Having worked so hard to pay off the Emirates Stadium debt, secured new kit sponsor and manufacturing deals, and made the biggest player investment in the club’s history by signing Mesut Ozil, all signs pointed towards a sharp upwards trajectory in Arsenal’s on-field fortunes.
But now, with the players and management facing an uphill battle to achieve a top-four Premier League finish, it really is finally time for the club to divorce from their long and stale marriage with Arsene Wenger.
Initially, the team looked to be taking full advantage of a summer which saw a change of manager in each of last season’s superior clubs. But the confidence of the early stages of the campaign has been replaced by apprehension. Whether it’s due to fatigue or injuries, the speed of play and efficiency in the final-third has seldom existed since January.
Those clubs with new managers have shown a positive correlation between time and results. Arsenal, on the other hand, have gone into kamikaze mode.
We noted out the predictability of Arsenal’s decline weeks back. There is one constant variable throughout each of these periods of decline. As players change, and the amount of injuries vary, the one man who has had to experience the same failings over and over again is Arsene Wenger. And it’s time he recognised his impact on this trend.
Wenger fails to address the same issues year upon year. The team goes through the same phases of crises of confidence which every season he can’t address. He struggles to pinpoint exactly how he can restore the belief and lead the team in a way that is befitting of a top manager. His touchline mannerisms have become muted, almost as if he is resigned in his inability to affect the team’s performance.
It has become increasingly difficult to watch Arsenal play and not associate their multiple shortcomings with Wenger’s approach. Everybody can forgive the odd blip. A loss of form and confidence can occur to anyone. But the regularity of the same issues at Arsenal take the spotlight of these issues off of the players and place it firmly on the manager.
Games away at Liverpool, Chelsea, and Everton were always likely to be tough. The possibility of coming away from each of these fixtures with zero points is eminently plausible for any of the Premier League’s sides. But to concede 14 and score just one across the three fixtures demonstrates a fundamental problem in Wenger’s preparation.
Wenger’s Champions League qualification record is under as serious a threat as it has ever been right now. With five games to go, Arsenal are dependent on Everton dropping points to overtake them. In spite of his successful record, it should never have gotten to this stage. The mismanagement of the past two months has the potential to undermine everything Wenger has achieved over the second half of his reign.
It’s not the destination which is so painful, but the nature of the journey. Fourth place in the league is no mean feat, especially when you compare Arsenal’s side with what surrounds them. But the periods of utterly unparalleled disaster never fail to leave a sour taste when all is said and done. A defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final would make the destination just as unpalatable as the journey.
Liverpool have already gate-crashed the established order, and now Everton are threatening to usurp Arsenal’s place amongst the top tier of Europe’s footballing elite. If they don’t watch out, Spurs may even sneak up on them.
Wenger seems to be losing the ability to extract the maximum from his players. FA Cup success would be a fitting end to what has been a magnificent journey for Arsenal and Wenger.
Arsenal is the club that exists today because of the impact of Arsene Wenger. He built the vehicle and mapped out the route. But it’s finally time for him to cede control of the wheel.