When did it all go so wrong for Arsene Wenger? It is hard to locate the time, the place or the occasion, but in the period since Arsenal’s last trophy win in 2005 when they lifted the FA Cup, there has certainly been a turning point.
A man with his first name remarkably similar to his club’s name, an eloquent Frenchman who likes beautiful football; Arsene Wenger appeared to be the perfect fit for Arsenal, and it would have taken a brave man to suggest otherwise during ‘The Invincibles’ years.
But in my opinion, the Frenchman has been living off the past successes of a squad that are now all retired or firmly into their twilight years. It’s all well and good qualifying for the Champions League consecutively since the 1997/1998 season, but is that really an achievement? Surely, considering what The Invincibles accomplished around a decade ago, the knock-on effect should be a team that can consistently finish in the top four at the very least, not at best.
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With Arsenal now tenth in the Premier League, rumours of dressing room bust-ups involving Steve Bould, and the Black Scarf Movement protesting against the commercialisation of the club, Wenger currently faces the most realistic chance to date of losing his job. Not that the Arsenal board would sack him – Wenger has been making the Arsenal politico and businessmen some serious money with his small-spending tendencies. Should Wenger resign, it would come through pressure from the fans, not because of the board.
The Arsenal first-team has become consistently worse ever since they last won the league, and furthermore, the Gunners are now a selling club – the Premier League’s answer to Ajax. Their best players have left after a couple of successful seasons at the Emirates, and often to sign for their league rivals. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a team cannot progress or naturally better itself if their top players are continually leaving for clubs that Arsenal are meant to be competing with. Wenger tries to find the next young solution to the wavering quality in the squad, spending small or middle-ranging fees on potential stars, but the other side of the coin is that it leaves the team in permanent transition. Furthermore, those signings that prove successful subsequently leave.
The problems at Arsenal have been long-term, but something about this current season in particular seems to capture and symbolise them. In the summer, the two biggest stars left for teams Arsenal should be competing with. Robin van Persie jumped ship to Manchester United and Alex Song was a surprise signing for Barcelona. Wenger’s resolution to losing his only players that can truly be considered world class is the signing of Olivier Giroud – based on two good seasons in the French league – and the retraining of Mikel Arteta to play a deeper role in midfield.
Giroud’s price-tag should have been some indication of his abilities. Despite winning Ligue 1, with the French forward being the division’s top goal-scorer, Montpellier let their striker for leave for just £12million. I’m not one for all this big money spending that dominates the game nowadays but if Giroud was truly a world beater, he would have cost an arm and a leg. The same applies to Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla. It’s not that the new signings have been particularly poor, in fact Cazorla started the season in excellent form, but they have hardly reinvigorated the team. Arsene Wenger has already announced he will not be using the January transfer window as an opportunity to splash the cash and change his side’s fortunes – how unsurprising.
The fans are angry because it’s not as if the money hasn’t been there to invest in the team and replace the stars that have left the club. Arsenal charge the most for season ticket prices and match-day food out of any Premier League team. The club have collected sizeable fees for their exiting players, although they could have claimed even more had Arsenal won enough trophies to convince their players to sign new contracts. The move to the new Emirates stadium, leaving behind the Gunners’ historical home, has brought in huge revenues in sponsorship that the club should be benefiting from. Furthermore, no one seems to be taking responsibility for the club’s failings.
It feels like Arsene Wenger is steering a sinking ship down a tiny river, in the hope that he won’t submerge into the murky water or come unstuck in the muddy riverbeds. There is certainly a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” feeling about Wenger potentially parting company with a club he has been with since 1996. But then again, he doesn’t look like a man capable of winning the league, or even capable of turning Arsenal back into title-contenders.
His transfer policy is out-dated. Not every player has to break the bank, but to maintain a level of quality in the modern game, large fees must be parted with to sign top-level talent. At the other end, too many good players have been allowed to leave to domestic and European rivals: Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin van Persie to name the most high-profile cases. Furthermore, Wenger has failed to win a trophy in nearly ten years. Since 2005, all of the top six apart from Everton have lifted silverware.
Now though, it appears that Wenger has finally lost the support of the fans. They are tired of the stalling progress, and with no real plan to turn the club’s fortunes around. With the board remaining muted by the large rolls of cash Wenger’s management style stuffs their mouths with, Wenger should listen to the fans and strongly consider his future before a peasants’ revolt has him and the board with their heads resting on the chopping block.
Why have a messy divorce when you can walk away and remember the good times?