With any hopes of reaching a top four finish having all but disappeared, and the Europa League remaining as the last glimmer of hope, this is turning into the worst season Arsenal Football Club have had since I have been alive. Never in my memory, have we looked so miserable and this has frankly made me quite melancholic. So in the hopes of preventing Arsenal’s current form from turning my melancholy into a full-on depression, I have set out to brainstorm a number of possible steps that we as a club can take from now until May, to ensure next year sees a revival rather than another plummet towards the abyss.
To begin with, the board must make it clear that this will be Arsene Wenger’s last season in charge. He has been the only manager I have ever known at Arsenal, and for this I have, and will always, feel much attached to him, but it is now clear that he has to go. The players have stopped playing for him, and, unlike the end of last season, it is now also evident that a vast majority of the fan base has turned against him. Announcing that this will be his last season, sooner rather than later, could have two positive effects. It would bring new excitement all around the club and its fans. Knowing that something different is on the horizon would surely give a much needed boost to the entire environment, leading to a much better atmosphere at the ground, but also on social media, where Arsenal-bashing has now become a serious trend. Secondly, it would guarantee that Wenger would get the sending off that he earned himself in his first twenty years at the club. If it were announced that this was to be his last season, all the hate would stop and he would be afforded the affectionate goodbye he deserves. Whether one likes it or not, he has been the face of our club for more than twenty years and as such merits respect.
Secondly, players that obviously cannot form part of our future plans must stop playing starting now.
Let’s face it, I am honestly sick of the likes of Cech, Mustafi, Bellerin, Welbeck, and Iwobi (to name a few) and in my eyes they should play no part at the club going forward. So with a sixth place finish being almost certain, I think it is time to put these players on the sidelines, and give more space to some of the younger players. Maitland-Niles, Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson have all had minutes here and there this season, and I believe they should be starting every Premier League match from now until the end of the season. Every minute on the pitch will help them understand what it is like to play in the Premier League, and can only help with their development. Moreover, there is no better test of their abilities than seeing play against top opposition. This way, the future manager will have a greater basis on which to judge whether they belong at the club or if they too should be moved on come the summer. Besides, if a team full of youngsters were to so utterly underperform and allow Burnley to pass us, knocking us out of next season’s Europa League, I am not so sure this would be such a bad thing. Juventus, and Chelsea, both under Antonio Conte, are just two recent examples of how focusing only on the league can be extremely beneficial to clubs looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons.
And to finish, the owners need to start planning the future now. Once they (hopefully) decide to let Arsene go, they should immediately begin interviewing potential managers for next season and make a decision within a short time. A new manager in place, they should come together, manager and the club itself, and decide who they want to sign for next season. In the past few years, Arsenal’s transfer market has been mostly passive and never really got started until well within the transfer period. I think having a clear picture of who needs to be signed starting now, can be very beneficial. Other clubs always seem to be moving in on players much before the start of the transfer window, and this helps them sign better players at often deflated prices as they avoid the expensive auctions that often develop between clubs during the window. In addition, having a completed squad by the beginning of the summer training camp will give the future manager more time to put things together the way he’ll want them.
Optimistically, I still see potential for the end of this season to serve as a springboard for a return to Arsenal’s high standards. Of course this depends on a few things going the right way, chief amongst them the departure of Wenger, which as of now seems anything but certain. So while there is a path leading us out of this horrible period for our club, we must also remember that hitting rock bottom (as it seems we have) only guarantees you cannot fall lower, not that you’ll move back up. For this, proactivity and lots of hard work are necessary to turn the club’s fortunes around.