Arsenal’s season implodes again; is Arsene Wenger to blame?
The Upcoming Sport tackles the weekend’s football debating points…
The Premier League took a temporary backseat this weekend as the world’s greatest domestic cup competition resumed. The last 16 of the FA Cup inevitably threw up some interesting talking points and here we focus on the week’s pressing topic: Arsenal’s continuing demise and the predicament Arsene Wenger currently finds himself in.
A terrible week for Arsenal culminated in a 2-0 reverse at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, ensuring a 7th successive season for the Gunners without a trophy. Pressure is mounting on Arsene Wenger, so is there really a possibility that he may not be in charge at the Emirates next season?
It is still highly inconceivable that the Frenchman will decide to walk away from the club he loves. He still has a contract until the summer of 2014 and a decision to opt for pastures new in the summer would leave his employers in an even more uncertain position than what they currently find themselves in. Le Boss has often talked about leaving the club in the best possible position, both football-wise and financially, when he eventually departs. Opting to resign would be both out of character and seen as leaving the club in the lurch.
He may not want to resign, but could the unthinkable happen and the club decide to sack their longest-serving manager?
The current Arsenal board would almost certainly never dismiss him. Results and performances have been indifferent for the majority of the season on the pitch, but financially the club continue to make significant profit. Arsene Wenger plays a major role in that and only last summer generated around £60 million from the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Wenger has also accepted the Club’s wage structure and the fact that the debt from the move to Emirates Stadium has to be paid off before heavy investment in the team can be made. Another manager may not be quite so in tune with the board’s stance. Whether the chief aim of a football club is to reap profits every season is another matter.
Taking all of that into account, who is largely to blame for the lack of silverware? The manager or the Arsenal board?
Both parties have to hold their hands up and accept that mistakes have been made. Ever since the Gunners left Highbury back in 2006, the quality of the club’s playing staff has gradually receded. You need only look at the positions they have finished in since the relocation. In the first five seasons at the Emirates they have never broken into the league’s top two. This is in stark contrast to their days at Highbury, when they did so for eight successive seasons between 1998 and 2005.
When the Club first made the move, the board of directors ensured fans that investment in the team would not be affected. They were of the stance that the move was essential to ensure the club could compete in the transfer market. The story of the first half-decade at Ashburton Grove has been so contradictory of that claim it beggars belief.
Every summer, vast amounts of money has been recouped from selling players with minimal being outlayed on their replacements. Influential first-team players have been lost year-on-year, the likes of Thierry Henry, Mathieu Flamini, Emmanuel Adebayor, and the aforementioned Fabregas and Nasri have been moved on with less expensive, and more often than not, less adequate replacements coming in.
Is it not the manager’s fault for overseeing the departures of these players?
Of course, the manager has to bear responsibility for allowing players to leave. He could well have been stronger in many situations, notably last summer when the club would not sanction Samir Nasri’s wage demands. He accepted that Nasri’s demands were disproportionate to the pay structure and let his countryman depart. He should have fought tooth and nail to keep him and taken on the club‘s board, especially as he was about to lose another world-class performer in Fabregas in the same transfer window.
However, he was determined to ensure they were free of debt as quickly as possible, whilst at the same time still trying to build a team capable of challenging for honours. An unenviable task, but one that he and Arsenal have not been far away from in the last five years. Only last season, they led the title race for large chunks of the season before disappointingly falling away, and have qualified for the Champions League with relative ease season after season. That achievement should not be sneered at, particularly with Sheikh Mansour’s takeover at Manchester City quickly catapulting them into the top four, and Arsenal’s struggles this season only emphasise the point of how difficult it is to consistently claim a Champions League place. As he tries to balance the books, the insistence from Wenger that finishing fourth is a bigger trophy to him than winning the FA Cup is understandable, although does little to help his cause with fans desperate for silverware.
Ultimately, it is Wenger’s love for the club he has served with such distinction, and his ambition to leave his eventual successor a debt-free football club with the foundations in place to take Arsenal to an even greater level, that may well be his downfall.
Photo: Andreas Georghiou