Arsene Wenger hasn’t had an easy ride these last few years. The burden of a nine-year trophy drought showed no signs of easing up until last season, when Arsenal prevailed in what was essentially a weak last-four in the FA Cup. This season started brightly with a Community Shield to boot courtesy of the 3-0 win over Manchester City, and the additions of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck gave many Gunners optimism that this could finally be the year.
They were wrong.
Despite Wenger’s insistence that his team remain not only in the hunt for the top-four but even the title, the 3-2 defeat to Stoke was the latest in a long line of disappointments in the Premier League this season. The defeat was Arsenal’s third at the Britannia Stadium since their last victory in 2010 and fourth in the league this season, with five draws adding to the damning stat that Arsenal have won just over a third of their matches in the top flight this season.
With form like that, a club would be lucky to qualify for Europe, let along win the title. And yet, despite Arsenal’s shortcomings so far this season, combined with Wenger’s increasing failures in the transfer market to strengthen the defence to the necessary standard and add a holding midfielder that the Gunners desperately need, there was something truly disgusting about seeing so-called ‘fans’ of the club verbally abuse Wenger as he made his way to a train taking the team back to London.
Screams of “get out of my club” and “f*** off” were hurled at the 65-year-old Frenchman, who did his best to ignore the idiots that feel berating a man who, not only has done so much for the club but has called for fans to unite to lift the team, is appropriate.
No, I’m not part of the Arsene out brigade, but my opinion is that Wenger needs to assess himself at the end of the season whether he is still taking the club forward. Realistically, that would mean a top-three finish minimum, and a strong run in the FA Cup – winning it can never be a given. In terms of Europe, Arsenal have already reached the same point as they did last year having qualified for the last-16, but a quarter-final appearance would be a good return on the money invested in the squad in the summer.
The thing the majority of Arsenal fans seem to forget each season is that Wenger has seen it all before and has been written off countless times – even last season supporters were calling for his head yet come May they were the ones lining the streets of Islington to cheer the team bus as Wenger and Co paraded the FA Cup trophy.
The Gunners have six fixtures coming up that they could use to string together a period of form, with the most testing matches coming in away trips to Liverpool and Southampton as well as facing in-form Newcastle and West Ham. If the Gunners are to return to where they are expected to be, these games shouldn’t pose too many problems, and Wenger will hopefully be targeting at least four wins.
Realistically when analysing the squad lists, should Arsenal be rivalling Chelsea and Manchester City? I’d argue that beyond Laurent Koscielny partnering Vincent Kompany in the City defence, neither title challenge could be strengthened in the back-four with the addition of Arsenal’s current options. The Gunners are competing with the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton for a top-four berth, and the challenge of the Hammers will be one to watch as the season progresses given that Southampton are already showing signs that the top four may be beyond them.
If Wenger manages to turn this side around and end up with a strong finish, then he deserves to remain Arsenal manager. 18 years of loyal service, three Premier League titles, five FA Cup successes and 49 games unbeaten brings a certain level of security – yes, no single person is bigger than the club, but Wenger’s done a lot more for Arsenal than those who berated him outside Stoke-on-Trent train station ever have. If you were to do the same to any member of the public, let alone a 65-year-old man, you’d probably be arrested.
Instead of building on last season’s success, Arsenal fans are capitulating, venting their anger against each other and it is having an effect on the players. Danny Welbeck was roundly booed during the 1-0 win over Southampton for misplacing a pass – the same Danny Welbeck that scored the winning goal against West Brom just four days previous. But then again, this is football.
Wenger won’t be sacked, he simply can’t be, so the onus is on him to walk when the time is right. If he does, who would replace him? The ‘best manager on the planet’ Jurgen Klopp whose Borussia Dortmund side sit 14th in the Bundesliga thanks to a timely win at the weekend that lifted them off the bottom, or Diego Simeone, the rash Argentinian that spends more time banned in the stands than in the Atletico Madrid dugout.
Admittedly, both are very good managers and would probably fit in well at Arsenal, but could they do a better than Wenger with the current options at their disposal? Like the saying goes, better the devil you do know.
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