After over twenty years at the helm, is it time for Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal for the good of the club?
Arsene Wenger has been the manager of Arsenal since 1996, during which time he has led the club to three league titles, six FA cups, and six Community Shields. Despite being the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, in recent years increasingly large sections of the Arsenal fanbase have been calling for Wenger to leave.
Consistent top four finishes coupled with reserved spending patterns compared to rival clubs has meant that from a board perspective, Wenger has seemingly achieved all that has been expected of him.
While the board may be satisfied with a manager who keeps the club's finances in good shape, however, somewhere along the line, the expectations of Arsenal fans changed.
A top four finish is no longer considered as much of an achievement as it once was. This season Wenger won't even have that achievement to fall back on, and the lack of Champions League football next season won't help with recruitment either.
Apologists for Arsenal's lack of success in recent years will point to the bigger transfer budgets of the teams traditionally above them and in years gone by that might have held some water.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City can all outspend Arsenal each and every year, both on player wages and transfers. This in itself lets them attract bigger and better players, who know that by going to one of the three they will have a decent chance of winning silverware as well as the best wages outside of the Chinese Super League.
Leicester City's title win last season, however, proved that big budgets don't necessarily buy success. The Midlands club’s entire squad cost just over £50 million, making Arsenal's £250 million seem positively extravagant by comparison.
Okay, so the achievements of Leicester may have been a one-off. But Tottenham also have a smaller budget and squad value than Arsenal and have finished this season higher, and would have last season as well if not for a last-minute implosion.
If not an issue of the size of the budget, many fans have the impression that it is Wenger’s unwillingness to spend enough money on transfers to make Arsenal a success.
But is he really the curmudgeonly old miser the media make him out to be when it comes to transfers?
Signings such as Alexis Sanchez (£31.7million), Mesut Ozil (£42.5 million), or Granit Xhaka (undisclosed, thought to be around £30 million) would suggest otherwise. Certainly, he isn’t in the habit of filling his team with galacticos, but neither has he been shy to spend money if the right player has become available.
If frugality isn’t the issue, then perhaps Wenger himself is the problem. While he was once thought of as a great innovator and even to this day Arsenal are lauded for their attractive style of play, his methods now have their critics.
He has rarely strayed from the same possession-based philosophy that he was using in the 90s. Not a season seems to go by of late without an Arsenal injury crisis, in part due to the physical frailty of most his sides over the last decade or so.
His consistent approach is now beginning not to produce the same consistent results it once did. In short, even his most ardent supporters suspect that the modern game may be gradually passing him by and at 67 he isn’t likely to catch back up.
As is often his way, Wenger has been intentionally vague about his plans past the end of the season. This does him no favours in that the fans who want him gone are only going to be twice as vocal while there is still a chance that he is going. It can’t be helping with players morale either unless they know more than he is telling the rest of the world.
Various sections of the media have reported both Wenger’s transfer targets for next season, and lists of managers about to replace him. Lack of a clear media consensus suggests that Wenger’s decision really isn’t being shared with anyone outside his inner circle.
Compounding the situation are the uncertain futures of Sanchez and Ozil, who both either want to leave the club or understandably want to know who the manager will be next season before committing their futures.
What we do know is that Wenger’s future is seemingly in his own hands and not under threat from the board. In several recent statements, he has stated that his future is not tied to the position that the club finish in the league, which is now nearly certain to be outside the top four.
After over 20 years at the helm, does his record and what he has given to the club warrant him getting one last season after a disappointing one?
And should that be the case or should any manager have to be judged on their performance on a season by season basis for the good of the club?
A strong case can be made for either argument.
The state of the club that Wenger would be leaving should be of the most concern for all parties. If he leaves the club in a matter of weeks would a successor inherit a club ready to compete as it has in the past, or a club needing a serious rebuild?
The board of directors have no doubt been keeping a close eye on the struggles of Manchester United since Alex Ferguson left. Not a situation they want to find themselves in, and not one that they could rebound from as easily as United can with their global fanbase and much bigger revenue.
One last season to tie up loose ends and stabilize the club might be just what Arsenal need at this stage, even if they don’t crack the top four once again.
A one last season, however, with an agreement from all sides, and preferably a public one, that states that next season is definitely his last.
The question of whether another season under Wenger would be more damaging to the club at this stage than throwing in a new manager is debatable. Wenger’s slow and slight decline if he manages to right the ship before he leaves ready for the season after he leaves might be better than risking the kind of free-fall Manchester United experienced under David Moyes.
The verdict: In my opinion one and only one more season under Wenger is for the best at this stage. He might have achieved all he is going to in football and has nothing left to prove to the fans, but he is also the safest pair of hands to prepare the club for life after he goes.