With the experience of a decade and a half of on-field battles against his teams, Gary Neville is adamant that Arsène Wenger remains the ideal candidate to manage Arsenal.
It is seven years since Arsenal last won the Premier League – and six seasons without any silverware at all – but Neville does not think any other manager would have fared better than Wenger given the spending restraints that were in place as the club built their new stadium.
Neville said: "I can understand Arsenal fans wondering [what's going on] – fans are impatient. They need trophies but I wouldn't begin to even think about losing Arsène Wenger. They wouldn't have done any better under any other manager.
"Wenger is there for the long haul. He is still doing an excellent job and that's why he remains in the job. They are two to three players away from making that extra step. They have been close and then faded away. They need to hang on to the players they have got or invest in new ones but never underestimate what the manager can achieve with players.
"People are too quick to jump on the bandwagon. Nobody else could have achieved what he has achieved and playing the quality he has. He should not be under pressure. As a club, they believe in the long term."
Neville is beginning his new career as the latest addition to Sky Sports' array of pundits, settling on to the sofa alongside Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness, and is expecting a close contest in the title race with little to separate a top five of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and a revitalised Liverpool.
The Anfield club may have been Neville's bitterest rivals during his playing days, but like Souness he sees strong signs of a recovery down the East Lancs Road. "What they have done this summer is buy a majority of British players to try and bring a core of stability to the club," said Neville. "Anfield is one of the more difficult places to go and play football. They have experience in the manager and for the first time in a few seasons they are going in with a level of expectation. I genuinely think that there are five teams who, with the money they have spent, will expect to be pushing to win the championship." Souness said: "If [Liverpool] get the momentum going, with the crowd there, they could certainly be setting a challenge."
Neville was impressed by United's opening in the Community Shield, and by the speed with which the side is seemingly evolving yet again; a feature of Sir Alex Ferguson's management. Neville said: "Paul Scholes will be very difficult to replace – there will be no direct replacement. That's how Fergie has always done it. He seems to effortlessly be able to move players with great careers to one side and bring in new players."
Souness and Redknapp regard Neville's former employers as likely to defend their title. "They've bought well," said Redknapp. "Phil Jones will be a future England captain and Ashley Young will only add to the team." Souness added: "They will be the team to beat this year."
Tottenham are seen by Neville as the ones to slip from the upper echelons this season. He said: "Tottenham need to find two or three players to move forward. They need a bit of freshening up. They have been outstanding in the last couple of years, but this year could be tough for them."
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