When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996, nobody knew who the Frenchman was. The headlines read "Arsene Who?" and captain Tony Adams later admitted that at first he thought, "What does this Frenchman know about football?"
Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and four FA Community Shields later, the man who Tony Adams thought "looked more like a schoolteacher" had become the most successful manager in Arsenal history.
Before the Frenchman's reign, Arsenal were a team whose foundation was a gritty English defense, cranking out 1-0 wins and called "boring, boring Arsenal." Arsene Wenger changed the philosophy that the Gunners were built on, bringing in attacking talent from across the globe to help the club achieve success through beautiful football—living up to Arsenal's motto of "Victory through Harmony."
There's no denying that Arsene Wenger is a visionary, a man who not only transformed a football club but arguably modernized the game of football itself. However, since Patrick Vieira scored from the spot to win the 2005 FA Cup for Arsenal, the Gunners haven't won a single trophy.
Seven years without a trophy and many fans—including myself—are wondering if the legendary Arsene Wenger is the right man to bring success to the Emirates Stadium, the stadium he had built.
Is Arsene losing his touch? There are a few reasons to show why Wenger could be in his last season at the club.
Perplexing tactical decisions
Arsene Wenger has made some exceptional calls in the past. Converting Thierry Henry from a winger to a striker was a touch of brilliance, a decision that transformed Henry as a player.
The same, however, cannot be said about some of his more recent decisions. In Arsenal's shameful loss at Bradford, Wenger played Gervinho as a striker—and it didn't work out so well. Meanwhile Lukas Podolski, a powerful forward and proven clinical finisher, was played on the left wing.
Another head-scratch-inducing decision that Wenger had made this season is the deployment of Aaron Ramsey as a right winger. Putting Ramsey's poor form and criticism from fans aside, the Welshman is quite clearly a central midfielder, as his best attribute is by far his passing (when he's in good form), and he seems to lack the pace and ability to beat a defender in order to play on the wing.
Fans have to remember that Wenger sees the members of his squad play everyday, knows his players better than we do and makes plenty of decisions based on what he sees on the training ground. But decisions like the ones above clearly haven't payed off this season, and we can only hope that "The Professor" learns from his choices.
The big question here is, will the decision to finally play Theo Walcott at striker pay off? Walcott turned in a great performance against Reading, but had an incredibly quiet game against Wigan. The fans are divided on this one too: Some think that the England international is Thierry Henry's successor, while others think he's much better suited for the wings. Keep an eye on this one...
Stubbornness in formation
Does anyone remember the last time Arsenal played in a formation that wasn't a 4-3-3 variation? Anyone?
When a team is struggling for form, the manager usually changes things up a bit with a new formation. Of course, sometimes this doesn't work—but sometimes it does. We saw that with Wigan Athletic last season: Roberto Martinez's switch to a 3-5-2 single-handedly saved the Latics from relegation, even earning a 2-1 win against Arsenal at the Emirates on their way.
When the Gunners are turning in lackluster, jaded performances, unable to get results, Wenger simply refuses to change around the formation. Like I said before, it doesn't always work, but football is a sport where you have to take a gamble.
Wenger's variation of a 4-3-3 with two holding midfielders, an attacking midfielder, two wingers and a striker is certainly a dependable formation, but a switch to a 4-4-1-1 here or a 4-2-2-2 there could have given Arsenal some dynamic—and could have made them a little less predictable in their setup.
Reluctancy to spend big in the transfer market
It had to be here, didn't it?
Despite the recent brilliant signing of Santi Cazorla and the shrewd captures of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, we all know about Arsene Wenger's reluctancy in the transfer market when it comes to bringing in the right players.
Often criticized for buying too many young and inexperienced players, Wenger does have a tendency to buy players for the future rather than what the team need at that moment in the season.
For example, what Arsenal desperately need right now is a proven goal-scorer to give the team another striking option other than Olivier Giroud, a goalkeeper to give Wojciech Szczesny competition for the No. 1 spot and reliable backup to Kieran Gibbs at left back.
Will Arsene stay tight to his cash like he's done much too often in the past, or will he show that he's willing to change his ways and revamp Arsenal's season with some new blood?
Denial of Arsenal's problems
This one is perhaps the most frustrating.
During some of Arsenal's toughest times, Wenger seems to be in complete denial of the problems within his team. A perfect example of this came after Arsenal's defeat to Bradford on penalties in the Capital One Cup quarterfinal. For the neutral fan, it was one of the great upsets in English football, but for Arsenal supporters, it was a disgraceful night for the club, perhaps the nadir of their recent history.
Following a performance where Arsenal's strongest eleven—barring a few exceptions—failed to break down Bradford City, an Npower League Two side, Arsene Wenger said in his post-match interview that he was not embarrassed about the result and that the team gave "absolutely everything," when they so clearly didn't.
He said that the defeat was down to the fact that it was a cup game, even mentioning that the pitch was slippery. With all due respect to Bradford City, Arsenal Football Club should be able to beat Bradford, a team over 50 places below them in the ladder of English football, on any pitch in the world, period.
They say the first step of fixing a problem is admitting that there is one in the first place, right? Tell it to Arsene Wenger.
There may be better options out there
Now this is tricky territory.
Arsene Wenger, despite his shortcomings, is one of the most respected figures in football. He's a coach that just about any player in the world would relish the chance of working with, simply the best when it comes to developing players, and the fact that he's Arsenal's manager makes players want to join the club.
It seems at times that the legendary status he's achieved is untouchable, for better or worse.
But it has to cross the minds of Arsenal supporters, players and, hopefully, board members, that there may be better options out there. A rumour recently surfaced that Arsenal is Pep Guardiola's preferred club to manage in England, and how could this not excite Arsenal fans?
After all of the trophies he won with Barcelona, the name Pep Guardiola is synonymous with success, and if he did become the manager of Arsenal Football Club, it seems like he could turn the Gunners back into a truly world-class team.
So, while Arsene Wenger is a genuinely great football manager, his time at the helm of Arsenal football club may be coming to an end, and this is something that both Wenger and Arsenal should realize and accept.
Ultimately, no man is bigger than Arsenal, so if Wenger and the club agree that the Gunners would be better off led by a trusty replacement in the shape of a certain bald Spaniard (and I'm not talking about Rafa Benitez), then would it really be so bad if they parted ways by mutual consent?
All good things must come to an end, and it seems that the Arsene Wenger era may just be doing that. We can only hope that a new era is beginning.
Come on, you Gunners.
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