It plain for all to see that a few pillars in the Barcelona foundation have been removed. The team have struggled in recent times in the league, allowing rivals Real Madrid to form a 10pt gap at the top of the league, and many are pointing to the fact that Barcelona are now a cup team for the remainder of the season. What hasn’t been as obvious, however, is Pep Guardiola’s growing displeasure at the Nou Camp. The youthful, energetic and inspiring manager is looking well past his age; the loss away to Osasuna on the weekend only highlighting the frustrations of a manager who possibly feels his hands are tied on a number of team selection issues—notably his inability to rest Lionel Messi. Guardiola has always said that February is the most difficult month for his team, but his insistence on not signing a long-term contract at the club may be about to work in his favour. Are there signs that the Barcelona manager has taken this group of players as far as he can, and is there a desire to test himself at another team; namely Arsenal.
Perhaps the greatest act of revenge for Arsenal, a team who have had to deal with the Barcelona vultures circling for far too long, would be to give Barcelona’s star manager an exit route from a club where he feels his part in the success story of the past three years has been overlooked. Many Arsenal fans have already voiced their opinions and displeasure at Arsene Wenger, and would like nothing more than to see a replacement in the mould of Guardiola arrive in the summer. Suggestions that the Spanish manager is too far out of reach for Arsenal would be quite wide of the mark; he is a manager who likes to assert himself on a team and club and build something for the future in his image. The foundations are already in place at Arsenal: a stadium of the highest quality, excellent youth and training facilities, and a desire from the fans to see the Barcelona brand of football brought into the Premier League.
Not only would the club be looking to an extremely bright future in the hands of a manager who is not afraid to fine his star players for arriving late to training, but also for one who brings different ideas to the table and is more than willing to assert his authority on a group. Would players such as van Persie want to stick around now for a manager whose CV is as impressive as Guardiola’s?
There have also been hints that Wenger himself feels his time at the Emirates is coming to an end. It’s clear from his transfer spending over the summer that he has shifted from his preferred route of buying for the future, instead picking up ready-made reinforcements for his squad. It’s also suggested that Wenger would like to take his family back to France and perhaps continue his career in his homeland. But more than anything, there is a sense that he can no longer quietly go about his job at Arsenal with the amount of pressure from supporters. This looks far from a man enjoying his job, while unwillingly allowing his best players to depart from the club when they too begin to get fed up of it’s stagnant nature. The potential loss of Robin van Persie in the summer may be all that she wrote for Wenger at Arsenal, as the chorus of boos and ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ would echo even louder. It’s clear that the club need a change in direction and a manager that could take over for the long-term.
The convenience about Guardiola and Arsenal’s situation is that both are in a state where change is perhaps needed. Guardiola has been firm in his stance that he would step aside if he was no longer able to motivate his players at Barcelona. Lionel Messi’s stats for this season would certainly suggest otherwise, but he is looking a troubled player, lacking in that extra bit of ingenuity to finish off the many chances he continues to make for himself. The Madrid vs. Barcelona story and the high number of Clasicos over the past 18 months has also perhaps taken a lot out of Guardiola. His success in this fixture is not telling of the whole story, but rather a welcome distraction from the minds games and ugly side-shows that are frequent in these fixtures.
Arsenal certainly need a new motivator and one who can reshape the team into another genuine title challenger. It would be a fitting end if Arsene Wenger could end his time at the club on a high; even if it was just to capture fourth for another season, the implications going forward would be significant and he would have truly left his mark on the club in a positive way.