Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s very public press-room meltdown (via ESPN) this week has brought sharply into focus the previously unthinkable scenario at the Emirates, that of "Le Professeur" being forced to leave the building ahead of his time.
This is of course Arsenal’s greatest ever manager we are talking about, the man who has overseen two double-winning teams (via BBC Sport) and one Championship side that went an entire season unbeaten (via BBC Sport) since he arrived as a supposed unknown back in the autumn of 1996.
He is also the architect behind the North Londoners’ highly-successful and lucrative move from Highbury to the Emirates, now one of the most coveted state-of-the-art stadiums on the Continent, and all the while managing to keep the club qualifying for the gravy train that is the UEFA Champions League year after year.
However, can fans sometimes become blinded by a coach’s previous achievements, especially when those feats came about almost a decade ago? Well, that is the current dilemma facing not just the Arsenal supporters, but also those in the boardroom following a second dispiriting home loss in two different cup competitions in the space of just four days.
The ironic thing is that the cause of the Frenchman’s outburst in his pre-match Champions League press conference before the first leg of Arsenal’s vitally important last-16 clash with Bayern Munich on Tuesday were reports in the English press a few days earlier suggesting that those in charge of the club were preparing to offer Wenger a new two-year deal (via the Sun), despite their shock home loss to Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Well, whatever the truth behind those stories, one has to seriously now wonder whether that would be a sensible course of action by Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke and chief executive Ivan Gazidis, especially with the Gunners currently only fifth in the Premier League and four points behind city-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the race for that last coveted qualifying place in next season’s Champions League.
Wenger’s loyal supporters say:"Be careful what you wish for," while also pointing out that he has been questioned before in previous years and has always responded by qualifying the team for Europe’s premier club competition, an achievement the Frenchman has likened to winning a trophy. (Via Goal.com)
However, maybe now it is time to start judging the manager on a different set of criteria, one involving winning honours like at other top clubs.
As no Arsenal fan needs reminding, it has been eight long years since the club last won silverware, the 2005 FA Cup (via BBC Sport), but Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson recently admitted that he would have been sacked at Old Trafford had he gone five years without a trophy in the modern era (via the Guardian). We also know exactly how long Wenger would have lasted at Stamford Bridge under Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had he endured a similar lean patch.
Perhaps the crux of the whole issue is whether or not Wenger is still a word-class coach capable of turning things around again at the Emirates and bringing back the glory days of the late 90s and early 2000s?
Unfortunately, however, the evidence seems to suggest that he is not, and that rather than those glory days being just around the corner again, they are in actual fact farther away than ever now under his misplaced guidance at the helm.
Firstly, there is the vital issue of player recruitment, the one area where Wenger used to laud it over his rivals, and not just in the Premier League, but on the Continent too. Long gone are the days where Arsenal fans would smirk at the likes of AC Milan, having purchased Patrick Vieira for just £3.5 million from the Rossoneri, or sniggered at Juventus supporters after Wenger had turned an unwanted Thierry Henry into one of the greatest players the Premier League had ever seen.
The list of Wenger’s successful transfer coups in the first half of his Arsenal reign are now as long as the flops who have scarred the second half, and whether that is solely down to him or the departure of his former close ally in the transfer market, David Dein, or simply due to the fact that rivals across Europe have just improved their scouting, as we have seen recently with Newcastle United, is hard to tell.
However, what is not difficult to judge is the overall decline in standards of recruits he has brought to the club in the last five years, a fact that has had a knock-on effect on other areas of the team, most notably with the departures of marquee players such as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Alex Song and Robin van Persie, all who left the Emirates for one simple reason and one reason alone: to win trophies, an unthinkable scenario back in their championship-winning days.
But there have been other worrying signs of late that make a Wenger departure seem like the right course of action now, including a major upheaval in his personal life that has by all accounts badly affected the Frenchman and whispers from some players that the manager’s coaching techniques have not evolved with the times (via the Telegraph).
Not only that, but there is his stubborn refusal to either delegate responsibility due to his need to be in control of absolutely everything at the club, or change his close lieutenant Pat Rice until the one-time Arsenal captain himself called time on his long association with the club to be replaced by Steve Bould at the start of this season. Just a quick glance at Manchester United would reveal how many times Fergie has freshened up his key backroom staff, and especially his right-hand man in the same period.
And yet even the Bould appointment has by all accounts not worked out, with Arsenal just as porous at the back as they have been in their recent lean years.
Would those Wenger loyalists surely not agree that a better, brighter future for the club awaits if a new man with fresh ideas were to take over from the Frenchman at the end of this season? A coach who would be prepared to spend the reported £70m war chest currently available to the Frenchman, but which he continually for some bizarre reason refuses to spend.
There are plenty of world-class, suitable and available candidates out there who would jump at the chance of bringing the glory days back to the Emirates, in fact, there was one sitting not ten yards away from Wenger on the touchline on Tuesday night, Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes, a man four years younger than Ferguson and who has just signalled his desire to carry on in top-level football after he leaves Bavaria this summer.
And, in conjunction with the return of Dein and perhaps even in partnership with major shareholder Alisher Usmanov, the 39th-richest man in the world, then surely that setup would stand more chance of winning silverware and attracting the top players back to North London than the current fading regime, a regime lest you need reminding that is currently charging the most expensive ticket prices in the entire Premier League while also paying its manager the highest salary of any coach in the English top flight.