Arsenal’s billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov believes the club must keep Arsene Wenger as manager despite the threat of missing out on their best chance to win the Premier League title since 2004 going begging.
Fans have begun to lose patience with Wenger and the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, for their side’s perceived on-field failures this season. Having been knocked out of all three cup competitions, Arsenal sit third in the league table, 11 points behind leaders Leicester City with a game in hand.
But rather than join the growing chorus for Wenger to move on and an era of change brought about at the Emirates Stadium, Usmanov has backed the Frenchman, and believes the club “needs” him to remain in charge next season as he enters the final year of his contract.
"Arsenal’s results are stable. They are always among the leaders of the English Premier League,” Usmanov said in an interview with Rossiya24. “This is a good and large sports business project, and I am pleased with it.
“The only thing is that today such situation occurred, like in any sport, there are ups and downs. The club must retain its major symbol and main asset - manager Arsene Wenger.
“Failures have been haunting Arsenal for many years now, they cannot become the EPL champions. This has led to some discontent with Wenger's position as a manager.
Who is playing for their Arsenal future?
Who is playing for their Arsenal future?
1/8 Per Mertesacker
Has Arsene Wenger lost faith in the towering German? It appears so. Time and time again in the Gunners' big matches this season he has been dropped for Gabriel or Laurent Koscielny. Will he be content to stay as a squad player next season?
While it looks very doubtful both he and Mertesacker will be sold, there is a good chance one will. The Brazilian just has not settled into the Premier League yet. He will have to show he can handle it in the top flight in the final eight games to prove his worth to the squad.
3/8 Theo Walcott
It has been a season of ups and downs for Arsenal’s current longest-serving player. He usurped Olivier Giroud as the club’s first-choice striker, but he has only scored in two of the Gunners last 18 matches. He needs to be in the goals over the next eight games or you'd have to imagine Wenger will welcome offers.
4/8 Calum Chambers
A centre-back, a right-back or a defensive midfielder? Chambers has failed to excel in any position this season.
5/8 Serge Gnabry
Back at Arsenal after a disastrous loan spell at West Brom in which he only made one appearance. If he fails to have any impact until the end of the season, he will find himself in the deadwood category of Wenger’s squad.
6/8 Tomas Rosicky
A sad tale, but if he does not recover from the serious thigh injury that has ruined his season and play again in this campaign then the will realistically be no other option than to let him go. His contract runs out at the end of the season.
7/8 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Has not got anywhere near his potential after his £15m move from Southampton in 2011. An important season finale awaits for the 22-year-old.
8/8 Kieran Gibbs
Displaced by Nacho Monreal as the first-choice left-back this season, Gibbs will have to make the most of his chances until the end of the season.
“I believe that Arsene Wenger is a great coach, and Arsenal has to give him the opportunity to plan the succession process and leave his legacy when he deems it necessary.
“It is very important for the football club to maintain the principles that were established by those people who created its victories. Arsenal needs Arsene Wenger.”
Fans have resorted to displaying banners and signs calling for Wenger and Kroenke to leave in the wake of a run of fixtures that produced one win in eight matches and an alarming five defeats – including elimination from both the Champions League and FA Cup.
Usmanov has been critical of Wenger in the past for not bringing enough success to a club of Arsenal’s stature, but his support is a notable change in his approach that could afford Wenger more time as manager before deciding to leave or retire.