It is time for the Arsenal Football Club to imagine an existence without Arsene Wenger.
Wenger is arguably the greatest manager in Arsenal’s history. He revolutionized the culture of the club and English football as a whole, and had the vision not only to forge some of the best Arsenal teams in living memory, but also to oversee the move to Emirates Stadium.
His first decade at the club brought three league titles and four FA Cups. However, in recent seasons Arsene Wenger has fallen short of his own high standards. Since that final FA Cup triumph in 2005, Arsenal have not lifted a trophy.
The club has not yet entered a terminal decline. Arsene Wenger is fond of pointing out that from the media’s hysterical reaction, you would think Arsenal were embroiled in a relegation struggle. To a degree, he is right: there are many clubs worse off.
However, it comes down to expectations. Wigan are in a relegation fight, yet Roberto Martinez remains impervious to pressure. That’s because they’re meeting their expectations.
Arsenal are expected to challenge for major honours, and are failing to do so. That’s why doubts are beginning to surface about their manager.
Those high expectations are in part due to the exorbitant prices Arsenal’s supporters pay to visit the stadium. They’re also a consequence of Wenger’s own achievements: his early success created a rod for his own back.
In his defence, Arsene Wenger would point to his (as yet unblemished) record of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. It’s certainly impressive, but it does not represent true success. Fourth place is not, whatever anyone tells you, a trophy.
Champions League football is essential to Arsenal from a business perspective, but the club shows little ambition of actually trying to win the competition. Fans are motivated by glory, not gate receipts.
We knew when Arsenal moved to Emirates Stadium we would be entering a period of austerity. Star names were sold off, young talent was blooded and then sold off too.
A lesser man than Arsene Wenger would have walked away from the Arsenal job then. Instead, the Frenchman martyred himself. He must’ve known the spending limitations would likely impact upon his legacy, but he stuck it out.
For a time, Arsenal fans were patient. It was easily to accept the consolation prize of fourth spot when you were a genuine title contender up until the spring. However, in the last couple of seasons, Arsenal haven’t even been close to the top shot. The decline is evident.
Arsene Wenger has presumably always hoped that if he could just hold on, he’d eventually reap the benefits of Arsenal’s prudence. Commercial deals are starting to arrive, and the club’s spending power is increasing. However, I can't help but feel it may be too late.
The fog of failure is difficult to dissipate. At Manchester United, you get the sense that the players have forgotten how to lose. At Arsenal, they’ve forgotten how to win.
A culture of mediocrity has crept in to the club. At one stage, fourth would not have been good enough for anyone, including Arsene Wenger. Now it is an imaginary trophy he raises with misplaced pride.
Arsenal have stagnated. The club seems collectively tired of going over the same narrative season after season. Even if money does arrive, Arsene Wenger’s scrooge-like penchy-pinching has become so habitual that it may prove impossible to shake.
They need a manager who believes this club should be fighting for championships, and is prepared to take the financial risks required to make that a possibility.
Sadly, I no longer believe Arsene Wenger to be that man.