Another week, another stain on the Wenger legacy. Arsenal now hover just one place above the relegation zone, it's time for the board to act before it's too late.
While the speculation about Arsene Wenger was filling up football forums and back pages, comment coming out of The Emirates itself was eerily quiet. When this happens it’s a general give-away that important meetings have been taking place; the silence an indication of exercised control rather than the empty noise that characterises stories based on guesswork.
For me, and I don’t say this lightly, the content of these meetings should have been fairly direct. It’s time for Arsene to be given that move upstairs, a position as a technical director (whatever they do) or head of youth development. It’s definitely time for that move. It has nothing to do with the absence of a trophy since 2005. Arsenal fans are generally an ungrateful bunch of the best of times, content to drive players out of the club for no good reason, failing to create an atmosphere at their grounds (remember the Highbury library?) and generally moaning about a “lack of success” while playing the best football in the world. It’s a pay-off most other sets of fans would happily take.
Yet one thing they have got right this time is that Wenger as a manager has retreated into a cocoon of arrogance, a petulant refusal to acknowledge the shifting footballing landscape. While their push for four trophies completely collapsed, with Birmingham of all teams pulling away the first foundation, you could see Wenger start to unravel. He became greyer with each interview. His time in the papers weren’t spent reassuring fans or issuing battle cries. They were spent talking about other clubs, ones like Man City with money to burn.
It’s a testament to his sterling reputation that so many would seek to defend him but it’s time for the hard decisions if Arsenal want to stop a steady decline into mediocrity.
The season has started as it will go on. All indicators point to that. Struggling to qualify for the Champions League and struggling in it, a humiliating drubbing at Manchester United, unable to beat Blackburn and conceding four goals against them in the process… This is going to be Arsenal’s “Liverpool” season, when everyone realises it’s not going to get better and the manager simply doesn’t have the tools to dig them out of the hole they find themselves in. Indeed, quite the opposite. Wenger seems content to keep digging downwards. It’s like the scene in the shining where Shelley Duvall finds the manuscript.
Surprising then that the official statement released this week from Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis said: "Arsene Wenger is not broken. To see him portrayed as an idiot is damaging - not to him or the club but to the game. [Sacking him] is a route we are not going to go down. He didn't suddenly become a bad manager or out of touch. That's nonsense.”
No, it didn’t happen overnight. Nor would you say he’s a bad manager. He revolutionised English football, has had his share of trophies, has put Arsenal back on the map not only as one of Europe’s biggest clubs but also as one of the best footballing sides. His eye for talent has also enabled the club to finance a move to a new stadium and become a profitable business. All fine managerial achievements without doubt.
But the fact is, overnight or not, it has happened. Arsenal are frail and fragile and Wenger, for the first time since joining, looks out of his depth and borderline senile. He may well wish that all football clubs had to operate in the same way he created the Arsenal blueprint but, for now at least, they don’t. And while he fusses and fights against this fact teams such as Man City, Liverpool and even arch-rivals Tottenham are all inching ahead of them and becoming better teams and soon to be bigger clubs.
A new manager might not be able to take the club forwards as it stands. A transitional period will obviously be necessary. Yet the sad truth is now, after fifteen years of taking the club forward, sticking with Wenger as manager will only see it go backwards. It’s a testament to his sterling reputation that so many would seek to defend him but it’s time for the hard decisions if Arsenal want to stop a steady decline into mediocrity.
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