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Aakriti Mehrotra has a look at the Arsene Wenger situation addressing the all important question of whether the Frenchman is no longer immune from the normal parameters of success.
Arsenal came short in their bid to reach their third successive FA Cup final after the Gunners lost to Watford at home in the quarter-final of the competition. Wenger’s hopes of ending this season with a piece of silverware look thin with his side trailing significantly in the Premier League. At the time of writing, Arsenal find themselves 11 points behind leaders Leicester City with one game in hand. Two losses and a draw in the last three league games before the win against Everton, means things look grim for Wenger for whom this season represented the best chance to get the league trophy which has eluded him since 2003/04.
The last two seasons saw Arsenal finish with the FA Cup which Wenger could use in his defence for still being in-charge of the club. These two trophies were quite simply his “safety net”. Arsenal could have become the first team since Blackburn Rovers to win the FA Cup on three successive occasions but the loss to Watford killed those chances. With the side out from the domestic competition, it is difficult to see the Gunners ending the season with a single trophy. So what happens to Wenger, someone who seems immune from the normal parameters of success?
There is no doubt about the manager’s place in Arsenal’s history. He has been a massive figure for the side in many respects. His off-pitch contribution has been as crucial as his on-field one but if his side finishes empty-handed this season, would it not be time to leave the club he has served for two decades now? Arsenal fans are mocked on social media for beginning the season with immense love and faith in Wenger but as the season progresses, they are infamous for “Wenger out” claims. While it might be easy to make fun of the pattern, their swinging emotions are justified. Arsenal have time and again begun the season in control of their destiny but as things progress, they stutter.
It will be a shame to see the Frenchman leave in this fashion, and not go out with a bang. Even Wenger’s fiercest critics will feel that 66-year-old has done enough to warrant something special to close his chapter at Arsenal with. However, when things reach a plateau, it becomes evident that it would be in symbiotic interest for the manager as well as the club for someone new to step in and perhaps instill the club with energy and a new philosophy.
Wenger doesn’t believe in short-term fixes; he is a manager who wants to slowly build a team and one which can deliver consistently. There is no denying these bare facts. The one star a window has clearly shown this. However, is this the winning formula? In Petr Cech, Arsenal did get someone who has delivered on John Terry’s promise of saving 10-15 points every season. But Arsenal didn’t sign a single outfield player last summer and ignored the glaring need of another defender, cover for Coquelin and an effective central midfielder. Not to mention, Wenger has disregarded cries for a striker more prolific and effective than Giroud, someone with the ability to be the leading man for the side. This can still be excused with there being a dearth of elite or Type A strikers in the market, ones who would justify the huge sums demanded by their clubs. Jackson Martinez and Christian Benteke have both been hugely underwhelming for Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, respectively, and both went for more than 30m in the market. Martinez has already made a switch to China.
But for how long can the fans be allowed to revel in mediocrity and complacency? They are naturally tetchy at the moment and the air at Emirates has become toxic, one which can go when there are either signs that the side is headed towards what is defined as success for the side, or with an actual trophy. A similar environment had surrounded Anfield last season and the appointment of Jurgen Klopp, ironically someone who the Arsenal fans wished would take over at the North London club after his sabbatical, changed that. It’s not as though Liverpool have won a trophy this season or are competing for the title. Even their top 4 prospects are not very bright; but the fans know the club is headed on the right direction, under a man whose philosophy is visible on the pitch. After years of backing Wenger to win the club’s first Champions League or get their hands on the league title, Arsenal fans also deserve that hope.
Are the owners/majority shareholders to be blamed? Have they become too satisfied with the monetary success? Wenger hasn’t failed in this department and if this is all they desire from the club, there is no reason to sack him. Since Arsenal’s “invincible” title win back in 2004, Wenger has only finished second once, in the following season. Arsenal have finished in the fourth place six times and have finished third on three occasions. When one looks at the final season table, it seems as though the club has rarely even threatened to win the title again.
Arsenal seem to be lacking ambition and that seems to the underlining problem for why the trophies are eluding them.
Despite all this, it is difficult to imagine Arsenal giving their manager of 20 years the sack. Wenger’s contract gets over in 2017 so it is most likely going to be him seeing it out or resigning himself. Moreover, it seems like Arsenal’s closest rivals will have Klopp, Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte in-charge of the club. Leicester City and Tottenham are expected to keep doing well and other teams will also be competitive with the Premier League’s growing attraction and influx of money at the clubs. This gives the owners more reason to keep Wenger at the club, perhaps for another season where they can look for an “adequate replacement”. In the process, they will want Wenger to ensure the club finishes in the top 4, the art of which he has mastered.
This will, however, come at the cost of ambition. If the Frenchman can’t deliver the league this season, and no one should be written off just yet as many twists and turns can happen in 8 games, how can any “cons” outweigh the “pros” of letting go of the illustrious manager? With all their expected title rivals faltering around him, this season was Wenger’s best chance to win the league. There is hardly any excuse for not delivering. The time would be right to hand over the reigns to someone else who could take the club forward in the coming years.
“Tarnishing” his legacy seems to be a vapid reason for keeping him around. Everyone who follows football knows what a brilliant manager Wenger is. Pretty much anyone involved with football knows his importance to the club. At a time, where the hire-and-fire method has become so normal, Wenger will be remembered in history as one of football’s greatest managers and one who could create a legacy to begin with. Steven Gerrard left Liverpool with nothing, and his last trophy, which was the League Cup, came back in 2012. This doesn’t make Gerrard a lesser figure in Liverpool fans’ eyes, and grudgingly even in the rival fans’ eyes. As dramatic as it sounds, Wenger can never be a small figure in the eyes of any Arsenal fan — past, present or future.
For how long do you water a dead plant? Stagnation is as bad as going backwards, only it might even be worse. Leonard Sweet called stagnation “death”. As scary as it is, it is the truth. At least going backwards is palpably visible; standing still means there is neither progress nor deterioration, where the need to try something different is pronounced and imperative.
Things need to be shaken up at the Emirates. That is what Arsenal needs — a reboot.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra