Arsene Wenger is out of contract at Arsenal at the end of the 2013-14 Premier League season. The legendary 63-year-old Frenchman is the longest-serving and most successful manager in the club's 127-year history. However, does he deserve a new contract?
The 2013-14 campaign will be the most important Premier League season since the league was first introduced all the way back in 1992.
Sir Alex Ferguson has finally retired at Manchester United, and he has been replaced by David Moyes. Jose Mourinho has come back to his old hunting ground at Stamford Bridge fully intent on winning another EPL title with Chelsea. Manuel Pellegrini has replaced Roberto Mancini at the Manchester City helm, and Andre Villas-Boas continues to impress at Tottenham Hotspur.
Meanwhile, in Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is readying the Reds' battle plans to assault the Top Four over the coming seasons, and Roberto Martinez is picking up the pieces at Everton following Moyes' move to Old Trafford.
Add all that together, and you have new managers—including Villas-Boas beginning his second term at Spurs—at six of the seven biggest clubs in the EPL. Only Wenger and Arsenal have stood still.
However, given Arsenal's slow decline since 2004, one must wonder: Is the decision to remain unchanged at the helm the right decision for the Gunners?
There is little doubt now that Arsenal Football Club, one of the most successful clubs in English football history, with 13 league titles and 10 FA Cups, is in a period of deterioration.
That decline has coincided with the breaking up of one of the greatest teams to ever grace a pitch in England: The Invincibles.
Before that, Arsenal and Arsene swept all before them. They won the double in his first full season in charge in 1997-98. A second double followed in 2001-02 before the wonderful events in 2003-04.
During the 2003-04 season, the Gunners went completely unbeaten over the 38 games and finished on top of the Premier League with a staggering 90 points, 11 points ahead of second-placed Chelsea, 15 points ahead of Manchester United in third and a mouth-watering 30 points ahead of Liverpool in fourth.
To say that the Gunners dominated the league would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Arsenal, quite simply, played some of the best football ever seen and swept every opponent aside as they roared to the title.
They won the league playing the best football, they won the league with the best manager and they won the league with the best players. The Invincibles were near-perfect as far as EPL champions are concerned.
Summer 2004 saw the beginning of a dynasty that had been in the making since the very first moment Arsene Wenger walked through the hallowed marble halls at Highbury on September 30, 1996.
The Invincibles season was the culmination of incredible hard work, an unbelievable scouting system, inspired coaching and a fundamental belief in playing the game the right way.
Everything was perfect. The Gunners had set new standards in England and needed mere tweaking to dominate the Champions League in the same fashion. The foundations had been set over the previous eight years, and now they were going to dominate football like never before.
Except, somewhere along the way, Arsenal seemed to get lost. All of a sudden Arsenal started letting experienced and essential players leave the club without replacing them.
All declines are slow, painful, drawn-out procedures that happen over years. It seems to slip through your fingers like grains of sand and before you know it, your great team are also-rans.
The year after the Invincibles, the trickle of players leaving the club began. Martin Keown was the first to leave, and eventually that trickle became a torrent as club-captains like Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie followed him out the door.
While all this was going on, the Gunners continued to spend heavily on wages. The year of the Invincibles Arsenal were the second highest-spending team on transfers in the EPL with the third highest wage bill (£69.9 million).
Roll on seven years to 2011, and Arsenal's transfer spending saw them drop to 10th in spending terms. However, while their wage bill came in at fifth in EPL terms, it was now costing the club £124.4 million per season. This is almost double their title-winning spend in 2004.
To the untrained eye, Arsenal were selling their star players. They were, however, investing more money than ever into wages. As Wenger began to gamble on replacements, his squad grew in size. And it is a very well-paid squad. In 2012, that wage bill rose to over £143 million per season.
This shows that Wenger has gone for quantity over quality. He has sold the likes of Van Persie and replaced him with expensive gambles like Olivier Giroud and Lukasz Podolski. Both of whom flattered to deceive last term.
This two-for-one gamble has had direct consequences on the pitch. It is clear to all that Arsenal have regressed since 2005. That was the last time the Gunners finished as high as second. From that defining season, their win rates have dropped from title challengers to Champions League challengers.
Last season everything almost came to a head for Wenger at Arsenal.
A perfect storm almost brewed when fan protests, poor results, falling to 10th place in the English Premier League for the first time since 1994, calls for his head and the club's AGM in October being hijacked by irate fans, all coincided within a couple of months.
It was only a superb run of form from March until the season's end that eventually saved Arsenal's campaign. But it was far too close for comfort for most.
Since then, the Daily Star has quoted the Gunners boss as saying:
"Finishing fourth is the minimum required. Is it enough? No. We want more."
This small but significant line is a far cry from Wenger's argumentative volley during the Arsenal AGM with the Arsenal Supporters Trust last October, as reported on the official club website. He now seems to have learned his lesson in how to deal with fans. But then again he might be just saying what they all want to hear.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger's transfer policy since 2004 has blighted the club like an ugly scar. To return to where they were in the halcyon days of the Invincibles and Double-Double's, the Gunners need to sign a number of top-class players to revive their ills.
Talk is cheap, of course; however, this time around Wenger seems to have backed himself and has seemingly captured Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid, according to Sid Lowe's report in The Guardian. Higuain's arrival is hugely significant because he is the club's first major signing in years.
The Argentinian's arrival should signal Arsenal's intent on trying to challenge for the title. But they have more problems to fill than just up front.
Their current squad is short on talent and requires major surgery in all areas if Arsenal are to be considered title challengers. Signing three or four top talents would make a massive difference to the Gunners' chances of winning a trophy for the first time since 2005.
This will be where Wenger will earn his new contract. Every transfer is a gamble, but signing a quality player, of the likes of Higuain, often mitigates that gamble. It is here that Wenger has stalled in recent years. He has signed the odd quality player like Santi Cazorla, but for every genius he has also signed an Andrei Arshavin or a Gervinho.
This kind of gambling cannot go on. Most of a manager's work on the pitch stems from his work off the pitch and most certainly in the transfer market. Over the past eight years, Wenger has lost his touch for finding that diamond in the rough.
He is now in a position where he needs to sign diamonds.
If he doesn't, and his team are overtaken by the likes of Spurs and Liverpool, his many fans will be baying for his blood.
He is entering the last-chance saloon, and this contract could prove to be his last if he fails in the transfer window.
The pressure is on, and only time will decide whether he gets a new contract or not.
Statistics provided by Manchester United and the Premier League.
Does Arsene Wenger deserve a new contract?
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