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Wenger In or Wenger Out?

As the Premier League season reaches its conclusion, Arsenal supporter Ben Roberts gives his verdict on the current crisis at the Emirates, and on long-serving manager Arsene Wenger.

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“Victoria Concordia Crescit”. This motto has been associated with Arsenal football club since it appeared in a 1913 match day programme. It is most frequently translated as “victory through harmony” or “victory grows through harmony”. At the moment, it is safe to say the mood at Arsenal is anything but harmonious. I had hoped to write this off the back of two wins against West Ham and Crystal Palace. The West Ham performance was a comfortable win. It seemed like the team had buckled down, were ready to go on a winning run and cement their customary placing in the top four. Enter Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace. More importantly, relegation threated Crystal Palace. They’d previously beaten Champions-elect Chelsea so there was no excuse for complacency – though in fairness, the team wasn’t complacent, just apathetic. It was Arsenal who looked like the team in danger of relegation such was the manner of the performance away at Palace. It was akin to Leicester’s efforts prior to the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. The decision by Leicester to sack Ranieri was met with a surprising level of shock and sentimentality that is rarely found in football these days. It is, after all, a results business. Utilising Gary Neville’s superpower of hindsight: Leicester’s decision has been the right one.  The question remains however, would it be the right decision to do the same and cull Arsene Wenger?

Leicester’s appointment of Craig Shakespeare was not the high profile appointment some were expecting. He doesn’t seem to have brought in especially brilliant tactics but the main difference is the players seem to be behind him, playing for him, putting in the effort – the customary “new manager” bounce delivered by a new appointment. Marco Silva and Paul Clement at Hull City and Swansea respectively are further examples of how a new appointment is crucial for relegation threatened teams and, for the most part, seems to work. Whether it would happen at a big club like Arsenal is another thing.

The “Wenger Out” debate has been long running but now the discord it is creating is effecting the players, effecting results. It’s no longer the split in the camp it once was. Now rather than a few mouthy supporters on social media the call for change is coming from the majority. The Arsenal Supporters Trust have voted for Wenger to leave by 78%. I agree, but the difficulty lies in the replacement, the transition.

“It has descended to the point now where even change just for the sake of change is looking good.”

Wenger has full control of the club; it is managed by him with next to no input from the board. Stan Kroenke and co. are happy for mediocrity: a top four finish and the accompanying revenue, unwilling to take that risk to really compete for trophies. The Arsenal board in its ineptitude missed the chance to get Pep Guardiola, mainly because he would demand more.  He is a serial winner; a manager who has a footballing philosophy and would have fitted perfectly into the club, its image and its style of play, hopefully bringing success with it. It seemed ready made. Guardiola went on sabbatical and yet no approaches were made, they had a year to convince him to sign. Maybe approaches were made, though they had the problem of Wenger. He didn’t want to go then, so he stayed. Even now, it would apparently be “inconvenient” for Wenger to say if he’s staying or going. It is this uncertainly that is clearly detrimental to the team. When City appointed Guardiola, they hung Pellegrini out to dry, announcing it to the press before he delivered his press conference.

Will Wenger be waving goodbye at the end of the season?

It has descended to the point now where even change just for the sake of change is looking good. I think though the club would unravel were Wenger to go now. It is, however, absolutely farcical that there is no succession plan and stands to typify the board. They never really wanted one. Wenger, up until now, was a certain top four finish without dipping into the money reserves. They should give Wenger one more year, announcing that he is to leave on expiry without question. Within that year the club can prepare. A director of football, with Marc Overmars the latest name mentioned (if only David Dein could come back), would begin the transition away from the Wenger dynasty. The club needs to implement previous players into key roles. The likes of Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, even Bergkamp could all be given various roles with eyes for coaching or management. Patrick Vieira would be my choice for succession. A leader on the pitch but with some managerial experience in the MLS at New York City. The phrase “Arsenal not Arsene” has gained traction lately, and this is key for the transition. Arsenal are more than Wenger, the myth that they are synonymous needs to be broken. Arsenal need their identity not to rely on Wenger. The players need more personal and team resilience, more fight, and crucially, to remember who they are fighting for. “Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent.” That being Arsenal, not Arsene. Victory grows through harmony.

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