Following Arsenal’s season-defining 3-2 triumph over Hull City in the FA Cup final last weekend, chairman Sir Chips Keswick is keen to extend Arsene Wenger’s stay in North London by another three years with the issuing of a new contract.
Yet, having endured the relentless mediocrity of being a life-long Charlton fan, the words of Alan Curbishley’s resignation speech in 2006 will always stay with me; “It’s better to be clapped out of the front door than kicked out of the back door.” In that regard, the FA Cup which ended Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought last weekend would be the ideal send-off before the Emirates faithful finds itself at civil war with their manager once again.
The question Arsenal fans need to ask is whether Wenger is prepared to change, bearing in mind that claiming the FA Cup is the ideal excuse not to. The Gunners may have ended the 2013/14 campaign on an almighty high, but the many intrinsic issues that come with the Frenchman’s management style and philosophy still persist.
Arsenal spent more days at the top of the table, 128, than any other Premier League side, but their fatal flaw – as it has been for essentially the last decade – was results against divisional rivals. Against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, the Gunners claimed just five points this season, with an aggregate score of 18-5. In my opinion, the problem can be sourced to the inflexibility of Arsenal’s squad and Wenger’s refusal to tailor his tactics.
No matter who Arsenal face, be it reigning champions or regular relegation battlers, Le Professeur sends his Gunners side out with the same mentality, formation and direction every time. It’s all well and good having an identity, and Wenger certainly provides that in abundance, but the complete ignorance of his opponents, as if their influence on the result compared to Arsenal’s is merely circumstantial, verges upon dangerous arrogance.
Jose Mourinho may be a rather unsavoury character, but Stoke or Sevilla, Manchester City or Malmo, the Portuguese prepares for his opponents down to every detail. The essence of respect for the opposition.
And once again, injuries have plagued the Gunners this season. The trend has gone on far too long now for it to be an unfortunate coincidence. The squad lacks depth in key departments and despite having countless opportunities to do so, Wenger has shown a continual reluctance to remedy the situation.
The loss of Theo Walcott completely disrupted the Arsenal game plan, with his lack of pace and penetration leaving the Gunners midfield glaringly one-dimensional. Likewise, although the incredible form of 16-goal midfielder Aaron Ramsey will leave Arsenal fans wondering ‘what if’ in regards to the Premier League title, having missed the business end of the season in it’s almost entirety through injury, a more concerning inquiry should be how the North Londoners would have fared this year if the Welshman hadn’t undergone a coming-of-age campaign.
Likewise, although Mesut Ozil’s £42.2million Emirates arrival last summer was described as a watershed moment in Arsenal’s previously spendophobic transfer policy, it’s been long forgotten that it required an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon of terrace protests during a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season to convince Wenger that he needed to buy last summer.
Prior, he had continually stated that his squad was already strong enough to challenge for the Premier League title, whilst former Director David Dein has often quoted Wenger in saying ‘the only thing you can guarantee with a big player is a big salary’. The problem is that football is a capitalist industry. You have to make money to spend money, and standing still means you’ll soon be left behind. Lest we forget, this is a manager who let his £13million swoop for Sylvain Wiltord in 2000 remain Arsenal’s record transfer fee for the next eight and a half years.
Admittedly, Arsenal fans are more than aware of Wenger’s stubbornness on these issues, but the common feeling will be that their FA Cup triumph can be provide the momentum required to propel the club back towards its former glories. The taste for silverware is infectious, and their win against Hull City at Wembley has exonerated the nine-year dark cloud that loomed over the Emirates. Why change everything now, just as Wenger and the Gunners have overcome their burdening psychological shackles?
But if there’s one reason the coming summer is the opportune moment to welcome a changing of the guard, it’s undoubtedly Arsenal’s sponsorship deal with Puma. The deal is worth £150million over its five year duration, making it the largest sponsor agreement in British football history. Resultantly, the Telegraph believe that along with the Gunners’ new kit deal, it will add around £50million to the club’s annual spending power.
That money could be given to Arsene Wenger whom, as history suggests, would probably make a series of typically-Wenger, £10-£15million acquisitions that won’t solve the many problems holding back Arsenal from effectively competing in the Premier League and Europe.
Or it could be given to a new manager with new ideas – a kick-off fund to begin taking the club in a new direction. Truly the start of a new era at the Emirates, not simply a reanimation of the old one.