Arsenal have started their meltdown to the season much earlier than expected. The #WengerOut brigade are in full voice, calling for Arsene Wenger and Stan Kroenke to leave the club. Such noise usually comes around March where the team makes the scheduled downward spiral into mediocrity. The environment around the Emirates is ominous at best and the questions surrounding Wenger’s contract extension have arisen again.
After stringing along the Arsenal fan base for the better part of 6 months, Arsenal revealed that Wenger had signed a new deal to stay at the club for two more years. Many fans had though that this was the perfect time to step aside for Wenger. After beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final, it would have provided the perfect swansong for Wenger to walk away, and allow someone else to assume the reins at the Emirates. But alas, he remains at the club and you would be hard-pressed to find a large group of fans that are excited about this prospect.
It is clear that after being taken apart for the umpteenth time away from home by Liverpool early in the season, the same questions that have been asked for a decade began to resurface. With Wenger being notoriously stubborn and failing to adapt his tactics to the opposition that he is facing, more defeats like this can be expected to come when Arsenal travel to top 4 teams. With Wenger frequently calling defeats like these ‘accidents’ but still expecting the Arsenal fans to remain faithful behind his time, it seems that he is completely out of touch with the managers of today meaning he needs to adapt, which is highly unlikely, or he has to leave.
Reports early in the season revealed that Wenger did indeed hesitate before signing his most recent contract stating in an interview with French TV station Telefoot “I’ve been at the club 20 years, and I’m wondering if I should continue to lead the club. We went quite badly during the season”. Surely with a statement like this, Wenger within himself is questioning whether he has the ability to take this talented squad to the mountain top, and bring respectability back to the Emirates. Additionally, if you are a player, how does this sort of message resonate in the dressing room? You want your manager to inspire passion within you, bring light to the fact that the squad is talented enough to win trophies. Instead, the manager is questioning whether he should still be at the helm.
Arsenal did manage to put on a strong performance away from home at Chelsea, where some may argue that Arsenal even deserved to win the game. Only time will tell whether this performance will be an anomaly on the season or whether Wenger is finally coming to terms with the idea that different football games require different tactics for the team to succeed.
There is no doubting that Wenger has been a huge addition to English football, but in a world where everyone has a platform to voice their opinion, and the resounding opinion is that Wenger has become so tactically inflexible that other managers in the league have surpassed him on and off the pitch. He will go down as Arsenal legend, there is no doubt about that, but is his legacy going to remembered by his first 10 years where he brought Arsenal a huge amount of success, or will he be remembered for the last 10 years where he was continually embarrassed by rivals and was too stubborn to make the tactical changes need and too frugal to make the big additions that would have undoubtedly made the squad better.
The most recent debacle against Watford highlighted the difference between Arsenal and the teams that have a genuine chance of winning the league. 1-0 up and looking comfortable, rather than going for the jugular, Wenger elected to replace Lacazette with Giroud in the 68th minute. Baring in mind Manchester City had trounced Watford 6-0 earlier in the season, Wenger decided to sit on the lead rather than try and extend it.
Such decision making isn’t going to change over the next 18 months. Wenger is so tactically behind his counterparts it borders on the embarrassing. Make no mistake about it, such head-scratching decision making and pathetic team selection will continue as long as Wenger is still the manager and the Gunners have many more angry days ahead.