The debate on whether Arsene Wenger and Arsenal should depart ways has reared its head again, this time only eleven league games into the season.
Yet it’s the umpteenth time since Arsenal’s move to the Emirates that a ‘Wenger Out’ chorus has grown louder. Is it finally time for change?
It’s come a little bit earlier this year than in recent seasons but the ‘Wenger Out’ crowd are out in force and they’re growing too. Besides last year’s excellent form through the first half of the season and then an FA Cup success the typical Arsenal season mirrors ‘Groundhog day’ all too much.
Usually it’ll start with an average to poor start to the season, typically bowing out of the title race at some point between December and February. A last sixteen elimination from the Champions League follows along with an injury crisis. This is topped off with an excellent bout of late-season form to secure European football and the cycle starts again.
This season has been especially harsh on the fans. The summer provided so much promise for Arsenal. The relatively early signings of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers provided a lot of hope. All that was needed was further defensive cover and the fabled defensive midfield player. Neither came and Arsenal are now paying the price for it.
Opta tweeted yesterday that no Premier League club has dropped more points than Arsenal from winning positions this season. To add to this, Arsenal have now only won two from their last seven home matches and three from their last nine away games. Their form has by no means been a complete capitulation, granted this week’s two fixtures both were. Rather the team seems to exhibit a clueless apathy towards events.
They seem clueless in how they defend and inept in how they take set-pieces that aren’t in a suitable positions for Sanchez to do something magical. At times against Swansea the Welsh outfit simply seemed to let Arsenal do what they wanted from corners, sensing they would be no real threat.
What frustrates Arsenal fans is not being out of the running for the League already, it is knowing that things will not change. Steve Bould’s appointment as Assistant Manager in 2012 promised a more compact defensive outfit. Last year it seemed the balance was finally right and yet Arsenal still managed to ship goals against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. This season Arsenal’s defensive backline is unrecognisable.
Only this season we hear murmurings that Arsenal are set to use video analysis to a far greater extent than previous seasons but even in the matches we’ve seen there appears to be little emphasis put on opposition analysis. This can only be some sort of dedication to WengerBall. Refusing to change styles between matches and play the Arsenal way is costing Arsenal this season and has done in the past, whether Wenger will admit it or not.
Their injury crisis should not be viewed in isolation. to have an injury crisis every season for ten years cannot be coincidental. Arsenal rack up an injury once every five days on average. Someone or something is to blame for this and Wenger’s so called tribunal into uncovering the causes this has yet to yield results.
Transfers have certainly improved over the last two seasons. Signings like Ozil and Sanchez, even cheekily taking Welbeck from United have shown some sense of ambition, but it could actually be these moves that undo Wenger. By bringing in these players he has once again raised the level of expectations for fans. If the club fails valiantly then it will still appear as progress, but if Arsenal continue to remain completely average then surely Wenger will face criticism on a whole new scale.
What’s worrying is that Wenger risks putting his entire career at Arsenal in jeopardy by staying too long. The man has turned Arsenal into a modern super club and it is because of his feats that fans demand so much. But, he has failed in many respects in recent years, it feels cruel to say given what he has accomplished but perhaps this season should be his last.
Arsenal have gone stale, they are too easy to line-up against and when even the most casual of observers can point out they lack a defensive midfielder to bring some balance to the team, alarm bells should be ringing. It is not uncommon for a ‘Wenger Out’ brigade to pop up every season. They are very vocal but often much smaller than the noise suggests.
This season though, the cries have started much earlier than usual. Wenger is six months into a three-year deal. For his own sake, does he really want to endure this for the rest of the season never mind another three years?
The only thing that will appease fans is League or European glory. Wenger is not a master tactician and does not possess either the funds or the willingness to bring the players needed to achieve those demands. Perhaps for his own sake, this season should be his last.
Sean Curtin, Pundit Arena.