The Last Days of Wenger?

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In recent years criticism of Arsene Wenger has been very popular amongst pundits and some Arsenal fans. Two consecutive FA Cup triumphs accompanied with the sparkling form of Mesut Ozil and the arrival of Alexis Sanchez had appeared to stop the tide of negative feeling towards him. Following a lacklustre performance against a youthful Manchester United team and a home defeat to Swansea, the pressure upon Arsenal’s -serving manager increases again. A 2-2 draw with Tottenham has not ceased the critique of the Frenchman either.  

 

Wenger’s Old Trafford nightmare continued and they have now taken just 2 points away from their visits to the Theatre of Dreams since September 2006. This match and the game against Swansea looked like formalities on paper, despite Arsenal having only won three of their last ten games in all of their competitions before this point. Yet the performances were what we have come to expect from an Arsenal side at the business end of the season.  They were playing a fairly weak Manchester United side, and this Arsenal side showed little desire for victory, with Walcott and Sanchez absent for a majority of the match. Whilst against Swansea the lack of cutting edge in the final third was exemplified by Oliver Giroud who volleyed against the bar from 8 yards out. Although Sanchez scored the equaliser against Tottenham at the weekend, he has failed to recapture the form of his debut season in the Premier League. At the other end of the pitch Arsenal possess keepers such as Cech and Ospina. However, even they cannot cover up the defence frailties that opposition teams expose too often. Gabriel seems to be the weak link in the centre back position. He has parented both Koscielny and Mertesacker over the last three games and has conceded 7 goals. Defence is surely an area requiring further investment, despite the signing of Callum Chambers.

Perhaps the most vocal criticism of Wenger has been in regard to his lack of activity in the transfer market. The general consensus is that Wenger has skulked through transfer windows with the handbrake on for far too long. Arsenal need to sign a world-class striker. Oliver Giroud is not of the same ilk as Thierry Henry, Shearer or Aguero. Giroud is without doubt a good player, but does not score 20 Premier League goals a season. Arsenal’s other striking options lie in Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck. Welbeck has been injured for a majority of the season but was central to their 2-2 draw with Spurs. However, Wenger still cannot decide whether Walcott is best used as a striker or as a winger. Some may say that Walcott doesn’t truly know himself.  As a result, it has caused Wenger to hesitate in spending big money on a top-quality striker. Arsenal have toyed with the idea of bidding for Karim Benzema and they made a £40 million (and a pound) bid for Luis Suarez – although rejected – a couple of years ago. However, these failures are the closest Wenger has come to solving this conundrum, with Arsenal’s other signings, including Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh, simply not making the grade.

It is not just the lack of quality signings that has negatively impacted upon Arsenal. Losing key players has become a recurring theme for the Gunners. The club has taken the decision to let the likes of Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Emanuel Adebayor all join Manchester City. Robin Van Persie left to join rival team, Manchester United, whilst Alex Song and Cesc Fabergas both departed for Barcelona.  They did receive hefty fees for most of these players, which was highly significant at a time when Arsenal needed to carefully manage their finances (owing to the huge investment in moving from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium). This is also one of the reasons why there has been a limited, rather than a high, amount of, investment. Wenger and the board should be congratulated for the success of the new stadium, especially with it bringing in the highest revenues in world football in the 2014/15 season. However, all of these players were in their prime at the time of leaving and each of them has gone on to win a league title – something which continues  to elude Wenger. Financial stability has stood in the way of Arsenal earning their first Premier League title since the 2003/4 season.

Injury issues are also another problem synonymous with Wenger’s tenure. No one can work out why Arsenal seem to have so many more injuries than any other team. In the last ten seasons, the team has had more than any other side in the Premier League. This has led to criticism of Wenger’s training regime as well as his reliance on the same players week in, week out. Wenger’s first XI is quite predictable when all players are fit. The dependence on these players to play so many games in a season with little rest surely is a large contributing factor to the constant injury crisis. Wenger insists his medical team are of the highest quality, but with so many players having recurring injuries, is it any wonder  that his practices are being questioned?

 

Because of Wenger’s legendary status at the club, he has complete job security. As a result of him being in charge of the entire first team, he should have total responsibility and, therefore, total accountability. However, Wenger’s failure to win the Premier League has seemingly been accepted without any consequences  – that he remains  in the job shows he has a lot of power and the board has too much respect for his past glories. This is a board which is simply unwilling to sack the manager. This is in direct contrast to the revolving door that can be seen to operate at London rivals, Chelsea. Their approach is widely criticised, but has seen much greater success in terms of trophies. Wenger is untouchable. This stability, and the good faith shown in him, have now become detrimental to the club’s ambition to achieve a fourteenth league title.

Of course, it is still possible that Arsenal can win the league. However, only three wins in their last thirteen games has made their task even more challenging. Leicester have opened up a five point gap over Tottenham whilst Arsenal sit a further three points behind them. This season was Arsenal’s best chance of winning the league, but yet again it appears the players do not possess the character necessary to maintain a title bid.  Should Wenger win the FA Cup for the 3rd consecutive season, it might be the best time for him to depart the club whilst still remaining a cult figure in the eyes of the fans. You can either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

 

 

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