- Written by Shane Thomas
No point sugar-coating this. This has been a pretty tough time to be an Arsenal fan since late February. I wrote in these pages on how important the result of the Carling Cup Final was to the club, and what failure would result for the rest of the season. There seems little point in recounting what happened post-Wembley as I think we all know, and frankly, it's a little too painful - especially as I was mere yards away from the awful cock-up that gifted Birmingham victory on that day.
The debate has been raging throughout anyone who has even a passing interest in all things Arsenal. Does the manager Arsene Wenger need to go? This has been a very emotive issue amongst the fans, and so I will try to remove the emotion of the situation and look at things objectively. What would it mean for Arsenal to continue to trust in Arsene? And what would it mean if he were to leave?
As has been stated by many other managers, no other coach would be allowed to continue in a job at a top club after a trophy drought that has now reached six seasons. And while Arsenal have arrived at the threshold of the game's coveted prizes, there has been a consistent failure to get over the line. Many have proffered reasons for this, Wenger has kept the blinkers on, not veering from his belief if how to succeed for a moment.
But rather than a strength, this stubbornness has been a weakness since 2005. Good financial sense and attractive on-pitch aesthetics are intangibles that can't be placed in the record books.
The fans are unhappy with the lack of success. And this comes down to the fact that what most fans want are bragging rights. And nothing helps the banter in the pub than saying, "When was the last time your lot won anything?"
Well the answer is six years, and every step forward from the likes of a Jack Wilshere seems to be cancelled out by a step back with a Sebastien Squillaci. And with expected improvements from Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool & Chelsea next season, the problem for Arsenal may not be winning trophies but finishing in the top four.
The Transfer Market
While Wenger has always been one to accentuate the positive in public, in recent weeks the Frenchman has stated that a combination of nerves and poor efficiency in defence has cost Arsenal dear in the business end of the season. Arsenal have proven that with their best XI, they can beat any side. Many of the lacklustre displays this season tended to coincide with the appearance of the club's fringe players.
Wenger staunchly said in a press conference this week that he will not change Arsenal's style of play. In and of itself, that is fine. But he has to make sure that he has twenty players to perform in this style, not thirteen.
It wasn't that long ago Wenger that the Midas touch in the transfer market. It was pretty irrelevant that you hadn't heard of our latest summer signing, because they'd always come good. If he can do it again in the summer, and make sure that we can replace quality with quality when injuries happen, Arsenal will be a much tougher nut to crack next season. How often has a tremor of dread whizzed through The Emirates when the stadium announcer says that the likes of Denilson or Manuel Almunia are in the team? Very few sides succeed
when they don't have the means to compensate for injuries in their squads, so a couple of reliable players as backup can cushion the blow when absentees occur. Think of the extra points that could have been gained if the absences of Van Persie or Fabregas were as less keenly felt due to adequate foot soldiers in the ranks.
Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater
While fans may look on enviously at the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid & the two Manchester clubs, we have to remember that few clubs are as well positioned for the upcoming Financial Fair Play regulations than Arsenal. And that is down to Wenger. The building blocks for success are in place, it just needs the cement to fuse it together. While this season has fizzled out to a damp squib, Arsenal are not far off where they and the Gooners want to be.
And as I've also said on these pages before, the board has thrown in their lot with Wenger. They have given him complete control to manage the club his way, which is understandable given his record. The fact is that there doesn't seem to be a Plan B. Unlike most teams abroad or teams such as West Brom or Chelsea, Wenger doesn't just coach the first team. Managing a football club is nothing like the popular game, "Football Manager". Picking eleven players and assembling them in a system to get the best out of them is only the start. From the finances to the training sessions to what food is served in the club canteen, nothing happens at Arsenal without Wenger's say-so. It's believed that he also had a hand in the architectural construction of The Emirates Stadium.
He may not have been born on Holloway Road but this is a man who lives Arsenal as much as any fan. Would Pep Guardiola be willing to entrench himself in the club in such a way? Would Jose Mourinho remain in charge for a generation or would he end up leaving after three years at the helm? Sir Alex Ferguson is the only man to manage at the top level for a sustained period of time. And even he doesn't have as many duties to perform as Wenger. Replacing him would not just be about finding someone who can bring silverware, but someone who won't dismantle the work that Wenger has put in since 1996.
Personally I suspect that some of those calling for the head of Arsene Wenger are fairweather fans who only took an interest during the successful years in the last days of Highbury, people who assume that Arsenal was always a land of milk & honey - exhilarating football that would always produce baubles come May. Well some of us remember the days before Wenger. The end of George Graham's tenure was embroiled in rancourous controversy, while Bruce Rioch's one year in charge was a tempestuous one in which Ian Wright threatened to leave. Arsenal were on the way to becoming one of English football's sleeping giants. Wenger's arrival was the slap in the face that the club needed. Revolutionising the way the club was run from top to bottom, the impact of what Arsene Wenger has done will never be more clear than in the Tony Adams goal against Everton that sealed the title in 1998. Listen to the incredulity in the voice of commentator Martin Tyler. Like many football fans up and down the country, he couldn't believe that a side lambasted for being boring became the most entertaining team in the land in only two seasons.
Many say that Arsenal are just a couple of players away from being complete. Well, if that's the case, why would you undo five years of work by getting rid of the man who's made it all possible? Expectations at Arsenal will always be high, but that doesn't mean that one should forget where Arsenal were back in 1995. And they could be in serious danger of going back there if Wenger was to go now.
What The Board Should Do
But that doesn't mean that he should be untouchable. Patience is a virtue but it's not infinite. I maintain that Arsene Wenger should remain Arsenal manager, but I also think that the days of "Arsene knows" are finished. His previous successes earned him a deserved grace period to rebuild this side, but the grace from the fans is over. Personally I think next season we should judge him the way we'd judge any other manager. One way or another, we'll be able to see how effective Wenger's youth policy has been soon enough.
- Written by Rob George
It wouldn’t be a summer at the Emirates without wondering whether Arsene Wenger will dust off the chequebook and bring in some new names.
Recent years have shown though that Arsene would rather visit youth clubs around the globe than try his hand at the global transfer market but it’s a policy which has paid dividends in the past. Now in a summer which could be crucial for the Frenchman’s future, it appears the youth cycle will continue with the addition of a few new faces.
But while the press speculate about the arrival of the likes of Benzema,Cahill and Parker, there are some younger faces who want to make their presence felt next term. Buoyed by the rapid development of Jack Wilshere this season, young guns such as Ryo Miyaichi, Henri Lansbury, Kieran Gibbs,Wojciech Szczesny and Craig Eastmond are sure to come back ready for action next term.
- Written by Rob George
So we all know the weaknesses, the problem areas, the soft centre of Arsenal’s 2010/11 campaign but what can we expect/hope for during the summer and into a new season which could be the toughest of Wenger’s 14 and a half year stay on these shores? Mark Chalfen highlighted every single weaknesses and disappointment in his excellent blog here, what I aim to do in this piece is look at what could and maybe even should happen during what hopefully will be a long, hot summer.
Calls for Wenger to be sacked are ludicrous, I have criticised the Frenchman often this season but I firmly believe he should exit this club in a dignified manner, not a tap on the shoulder in corridor. But what is clear is that patience is wearing thin at the Emirates, we all love the style of football but it needs to put trophies on the table ala 1998, 2002 and the Invincibles of 2004. And with prices going up by six and a half per cent, the board need trophies to quell any resentment which is brewing.
- Written by Rob George
Jack Wilshere's Young Player of the Year award last month was the ultimate recognition of a young footballer whose star has risen to become one of shiniest in the galaxy. But this season has seen the young pup grow into Arsenal's midfield terrier in both the way he plays and his behaviour off-the-field.
In August there were high expectations for the young midfielder after a late season cameo for Bolton last season in which he impressed both on and off the field. It's fair to say Wilshere has met all the expectations and more with almost automatic selection in Arsenal's first-team, a Champions League goal, full England honours and even a row about whether he should grace the under 21's this summer.
But off-the-field, the added attention and fame has not changed his approach to life, he is due to be a father as his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and constantly is being linked with a big money move away from the Emirates. His response? Mature and not one we often expect from young men nowadays.
He has vowed to play a full part in the child's life and responded to the rumours of a move to Manchester City on Twitter with the following:
“'I don't kiss the Arsenal badge then leave”
No true Arsenal fan could doubt that, - his face after the defeat at Bolton which pretty much ended the Gunners title hopes mirrored the thousands which had travelled to the Reebok. His anger and frustration at Stoke on Sunday was part testosterone part pain at the fact that his team just wasn't reaching the potential he knows they have.
All this is not to say that he cannot improve, tackling is still a skill which he needs to hone while his occasional flashes of temper need to be watched. We ought to remember that he does not turn 20 until January 2012 and that a certain Paul Scholes cannot tackle to save his life but he hasn't turned out to be a bad footballer has he?
What you see is what you get with our Jack and he has certainly blossomed under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger. What he needs now is medals to complement the talent and the maturity he has shown in the full glare of the footballing world. Nervous on the big stage? Not a bit of it, remember he was hardly over-rawed by the metronomic Xavi when Arsenal clashed with Barcelona in February.
If rumours are to be believed that Arsene is planning a spring clean during the off-season then he needs to be careful around Wilshere for he is the jewel in the crown.
- Written by Rob George
Won 2, Drawn 5, Lost 3 – Arsenal’s record since the Carling Cup catastrophe against Birmingham City in all competitions. As well as crashing out of all four competitions they were in, the two months since Wembley has seen a disturbing change in the behaviour of a man who was once famed for his coolness. I speak of course of Arsene Wenger who appears to be just one more match away from committing hari-kari on football, referees and everything else in between.
I have not been short of a word of criticism for the Frenchman this season but I have no desire to see him expire on the touch-line for without Arsene there simply would be no Arsenal in their current state. But his behaviour in recent weeks is nothing short of erratic – fixtures rant, clashes with referees in the Nou Camp, Dalglish on the touch-line and barely shaking hands with Steve Kean and Harry Redknapp are not like Arsene Wenger and are rapidly seeing him lose respect from the great and good.
It’s clear to see why he is frustrated, a team not reaching its potential, a defence with more holes than Wentworth on a good day and a staggering 13 points dropped from winning positions this term. By the way that tally does not count the surprise losses against West Brom and Newcastle at home and today against a Bolton team fresh from a 5-0 hammering by Stoke last weekend.
Those 13 points would have mean defeat against Wanderers would still have kept Arsenal four points clear, not nine points behind. Add the nine points which should have been gained from West Brom, Newcastle (home) and Bolton and Arsenal would now be celebrating clinching the league title even before Man U come to town.
But there is no relief for Wenger, at the start of his reign he had talkers and organisers at the heart of his defence like Adams, Keown and Bould – now he has the silent soldiers Djourou and Koscielny. Where once Pat Rice would shout and scream - much to the dismay of a chilled out Wenger - he now sits aside Wenger watching the latest problems creep in. Crucially, where once Arsene had a boardroom confidante in David Dein, he now has a new owner who is sure to take a close look at things come May.
One hopes that Wenger himself already knows his fate – either that Kroenke has told him that he is the only main to take Arsenal forward or that Arsene has decided to walk away at the end of the season before the strain becomes simply too much. If it’s the first then the club MUST do all they can to take the strain off Wenger and let him do what he does best, coach. If it’s the latter than one huge thank you should be being put together for arguably the club’s greatest ever manager.
If rumours are true and that loyal Pat Rice is stepping down at the end of the season then Wenger and the club must recruit someone who can whip a defence into shape – Tony Adams or even a promotion for Steve Bould comes to mind. Secondly that effort NEEDS to be backed up with a new centre half who will not be afraid to bark orders at his defenders – Gary Cahill or Jagielka more than fit the bill.
The phrase goes that it’s always darkest before the dawn, maybe Wenger’s policy has been right all along and all it needed was just a nip and tuck here and there. What is certain is that this summer will define Arsene Wenger at Arsenal - it’s probably the most high-stakes game of stick or twist ever played.
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