It’s not been an easy year to say the least at the Emirates. Not only have the fans had to suck up the discomfort of spending the majority of the season sitting behind bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table, but furthermore, the embarrassment of being knocked out of the two domestic cup competitions by lower league opposition must surely have a psychological effect on Arsenal supporters, not to mention the team.
It’s clearly had some effect on Arsene Wenger, who for the first time in his career appeared flustered, hot-headed, emotional and confrontational during his rather bizarre press conference performance yesterday afternoon. On the surface, a news story declared as “false” suggesting Wenger is currently on the verge of signing a new two year contract extension appeared to be one that he could be pleased about. But the Frenchman was disgruntled and angered by the rumours, and it’s easy to understand why.
The notion of a contract extension, amid the Gunners’ worst season to date whilst Wenger has been at the helm, would spark the debate that this article intends to address: Does Wenger actually deserve a new deal? But furthermore, is it time a serious discussion was held over his future at the club?
I’ve been highly critical of the Le Professeur in the past, which has been met with a varied response from Arsenal fans. Perhaps he’s an easy target – he can be rude, arrogant, biased towards his own team and things certainly haven’t gone his way this season. But Wenger-bashing aside, I think in light of recent events, it is perhaps time to address what will happen at the end of the season. There is no doubt that rocking the boat at this point by relieving Wenger of his duties could only do further damage. But come the summer, Arsenal fans need to hold the future in mind.
I respect Arsene Wenger, he’s a talented manager who holds genuine and honest values about football in regards to how it should be played, the professionalism required and how the business side of things should be run. But in many ways, these idealistic views have stood in the way of the club’s success over the past few seasons.
Letting players leave for financial rather than footballing reasons is surely not an ideal way to run a club that at least by the expectations of the fans, should be pushing to be part of the title race. And indeed, the media have been producing some interesting stats in the build-up to tonight’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich that reveal the number trophies former Arsenal players have won since leaving the club from 2005 – the year of the Gunners’ last trophy win.
Although some of the figures are misleading, for example Alexander Hleb is accounted to having won five major trophies since departing in 2008, yet three of them are during his time at Barcelona where he only actually made 19 league appearances in four years, suggesting the transfer was hardly a success with another trophy to his name being the Belarusian Premier League title, and furthermore, Anthony Stokes’s two SPL Championship trophies are hardly worth mentioning in the grand scheme of European football, the seven trophies won by Thierry Henry after his departure and the eight by Patrick Viera are more concerning. Furthermore, the more recent examples such as Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas are equally as alarming.
Gunners fans were appeased this January when Arsene Wenger broke old habits to grant Theo Walcott his transfer demands, but is the England winger really the pick of all the Arsenal departees over the past eight years that the Frenchman should have bended the rules for?
It is clear that somewhere along the line something in the Arsene Wenger long-term master plan has gone wrong. A team of stars dubbed the Invincibles has slowly transformed into a collection of second-raters as Wenger continually dismisses the transfer market as being a logical construct, and denies any correlation between money and success, despite the rise of Chelsea and Manchester City, which through huge investments have blown Arsenal out of the water in terms of the title race.
It’s all very well pointing out Arsene Wenger’s failings – the fact that they haven’t won a trophy since 2005 is evidence enough, not to mention their current league position, that the club is moving backwards. But what should be considered more closely in regards to the Arsenal boss’s future is what will happen next season, or in five years time. Is it possible for Wenger to return the club to past glories?
Arsenal do have a number of promising youngsters on their books, however, the phrase “transition season” has been an excuse thrown around North London since the Gunners’ last Premier League title back in 2004. Jack Wilshere however does throw something different into the equation. The England youngster clearly has bags of potential, and could easily be a world-beater one day.
But is this not the same scenario as to when Cesc Fabregas was at the club? Is it more than likely we’ll see yet another Arsenal star reach the pinnacle of his talents only to move on for a large transfer fee? Perhaps with Wilshere it will be different. He’s been at the club since he was nine years old, and being English he has a greater connection to the fans compared to the foreign imports that regularly fill the Gunners books.
But a single star in a team that is quite frankly second-rate all round when you compare the personnel man for man with the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea will hardly make a substantial difference to league standing. Unlike their league rivals, there is an expectancy for new signings to step-up to a new level of performance, as oppose to be already playing at the level required.
Mikel Arteta for example, is certainly a good midfielder, and he is arguably one of the more successful signings in recent years, but would he get into any of the first XI’s of the top three? He certainly wouldn’t have even been considered by City, United or Chelsea whilst at Everton. Similarly, Lukas Podolski is regarded in Germany as a Bayern Munich flop who’s received far too many international caps in his career, yet he has been one of the Gunners’ better performers this season.
The single most important question in regards to Wenger’s future is whether he will learn to change his ways as it clearly hasn’t worked over the past eight years. It seems unlikely. The French boss is as stubborn as a mule, and will never spend a serious amount of money in the transfer window, despite the fact the team is obviously lacking in serious star quality.
His only saving grace could be the financial fair play laws, in which case Wenger could end up having the last laugh. But whether fans will put up with the continued silverware drought until the rules have been properly implemented and failing clubs have been subsequently punished to such a degree that Arsenal can benefit remains to be seen. It may be time for Wenger, the club and the fans to accept that they’ve come to the end of an era.