It was earlier this month when I reviewed a fascinating insight into the Arsenal project that took them from also-rans in the top league to being a European force to be reckoned with (despite not actually winning anything in Europe since 1994). One of thecentral characters of that story is the current manager Arsene Wenger who has spent over 15 years in charge of the club.
At the beginning of the season there was a lot of fuss because of the departure of key players without obvious replacement. The turning point appeared to be the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was that result that also sparked an entry from me about whether or not Wenger should remain so untouchable.
Presently the league table looks good for Arsenal as they are in fourth place and should they finish in that spot come the end of the season most Arsenal will be mightily relieved and consider it a season of reaching expectations under the circumstances.
Yet in the light of the recent 4-0 demolition they suffered against AC Milan in the San Siro, questions rise again as to the state Arsenal are in.
I would have left well enough alone, if it wasn’t for this piece in the Telegraph by the highly respected Henry Winter looking at what Aresenal need to do now.
The article suggests a major overhaul of the playing staff and some introduction of new coaching staff to help Wenger turn things around. Reading it left me scratching my head. In essence Winter is suggesting that Wenger clears out the players he has invested in – not just monetarily but in terms of concepts such as faith, patience, and the hope that they will emerge as the right players to help Arsenal be successful. He has to scrap all of that and virtually start again with a core of decent players and a number of additions to replace the exodus that needs to take place.
My problem here is that this is at best fanciful thinking to expect Wenger to go on that kind of purge, and it’s also a trip into the light fantastic to expect him to go on a foray into the transfer window to pluck the ready, willing and able replacements who would happily join Arsenal. For starters those players just are not out there in number and are certainly not available for economic purchases.
The next issue would be, even if Wenger were able to get four or five such players, they would need time to blend into the Wenger Way. For every signing that succeeds there are a few that will struggle or may not fit at all. Thus it is not one summer you’re allowing for Wenger, it is another season. Another one where success is not guaranteed and progress is not assured under a manager who is having to make serious changes to his method of working.
Then there is the advice on the coaching restructuring. If he wanted to change the staff, surely he would have done that by now. To do so now would not appear to be an action that he’s taking because he chooses to, but because it’s been suggested that he does it and that’s never the best position from which to work.
So my summation of it all is that if more time is given for Wenger it will only lumber the club with more problems, even if he is successful. You couldn’t just give him a summer to turn things around, or indeed a season. It is obvious that it would require more work than that, and it would be a substantial investment in Wenger to allow him that much more time.
It would be far better to weigh up where Arsenal end the season and if they fail to meet the minimum expectations then it would be fitting for all parties to agree that the best thing for the club is for change at the top. This is in no way disrespecting the accomplishments of Wenger, it is not disrespecting his immense impact on the club and he will rightly go down as the most important manager the club has had since Herbert Chapman.
Yet for the club to be renewed, refreshed and revitalised requires a brand new approach with a brand new coach. That’s a risk in itself, as Chelsea are discovering, but better to undertake the change now rather than get bogged down in the slow, inexorable decline that is inevitable in any reign in football.