Unfamiliar days reign at Arsenal. Stuck in sixth place in the Premier League table, the Gunners are not only out of the title race, but they are also in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in manager Arsene Wenger's tenure.
More than any other time in his 16-plus-year career at Arsenal, Wenger is under pressure to produce results. So the question is: Should Arsenal sack their long-time manager this summer or stick with him for another year or more?
We'll try to answer that question in this slideshow with reasons for and against Wenger's hypothetical dismissal. Be sure to add your thoughts in the comments section.
Arsene Wenger last lifted silverware in May 2005 when Arsenal defeated Manchester United on penalties in the FA Cup final.
Seven trophy-less seasons have passed since then, and unless Arsenal win either the UEFA Champions League or FA Cup this season, an eighth will follow.
Arsenal trail Premier League leaders Manchester United by 21 points with 13 matches left in the season, meaning that a league title is out of the question. The Gunners crashed out of the Capital One Cup in December, losing on penalties to fourth-tier Bradford City.
For all managers and all football clubs, the primary objective is to win trophies. Arsenal and Wenger have not won a single trophy in almost eight years.
Such a record would be grounds for dismissal at some clubs.
But Arsenal are not just any club, and Arsene Wenger is not just any manager.
The Frenchman took over at the North London club in October 1996 and subsequently led the club to an unprecedented level of success.
Wenger's Gunners won the domestic league-and-cup double in 1998 and again in 2002. In 2003-04, the so-called Invincibles went the entire league season undefeated.
In total, Wenger has won three league titles and four FA Cups in England. He also led the Gunners to the UEFA Champions League final in 2006 (they lost to Barcelona).
Without Wenger, Arsenal might not be in the position that they are today, for better and worse.
Arsene Wenger played a substantial role in relocating Arsenal from Highbury, their home for more than 90 years, to the 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium. The move has provoked mixed reactions from Arsenal fans.
Ahead of the move, Wenger argued that the new stadium would allow Arsenal to raise more revenue through ticket sales. With more revenue, Arsenal would be able to spend more on players, according to Wenger.
"The Emirates Stadium is vital to our future," Wenger said in 2005 (per BBC Sport). "At one stage this project was only 50-50 because it was very complicated and expensive, but the board of directors felt we had to go for it or risk dying at the top level."
But as Richard Williams wrote in The Guardian in January 2012, Arsenal's performances since moving to the Emirates have suffered in comparison to the glory days at Highbury. Williams quoted former Arsenal midfielder John Hollins to illustrate some of the ambivalence surrounding the stadium. Said Hollins:
I don't know how much the Emirates has to do with their problems. It's a beautiful place and it does everything they must have wanted it to do. But they've made it so luxurious for the supporters that it's as though they feel they don't need to cheer any more. Highbury was a tight little ground where you could feel an energy that drove you on.
On the other hand, the stadium itself has been something of a financial burden. Arsenal invested £470 million in the Emirates (per Williams' article in The Guardian), and Wenger has said that the club's need to turn a profit has hindered his ability to buy expensive players like Eden Hazard (via ESPN FC).
Indeed, Arsenal turned a profit of £36.6 million in 2011-12, according to Sporting Intelligence. As a whole, the league lost £361 million over the same period (via The Guardian). During the decade ending in 2011-12, Arsenal netted more than £4 million in the transfer market (via Sporting Intelligence) while Chelsea and Manchester City combined to lose more than £1 billion.
Compared to most of their Premier League rivals, Arsenal are in excellent financial shape. The problem is, while Wenger continues to tout Financial Fair Play (via Sky Sports), other clubs are spending more and winning trophies.
Can a club be both financially responsible and successful on the pitch? That seems to be the key question of the latter part of Wenger's tenure.
Arsenal made one deal in the recent winter transfer window, signing Spain international defender Nacho Monreal from Málaga for a reported £8.5 million (per ESPN.co.uk). Monreal is an excellent player who will fill an urgent need for Arsenal, but considering the Gunners' sixth-place standing in the table, the squad could have used more strengthening.
As Daniel Taylor writes in The Guardian, Arsene Wenger reportedly had £70 million "swilling around in their transfer pot." Wenger's reluctance to spend it will have frustrated supporters, and yet there's some question as to whether any suitable players were available for an appropriate price.
Frugality in the transfer market is nothing new for Arsenal.
Last summer, the Gunners sold captain and star forward Robin van Persie to Manchester United for a reported £24 million (via The Independent). Instead of replacing him via a similarly large investment, Wenger signed German forward/winger Lukas Podolski for €13 million (via The Independent) and French forward Olivier Giroud—the closest Arsenal came to a like-for-like van Persie replacement—for £12 million (via BBC Sport).
Both Podolski and Giroud have played well this season, but neither has been able to replace van Persie. Such has been the pattern in recent seasons for Wenger, who has developed talents like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri before selling for a profit.
In each case, Wenger has signed replacements, but often the replacements have been inferior.
If Arsenal do sack Arsene Wenger this summer, a suitable replacement must be ready beforehand. For a club like Arsenal, though, not just any manager would do.
Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho has come under pressure lately after a series of reports have hinted at unrest in his dressing room. The Daily Mail reported in November that the 50-year-old Mourinho, who led Chelsea to back-to-back Premier League titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06, as saying he will leave Real in the summer.
Mourinho might or might not be interested in Arsenal, and any such talk of him managing the club is only speculation at this point. Further, it is unclear whether Mourinho's tactics would fit with Arsenal's style.
Would Arsenal and the board want to move away from Wenger's attractive brand of football? Would Mourinho even be considered?
Regardless, replacing Wenger—if it happens—would be no easy task.
Arsene Wenger has built his reputation for success on an attractive playing style and his dedication to developing young talent. He has won trophies for Arsenal and made the club money through shrewd transfer dealings for more than 16 years.
In 2013, though, Wenger and Arsenal face the real danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time under Wenger's guidance. Already trophy-less for seven years, an eighth year without silverware is highly possible.
But who should take the blame?
It's true that Wenger has been reluctant to spend money in the transfer market, at least in comparison to Premier League rivals like Chelsea and Manchester City. But Wenger is required to work within a different framework of ideas and principles than his counterparts at those clubs.
Unlike Chelsea and City, Arsenal require Wenger to maintain the club's financial health. Wenger, as such, becomes the target for criticism, whether that is fair or not. The board, however, should shoulder as much of the blame, if not more, as financial decisions ultimately are made there.
Building a new stadium gave Arsenal the potential to compete with England's elite on equal financial footing, but it has also brought about other consequences, both financial and field-related.
For all his seemingly stubborn refusal to change tactics, Wenger remains a successful manager and North London legend. And even though he has gone more than seven years without winning a trophy, it's unclear how much better any other manager could have done in his position.