Arsene Wenger is without doubt a legend in the modern game.
When he joined Arsenal in 1996 from Japanese team Nagoya Grampus the 63 year old Frenchman revolutionized the system of play at the London club. His abilities had been evident from as far back as 1984 when he began his coaching career with French side Nancy.
At Arsenal, Wenger made some radical changes. From changing the player’s dietary habits to creating an attacking fluid system of play Wenger took little time in turning the Gunners into a formidable outfit.
His emphasis on youth and untapped talent was the platform for the club’s success. With 11 titles won in 9 seasons, including the memorable achievement of going 49 games unbeaten in the 2003/2004 season, Arsenal were definitely a club in ascendancy.
And then the rain started pouring.
Arsenal have not won a title since Patrick Vieira’s penalty handed them the 2005 FA Cup. It has been 7 painful long seasons since that moment of glory and for ‘Le Professeur’ who was once idolized by the Gunner fans, murmurs of discontent by the Arsenal faithful have pitched into a crescendo.
So what has gone wrong?
Wenger’s main undoing has been the fact that he has been unable to effectively replace the quality players that the club has lost in the recent past.
None of the first 11 of the amazing squad of 2004-2005 season dubbed the ‘Invincibles’ remain at the club. Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Alexander Hleb, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Fredrik Ljunberg, Thierry Henry among others all left in quick succession shortly thereafter.
The replacements for these players, who were the nucleus of a dominant team, were not as effective as their predecessors and hence the descent down the slippery slope began.
In recent times Niklas Bendtner, Gael Clichy, Alex Song, Francesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and most notably Robin Van Persie have left and Wenger has been unable to procure players to effectively fill this gaps.
To his credit Wenger did make a statement of intent this season: Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski all joined the club but the X factor that made Arsenal a distinct force to reckon with seems to be missing.
To make matters worse, rumour has it that Wenger and the first team defensive coach Steve Bould are at variance on how to train the Arsenal defence.
Bould, who replaced Pat Rice as Wenger’s No. 2 has been credited with turning around the shaky Arsenal defence of last season into a respectable outfit this season. The rift, if true, may be a catalyst for disaster.
At the recent Club Annual General Meeting the management was put to task to explain the lack of success over the past few seasons and the club’s failure to invest despite the available large cash reserves. Wenger was uncharacteristically but not surprisingly downbeat.
Additionally Wenger has seemingly lost the passion for trophies. His curious statement at the club’s AGM that qualification for the Champions League is more important than winning the FA Cup or the league Cup was perplexing.
With 15 consecutive qualifications to the Champions League one can clearly see where Wenger’s focus lies. Certainly all clubs in Europe aspire to win the Champions League and their domestic Leagues but few managers, at least not publicly, would downplay the other competitions. Trophies are there to be won.
Wenger’s statement is therefore defeatist and may have the resultant effect of distorting the focus of the players.
Is it time for new ideas at Arsenal? A breath of fresh air? A tactical turn-around? Maybe the time has come for a second revolution? Only time will tell.
One however feels that if Wenger does not win a trophy this season he may lose his job. It is not enough in the footballing world to just be a legend. Success (read trophies and/or survival as the case may be) are a pre-requisite. Alan Shearer as Newcastle coach and Kenny ‘the King’ Dalglish at Liverpool are prime examples.
At the time of writing this article Arsenal had just beaten QPR 1-0 to slot into fourth spot in the Premier League with 15 points.
Overall as at the 27th of October 2012 Arsenal had won seven games drawn three and lost three in all competitions.
On paper the sequence looks impressive but the reality is that Arsenal are by and large playing without conviction and unless the tide shifts there is a danger that the trophy cabinet may be empty yet again this season.
It is definitely too soon to say that the vultures are circling over the Emirates Stadium. After all, Wenger has proved time and time again that he is the master of the Houdini escape.
This time round however the sand in his hour glass may be fast running out. A paradigm shift is necessary.
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