Arsene Wenger’s 21-year reign as Arsenal manager seems to be reaching its bitter end. Never before has the call for the Frenchman to leave been so loud. For most Arsenal fans, the list of reasons for why he should leave has become far too long. It’s now unfashionable to defend the man who achieved the greatest success the Premier League may ever see. We were all in awe of the way Manchester City tore Arsenal to shreds twice in five days. Some of the goals were breathtakingly good. In a way, watching how good Manchester City were served to highlight just how impressive the invincible season was. If Pep’s team can’t go unbeaten in the Premier League, how good do you have to be to achieve such an accolade? It’s therefore both sad and perplexing to see how Wenger has gone from being a genius to looking increasingly clueless.
Comparisons with the ‘Invincibles’ are so useful in understanding how futile Wenger’s managerial nous has become. Not even comparisons between the quality of players; replacing the likes of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira is no mean feat. It’s more worthwhile to look at the type of player Wenger now targets. Arsenal may well be the only professional football team in the world that don’t possess a player who considers himself to be a central defensive midfielder. Indeed, Wenger has shown no desire in 15 years to even attempt to replace Gilberto Silva or Vieira. These two midfield monsters scared their opposition with their presence and power. The trepidation opponents would feel looking at these beasts in the tunnel before a game couldn’t be more extinct. The number of midfielders that have been and gone from Arsenal since 2004 that have possessed either presence or power is, arguably, naught. It is no coincidence that every team, big or small, cannot wait to host Arsenal for the simple reason that they believe Arsenal can be bullied into defeat.
The state of the squad is not good enough, and Wenger is wholly responsible for this
Whilst defending has been a longstanding problem for Arsenal, they have always been able to impress with their attacking flare. Yet this new toothless, slow and sloppy Arsenal show weekly that the manager cannot setup a team that dominates games like he once could. Scoring 16 goals in 14 away games this season is far more Pulis than it is Guardiola. The pace of Ljungberg and the craft of Pires don’t seem to be traits Arsene looks for nowadays. Iwobi and Welbeck propel this point. In fact, Arsenal may well be the only professional football team in the world that don’t possess a player who considers himself to be a winger.
The ‘players must take responsibility’ argument is to some extent valid. Yet few managers have the luxury of being responsible for every member of the playing squad. Wenger repeatedly gets it wrong in the transfer window. £35 million was spent on Xhaka when Chelsea bought Kante for £32 million. The state of the squad is not good enough, and Wenger is wholly responsible for this. Wenger himself is clearly not totally convinced by his own squad, demonstrated most clearly by his failure to make a substitute in a match that saw his side 3-0 down in 40 minutes.
The sad truth is that the younger generation of fans are simply not old enough to understand the brilliance of 03/04, and loyalty to Arsene therefore doesn’t run as deep. Before this gets even uglier than it is already, the Frenchman must announce now that he is to step down at the end of the season. A deserved send-off will follow where fans will unite and thank him for what he has done whilst being excited about the future. The situation is toxic, fans and players are in open disputes on social media, and results are continually failing to silence any critics. Whilst a pathetic excuse for a hierarchy exists above the manager at Arsenal, only Wenger can resolve this current problem. His determination to end on a high has dragged on for far too long. Signing the “batman” Aubameyang shows that Arsenal can still attract quality, but it’s going to take more than one signing to correct this mess. As Harvey Dent eloquently put it: you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain. It’s time for Wenger to go.