Getting rid of Wenger won’t solve Arsenal’s problems
The natives are restless at Arsenal. Or as restless as the natives at Arsenal get. The more-sinister-sounding-than-it-probably-is black scarf fans’ movement only reinforced the stereotype of middle-class, polite Arsenal supporters when they stressed their protest march last weekend wasn’t actually a march, it was a “walk”. A leisurely afternoon stroll in north London to make some chaps know they were quite irked.
I jest, of course. The Emirates crowd seem to have turned with a viciousness rarely seen at Arsenal. I know one Gooner who had to be separated from a fellow fan during the defeat by Swansea, following the suggestion, in no uncertain terms, that Arsène Wenger should return to France. The crowd’s opinion of their manager seems to be at a 16-year low, and a number of very vocal fans want rid of him.
There are some very sensible arguments that back the assertion that Wenger’s time is up – there is a sense that something is gone behind his eyes, that he has run out of ideas. He no longer seems to be planning for the future, but clinging on with shortish-term solutions, papering over cracks and desperately trying to maintain the club’s traditional grip on fourth place. It’s possible that the best way forward for Arsenal is without Wenger.
However, the sense from some of the loudest in the ‘Wenger out’ camp is that the removal of the manager will cure all of their woes. Wenger will be quietly ushered upstairs, Pep Guardiola or Jürgen Klopp will be welcomed and N5 will again be the land of milk and honey.
This, frankly, is not the case, for Arsenal’s problems run far deeper than simply a manager who may have run out of ideas. For a start, they have a lopsided squad that is deep in numbers but shallow in quality. Their first-choice goalkeeper is showing worrying signs of not being as good as everyone initially thought, one left-back is a fitness liability and the other a defensive liability, their central defenders all look terrified, they have nobody who can really tackle in midfield, all of their ‘wingers’ prefer playing through the middle and their centre-forwards range from relatively unproven to definitively proven to be rubbish.
Obviously the squad has been built by Wenger and a new man could overhaul it, but this is where they run into another problem – money. And specifically, is there any? For years, the official line has been that Wenger has a healthy kitty available to dip into yet never really does, but many seem sceptical about whether this is indeed the case. With no cash available and hiding behind a vision of football purity that won’t allow anything as gauche as actually spending money, is Wenger actively taking the flak for the Arsenal board? It’s not the most outlandish conspiracy theory in the world.
The board is another issue, with the assorted personalities involved leaving many Gooners pining for the days of David Dein. When things are going well the suits are usually anonymous, but when fans actively want a chief executive to return, it doesn’t reflect well on those currently in the boardroom. Ivan Gazidis’s unpopularity is well-documented, Peter Hill-Wood is unwell and Stan Kroenke was worryingly non-committal on recent questions regarding whether he would take dividends out of the club.
Their emphasis on financial fair play is theoretically sensible, reassuring everyone that once UEFA’s regulations arrive and the Emirates Stadium is paid for, they will be in the position to compete financially with the biggest and best. However, this is based on the possibly naive assumption that a) Uefa will actually have some definite way of enforcing their rules and punishing the transgressors and b) that the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea will not find some clever way of getting round the constraints. Are Arsenal restricting themselves now to plan for a future that may not come?
There is a strong sense that the Arsenal board are simply happy to tread water, to finish in fourth place and pick up the Champions League money every year. This plan is fine when it works, but as Liverpool recently and (to use a very extreme example) Leeds some years ago showed, once you leave the big boys’ club it’s a hell of a job getting back in.
The problems at Arsenal are many and varied. The You Are My Arsenal blog recently described them as ‘like a cancer that has metastasised’, and will be difficult to cure. Getting rid of a hugely successful manager for the sake of ‘doing something’ will not solve all the problems in one, so Gooners who want rid of Wenger should be careful what they wish for.
You can read more of Nick’s insights on Football365, the brilliant football website of which he is deputy editor.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMillerF365
Follow Life’s a Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesaPitch
Watch Arsenal live on BT Vision:
Bradford v Arsenal, 7.30pm, 11 December, Sky Sports 2 (Capital One Cup)
Reading v Arsenal, 7pm, 17 December, Sky Sports 1
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it