. Same approach, same results. There is a big big question about the mentality at the club being too weak and most would agree that’s the case.
Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City are ruthless, and that ruthless streak goes right through the club. If the manager is not performing, he’s gone. Chelsea have had 13 managers since Arsenal last won the title, Some permanent, some interim. Has it proved successful? Absolutely. Four Premier League titles, four FA cup wins, three League Cup wins, a Europa League title and a Champions League win.
Manchester City were a different club when Wenger last won the league but since then they have had 7 managers and have been relatively successful. Two Premier League titles, one FA cup win and two League Cup wins. Manchester City also have healthy investment which will allow them to grow year on year, not to mention a modern manager who is not afraid to spend.
Arsène has simply not allowed himself to evolve as football has done so around him.
Once he was the pioneering manager who was the catalyst for change, now others around him do so. Pep Guardiola has brought a new style of play with a sweeper keeper who can be used as an additional outfield player, full backs who tuck in and play as central midfielders if needed. This itself has had some teething problems but he is getting there and with a few additional signings you will see more a typical Pep Guardiola team next season.
Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp has brought the high energy, high intensity game he developed at Dortmund and which Barcelona are so famous for. Press as high as you can, as soon as you have possession, there are four runners all making different runs. It’s fantastic to watch. José Mourinho builds his teams to adapt to every situation. Attack and win at all costs with fast, with pacy wingers. He has players that are physically strong and tall for when he needs a defensive performance. He, like Pep, is meticulous in his preparation and adapts to his opponent and atmosphere.
More worryingly is what his happening across North London with rivals Tottenham. Pochettino has created a young and vibrant team. They set up as a 4-2-3-1 and when attacking the centre half’s split, the defensive midfielder drops in the gap and the full backs push on to make it a 3-1-5-1, all out attack at a blistering pace and its paying dividends. Pochettino himself has been linked with Barcelona job in recent weeks due to his style of play.
What about Arsenal? Stan Kroenke wants Arsène to stay and give another two years and allow him to rebuild the squad and leave it in a more stable position for when a long term replacement is found. This alone shows the power the man has at the club. Arsène Wenger can deceide his own fate. At times this season he has looked a broken man.
The Arsenal board are hesitant to sack Wenger, partly due to what he has done for the club which is magnificent, no one can deny that, but you wonder if the club have looked at what happened with Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson retired. United have had three years in the wilderness, no where near there best and under Van Gaal played some turgid football, Jose Mourinho is rebuilding slowly and the signs are now positive.
Arsenal should look across London to another one of its rivals in Chelsea, when José was sacked in December 2015 the club was in a real bad state, but careful guidance up to the summer from Hiddink and with a great selection of replacement in Antonio Conte, Chelsea are back and are looking rampant. Change is not always bad. The Arsenal board and Kronke need to know this.
If Arsene stays on for another two years, he will have the biggest job he has ever had on his hands. Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil’s contacts will both have 12 months to run and will need either signing or selling. The squad as mentioned needs rebuilding, no cutting corners, and the board need to back him and spend whatever it takes or Arsenal simply wont compete in the market with the heavyweight hitters.
The ball is in your court Arsène: one thing is for sure the saga is not over yet. Keep your eye on Arsenal, its going to be a very interesting summer.