IT’S ADMIRABLE FOR Arsenal to keep hold of Arsène Wenger, it really is. In an age where managers are tossed aside as easily as a soiled handkerchief, the loyalty and respect they have shown him has been unparalleled, particularly given the barren period they have endured since the Gunners’ last league title in 2003-04. This season, the club has been distracted by never-ending speculation about Wenger’s future; the latest rumours seem to suggest a new one-year contract is on the table. Pundits continue to express dismay at the prospect of showing him the door, but surely it’s time to say goodbye to a manager whose performance has continued to underwhelm.
Last night’s humiliating defeat at the hands of a poor team with a manager who has traditionally struggled against Wenger’s Arsenal might just signal the beginning of the end. More troubling for Arsenal is that they currently sit 6th in the Premier League table; for the first time in Arsène Wenger’s career at the club, there may be no Champions League football played at the Emirates next season. For an ownership that prizes money and balancing the books above anything else, this is a disaster.
The rift between management and supporters has widened considerably. Fans who, just a few months ago had nothing but praise for Wenger and a stubborn, cult-like loyalty to him, now unfurl banners demanding he should be denied a new contract. The players too, are showing signs of dissent, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil visibly unhappy at a club that has been unable to deliver the silverware they were promised. Fans and players alike will be quick to blame the money and resources of Chelsea and Manchester City for this drought, but Arsenal is the fifth most valuable club in the world (ahead of the aforementioned). Poverty can no longer be used as a crutch.
It’s pretty clear that Wenger is a spent force. In fact, he has been for some time. Arsenal, over the last decade, have become a side of milky lightweights, content to churn out mediocrity in return for a fat paycheque. Wenger has certainly been consistent, and the pundits – admittedly not usually arbiters of wisdom – aren’t wrong to praise this. Consistency, however, can also mean stagnation. This is exactly what has happened to Arsenal. Although they have checked the rapid decline since the days of the Invincibles, they have not progressed much: they still struggle to get past the last 16 of the Champions League, and still fail, year after year, to mount a serious title challenge.
Arsenal have a lot to thank Wenger for, but the uncertainty over his future needs to be addressed. The answer, to me, is clear: Arsène Wenger must go, and if that means that the club have to endure a season or two of instability, so be it. His approach is outdated, and his unwillingness to spend serious money continues to hamper the club. If Arsenal are to compete with Chelsea and Man City domestically, they must remove Wenger and start looking forward. It will be difficult to stomach – after all, he was the future once.
His replacement? Well, a certain Barcelona manager has recently become available….
Arsène Wenger – Image by Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)