Arsene Wenger endured years of criticism before Arsenal’s FA cup triumph in 2014 and after proclaiming that “fourth place is a trophy”, just what will it take for the Frenchman to end his spell in charge of a club in turmoil?
The banners at the Emirates Stadium read, “Enough is enough, Wenger out”, after an excruciating 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in a game which they typically dominated but found little in the final third and were caught out twice by counter attacks. Wenger still has two and a half years left on his contract so the only way these anti-Wenger supporters will get their wish is if he decides to quit the club.
This Arsene Wenger led team is certainly not at the same level of the more memorable Arsenal teams, a fact highlighted by their incapacity to close out games once they are leading. The first great Arsenal team under Wenger had Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit to control proceedings, then Gilberto Silva came in to partner Vieira and opponents found it nigh on impossible to peg back Arsenal. This team has Mikel Arteta, not the most imposing of central midfielders. Striker Olivier Giroud pointed out his team’s defensive frailties in a recent interview, “For us, the most important thing is to be consistent and to know how to close the game after winning it, like Anderlecht or Swansea away”.
So are these defensive lapses and painful losses Wenger’s fault? One would argue that the manager’s failure to secure a capable holding midfielder is at the heart of Arsenal’s defensive problems. He has an abundance of attacking midfielders in the form of Cazorla, Sanchez, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Oxlade Chamberlain and Ozil and these players all shine in an attacking manner but Wenger can only look across to Stamford Bridge to see how to properly incorporate this type of player into a rigid system.
Simply put, the Arsenal style of football does not work anymore. Exquisite passing, delicate through balls and deft touches around the box may please the purists but points on the board is the name of the game and Arsenal have conceded fifteen goals this season compared to Southampton’s six. Wenger’s incapacity to change his style of football to allow the team to hold on to leads in valuable winning positions could lead to his departure at the end of this season.
Poor signings in previous years have not derailed Wenger’s position as the board continued to proceed after countless misses in the transfer market. Gervinho was described as “a great addition to the squad” upon arrival, while Marouane Chamakh was ridiculed for his performances in an Arsenal shirt. Andre Santos is now playing in India but will be best known for swapping jerseys with Robin Van Persie at half time at Old Trafford while the infamous Park Chu Young addition proved appaling, as he now plies his trade in Saudi Arabia. None of these swings and misses have cost the Frenchman his job. Wenger has long had the excuse that the money was the problem as Stan Kroenke and Ivan Usmanov refused to allow the club to make the major signings needed to challenge for the title.
This season however, is totally different. £35 million was forked out for Alexis Sanchez while the previous season saw Wenger break Arsenal’s transfer record to secure Mesut Ozil. This season’s disappointing start cannot be attributed to the transfer funds available to the manager.
Injuries are a certainty for every team in the Premier League, so for Arsenal fans to complain about the scale of their injuries is ridiculous. In fact, the Manchester United team that triumphed over Arsenal on Saturday was without twelve players and featured a backline of Blackett, Smalling, McNair and Shaw(who went off injured).
So what will it take for Arsene Wenger to quit? The Emirates Stadium seems to be a divided ground at the moment with groups of anti-wenger fans amongst supporters who still believe in the 65 year old Frenchman. Fourth place may no longer be good enough to satisfy even his biggest supporters but it seems Wenger is determined not to leave the club in this manner.
Perhaps it would have been the perfect send off for Wenger to have left after the FA Cup victory. Now, the doubters are louder than ever and the fans sound like they are supporting a relegation threatened club rather than a manager who has patrolled the Arsenal sideline for over eighteen years.
Arsene Wenger’s only saving grace is that bar Chelsea, the Premier League is as open as ever. Three spots in the top four are up for grabs. However, a quick glance at the statistics for Arsenal make for grim reading. They have won just 17 of 63 matches against Man City, Man United and Chelsea during the last decade. They are in the midst of their worst start ever to a Premier League season and already seem a longshot to make the top four.
The only method of survival for Wenger is to change his stubborn ways, which seems unlikely given the past eighteen years. Not even the return of Olivier Giroud can spark a revival of fortunes. The end of the Wenger reign is nigh.
image by Ronnie Macdonald; via Flickr creative commons