Arsene Wenger: Should His Time at Arsenal Come to an End?
Cast your minds back to Sunday, August 28, 2011. Arsenal's wounds were open and salted following an ignominious 8-2 defeat to incumbent champions Manchester United. It was a dreadful start to a campaign, from which the team had taken but a solitary point courtesy of an opening day draw at Newcastle.
The team didn't really hit a great run of form until after the Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury in mid-September, and as such calls for Arsene Wenger to step down, or to be forcibly removed from his job, were many and fervent.
Since then, of course, Arsenal have risen to third in the table, and seem to be in the driving seat to retain Champions League status, thanks in no small part to the stellar play of PFA Player of the Year Robin van Persie, the return from injury of key players like Bacary Sagna, and some excellent performances in February and March to boost the squad's form. However, whether Wenger has contributed his fair share to the team's success this season, and whether he is the right man to lead the squad next season and beyond, is still a question worth debating.
So, here are a few arguments either way.
YES: Father Time
While not 63 until late October, Le Professeur is still a silver fox in contrast to many of the younger managers who have experienced success in the Premier League over the last few years; Jose Mourinho isn't quite 50, Alan Pardew has only just made it to 50 and Paul Lambert is comparably adolescent at 42. Indeed, thoughts of retirement will undoubtedly begin to creep into his mind with the pass of every new Premier League season. Will his enthusiasm for the job begin to wane? Will self doubt begin to creep in?
Is the club in need of an injection of fresh blood to manage the club?
Which brings us nicely onto...
YES: Young Blood
Let's face it, managers are getting younger and younger.
Although the continued success of older managers like Sir Alex Ferguson perseveres in representing the elder statesmen of football management, the recent successes of Josep Guardiola and Andre Villas-Boas are hard to ignore, what with both of them being born after 1970 and having 17 domestic, continental and international trophies between them through their reigns at Barcelona and FC Porto.
Though Wenger should be perfectly capable of working with Arsenal for at least a few more years, the thought still bears thinking about: Who could be Wenger's replacement?
Although Guardiola still manages at Barcelona (for the moment) and Villas-Boas is a free agent, one untested managerial candidate has thrown his name into the hat: Thierry Henry.
Indeed, courtesy of USA Today, Henry called it a dream of his to manage Arsenal Football Club once he replaces his football boots for the pipe and slippers of retirement. Although his lack of experience at this level would make him an unlikely candidate, it's still an intriguing prospect.
YES: New Direction?
With the acquisition of Lukas Podolski from FC Köln, and hopefully the introduction of a few other fresh faces to the Arsenal squad, the question becomes apparent whether Wenger is the man to manage a team with a couple more "superstars" than perhaps he's used to. Though arguably the "Invincibles" squad contained several world-class players, he's never had the experience of managing a Real Madrid or a Barcelona.
As such, he might not have had to manage a substantial number of egos and real characters over the course of his career, and an influx of big name players is perhaps one of the only real routes back to silverware.
Bringing in high quality players to pair with Arsenal's solitary world class player, Robin van Persie, could become a necessity very shortly; is Wenger the right man to lead this team? Should the team look at a manager with proven continental pedigree...Frank Rijkaard, for example? Though currently the manager of Saudi Arabia, he hasn't experienced too much success and could well be tempted to manage a team headed by his countryman van Persie.
Oh, and speaking of silverware...
YES: the Empty Trophy Cabinet
With the conclusion of this year's FA Cup Final featuring Chelsea and Liverpool, it will be approximately seven years since the man in the picture, one Patrick Vieira, lifted Arsenal's last piece of silverware.
Far too much has happened in that period of time to chronicle here, but football is a vastly different game now to how it was then; Manchester City weren't one of the world's richest clubs, a chap named Lionel Messi was still only 17, having only just started playing for the Barcelona first team and Arsenal were still playing at Highbury. Even so, seven years is much too long for a club of Arsenal's elite status to go without lifting some silverware.
My main criticism of Wenger comes here; not in the fact he hasn't won silverware, but in that he hasn't seemed to adapt to this new finance-dominated football world. Though his approach of developing younger, less-known players worked perfectly before this time, plucking players like Freddie Ljungberg and Lauren from relative backwaters (Halmstad and Levante) to become fixtures in the Premier League champion squad of 2003-04 , generally, success in the Premier League can only really be achieved by spending an awful lot of money on players of fantastic quality. I don't like that fact at all, but that's how the football world seems to work now.
In order for Arsenal to return to the pinnacle of English football, a lot of money needs to be spent on quality acquisitions. Should one of these acquisitions be managerial? Can this kind of thinking be instilled into Wenger, or is it too late?
NO: Wenger, Club Legend
A fact nearly indisputable is this: Arsene Wenger is the best manager Arsenal have had since Herbert Chapman.
Under Wenger, Arsenal have achieved numerous successes, both domestically and on the continent; the unbeaten season of 2003-04, the League/FA Cup Doubles of 1998 and 2002, and becoming the first London club to make the Champions League final in 2006.
So many great players have played under Wenger to great effect at Highbury and at the Emirates, far too many to list; but among them, club captain and defensive stalwart Tony Adams, the record breaking strikers Ian Wright and Thierry Henry; the entire "Invincibles" squad also deserve a mention, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira in particular.
Although it is crucial not to trade on past glories and to look to the future, it is key to note that Wenger does have the pedigree for success. He is a club legend, and perhaps this means he deserves at least one more season as Arsenal's manager.
Since Wenger's appointment midway through the 1996-97 season, Arsenal have never finished outside the top four places in the Premier League. This consistency has gained Wenger, and indeed Arsenal, a reputation as one of the most consistent clubs in Europe and Arsenal; the club are always expected to perform well in the league. To those who believe Chelsea or Tottenham are ousting Arsenal as the elite London club, this is what I would say to them; when both Chelsea and Tottenham can maintain this level of consistency for fifteen seasons, then they ought to be considered in Arsenal's place.
Through this consistency, Arsenal have become ever-present in the Champions League and have a solid reputation, being able to attract quality players to the club. The fact the club have been able to do this is a testament to Wenger's excellent work as manager.
NO: This Season's Successes
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The 2011-12 season isn't quite finished, and Arsenal's campaign hasn't exactly been fantastic. But to stand in third place with two games to go is a feat few football critics thought possible at the start of the season. Indeed, many thought Chelsea and Tottenham, let alone Newcastle, would be challenging for European places before Arsenal would.
Wenger and his team have proved the critics wrong yet again. Despite various swings and roundabouts in the campaign, the leadership of Captain van Persie, the solid work of the ever-improving Alexander Song, the resurgence of Tomas Rosicky and the work contributed by new signing Mikel Arteta, let alone the emergence of one Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, all of these things have contributed to making Arsenal's campaign more successful than many of us would've thought back in September.
With the foundations for success next season already starting to be put in place with the acquisition of Podolski, and various other names being linked to the club, Wenger has already started his work for next season. Surely he ought to be allowed to continue his work.
NO: Next Season
Arsenal are in an enviable position to capitalise on their recent success this offseason. The introduction of Podolski to the squad fulfils a need for a striker to partner Robin van Persie in a way that players like Marouane Chamakh have been unable to. Many would argue that Arsenal's squad is in need of just a couple more new players, and will soon be ready to challenge the Manchester clubs at the top of the table.
Bringing in a player like the pictured Stevan Jovetic, the Montenegrin Fiorentina captain and an attacking midfielder/trequartista of high quality, would bring fluidity, talent and skill to the squad, to play with Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Gervinho, as well as being a long term replacement for some of those players given that he's only 22. A defensive reinforcement in the vein of Jan Vertonghen of Ajax could also be an interesting prospect. Selling off driftwood players like Manuel Almunia, Johan Djourou and Marouane Chamakh would also improve the average quality of the squad.
Wenger has already put plans in place to improve the quality of his squad and is rumoured to spend highly this summer. Whether he does or not could easy make or break his Arsenal career.
There you have it: There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides as to whether Wenger should stay or go. He's the longest serving manager in the league bar Sir Alex Ferguson by some distance and has brought excellent success to Arsenal Football Club. Whether he can do it again is another question entirely.
Personally, I think Wenger has it in him to stay on for at least one more season. I think if he buys smartly this summer, and brings in players of real quality, Arsenal have it in them to be real threats to the stranglehold Manchester currently have at the top of the Premier League table.
Thanks for reading; I look forward to your feedback!