Arsenal: It’s time for Wenger to go
Arsenal are falling to pieces and have been for some time. But what caused this epic fall from grace? And what can be done to restore the club to its former glory?
Arsenal ceremoniously kicked off the month of March in classic fashion, with a humiliating 2-1 league defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion.
This was just the latest instalment in a recent dismal run of form which had seen the Gunners chalk up four losses on the bounce, having not picked up a single point over the course of five weeks.
Since then they have impressively recorded six successive victories, including a comprehensive 5-1 aggregate win over AC Milan in the Europa League Round of 16 and things are looking ever so slightly more rosy in the Arsenal camp.
Albeit, major problems still linger. They still lie a remarkable 30 points off the top of the English Premier League table and are as close points-wise to rock bottom West Brom as they are leaders Manchester City.
But long out of the running for any domestic silverware, it’s been another season to forget for Arsène Wenger’s men.
Cast your mind back 12 years. It is May 2006. Arsenal are about to take on world beaters Barcelona in their inaugural UEFA Champions League final.
Having finished either second or first in each of the last eight Premier League seasons and with four FA Cups under their belt in this time, Arsenal were arguably at the height of their power in the modern era.
Fresh off the back of a triumphant FA Cup penalty shootout victory against Manchester United the previous year and an unprecedented Invincibles season which saw them go 49 consecutive matches unbeaten on their way to the league title.
Arsenal were fast becoming a world power again, with Arsène Wenger at the helm firmly cemented as a managerial force to be reckoned with.
The Holy Grail
The only thing that had consistently eluded them since the abolition of the Cup Winners Cup in 1999, was a European trophy.
The Champions League final provided a formidable yet ideal opportunity to amend this. Yet despite a valiant performance with 10 men after Jens Lehmann’s early dismissal, Arsenal went on to lose narrowly.
This loss signalled the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s domestic dominance. They finished fourth that season and the mesmeric success of the previous eight years withered.
They went the following eight seasons without a single trophy, finishing third or fourth year in year out, as opposed to the seconds and firsts their fans had grown so accustomed to.
Sitting back, they watched on helplessly as Manchester United and Chelsea regained a hold of the reins at the top level of English football.
A selling club
The subsequent years have been a painful period to be an Arsenal fan.
The initial heartbreak of that Champions League final defeat was to set the tone as Arsenal gradually became less and less competitive both domestically and internationally.
While consistently continuing to play the silky, free-flowing attacking football that has largely defined Wenger’s regime, previously absent defensive frailties began to be increasingly brought to the fore.
The star-studded squad that had dazzled in the first half of the decade gradually retired or moved on to greener pastures and their replacements tended to not meet the standard that had been set by these former superstars.
The Lehmanns, Keowns, Vieiras and Henrys were replaced by Almunias, Silvestres, Coquelins and Bendtners. And even when they did sign or develop a world class player such as Cesc Fàbregas, Robin Van Persie or more recently Alexis Sanchez, they would never be able to hold onto them for a long-term basis.
Arsenal became a selling club, much to the dismay of the fans. This only served to add to the fans growing frustration as the money made from flowering and selling these players was never put to good use.
Far past the excuse of using this cash to pay off the swanky new Emirates Stadium, which was completed in 2006 at the cost of roughly £400 million, Arsenal grew into one of the richest clubs in the world, continuously turning a profit but with no silverware to show for it.
Arsenal had become a business rather than a team.
In an era of frantic managerial supersession, particularly in England, Wenger’s 22 years at the helm of Arsenal remain impressive.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013, Wenger has been by far and away the longest-serving manager in the country. Eddie Howe’s five years at Bournemouth put him second in the Premier League, meagre in comparison to Wenger’s exceptional tenure.
While the Frenchman’s past successes and undeniable prowess as a manager cannot be ignored, neither can 14 years without a league or European title for a club like Arsenal.
Every season fans of the club hope and pray that something will happen to restore Wenger’s pride and reputation, that this year will be different and he’ll bring back the glory days to finally restore a new era of Arsenal success. But it’s always been more of the same.
Following Arsenal’s last successful period, the fan base has become familiar with the team’s well-established pattern of having one prosperous half of the season and one poor.
They either get off to a flier and by Christmas fans are singing that this will be their year only for the squad to capitulate and end the season in more disappointment, or start off terribly and end up having to go on a run of form after the turn of the year to ‘save their season’ by somehow finishing above Spurs.
The one season they did actually finally break the mould by finishing second, it went largely unnoticed as Leicester City marched to the title.
Since then, they have failed to have even one good half of the season, and look to be heading to their second successive finish outside the top four, having not done so previously since 1996.
Arsenal fans have proven themselves a resilient bunch, but since the turn of the year far too many empty seats have been visible at The Emirates. Even they have decided enough is enough, and the Wenger Out brigade is now stronger than ever. Something has to change.
An entire revamp of the club is needed at Arsenal.
Yes, they have some multi-million-pound starlets, but there are too many players who do not come near the standard required to mount a serious challenge for the title still starting on a regular basis.
Keeper Petr Čech is a footballing legend but, at 35, it is painfully obvious that he is well past his best. Players such as Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck have proven time and time again that they do not have what it takes to perform consistently at the highest level, as is expected at a club with the history of Arsenal weighing on the team’s shoulders.
The team looks disjointed as if no one really cares whether they win or lose anymore and fans are at this stage numb to the feeling of disappointment.
Ultimately, the question lies with the boss. Arsenal fans will always have love and respect for what Wenger has done for the club, transforming them from mid-table mediocrity to, at times, the best team in the country.
But from the players to the stadium they’ve changed everything except the manager since then and to no avail.
It will be a sad day when Wenger he finally leaves but, for the good of the club, it seems like that is what’s necessary if they are ever to return to former levels of success.
Wenger in? Wenger out? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.