On Saturday after defeat to West Brom, during the post-match press conference Arsene Wenger disclosed that he has made a decision about his future, that he hasn’t told anyone and we will soon find out what it is. Firstly, the fact he said he hasn’t told anyone makes me wonder about the truth behind Tony Pulis’ contradictory claim that, Wenger told him he’s staying. Secondly the obvious question what is the decision and when is the best time to announce it?
Ok so before we answer these questions, let’s look how we got here in the first place this season. I recognise that this decision has been years in the making, that change has needed to come for some time at Arsenal but this season it has all come to a head. After limping out of the Champions League 10-2 on aggregate and sliding down the Premier League table, now more than ever, people are questioning Wenger’s status at the club.
Many have questioned the signings this summer, questioning Wenger’s eye for a player but I feel it is important to state that Arsenal beat off stiff competition for both Xhaka and Mustafi, players held in very high regard in Europe before joining the club. It is noted that Chelsea among other clubs were battling Arsenal for Shkodran Mustafi before he signed and that he started for Germany in Euro 2016, he is statistically the 6th best centre back in the Premier league this season, outperforming players like Eric Bailly and the highly rated Michael Keane. Granted Mustafi needs to add a bit more aggression and defensive leadership to his game but at 24 he still has time to grow into one of the best around.
With regards Granit Xhaka, it frustrates me no end the amount of criticism he has got this season due to his liking of a yellow card and underperforming. It’s frustrating because when he was bought most people that didn’t know about him before he came to Arsenal thought he was signed as a midfield destroyer and compare him to the Chelsea signing N’Golo Kanté, who was bought for a similar fee but he is nothing like him, so he shouldn’t be compared with him. Instead Xhaka is a player Arsenal fought off both Liverpool and notably Bayern Munich to sign, who they viewed as a like for like replacement for Xabi Alonso. See Granit Xhaka is a deep lying, tough tackling, playmaker, basically Mikel Arteta but taller and more aggressive. Another reason he’s underperformed is that only recently has Wenger switched to a 4 3 3 that Xhaka plays his best football in and made his name in, so he’s not only been miss cast this season but misused.
Finally, Lucas Perez, a player some call the Spanish Jamie Vardy, was officially announced one day before summer deadline day after beating Leicester to his signature, ironically after Jamie Vardy himself turned down Arsenal to sign a new contract at Leicester after a fee was agreed between the clubs. One can only wonder how Vardy might have changed Arsenal, his speed or indeed his character in the dressing room. With that said Lucas Perez has looked good whenever he’s come on although that’s been mostly cameo’s or random starts against teams like Sutton.
In conclusion regards transfers, I guess you can sum up the transfers this season to say they are all good players and in Mustafi and Xhaka’s case very good players but they are all working out a way to fit into the team, or should I say, Wenger is still working that out. I feel 2 big signings would have made this season a different story, players like Monreal, Coquelin and Gabriel have all been shown up to not be the standard we once hoped.
At the start of the season there was cautious optimism as Arsenal were one of the top teams in the opening months of the league, with impressive demolitions of Chelsea and Ludogorets. Arsenal even drew twice in the Champions League with PSG. Sadly, it didn’t last this way, Arsenal have begun to lose games they were expected to win, games like against Watford or Everton. One cannot forget the disconsolate look on Alexis Sanchez face as Arsenal celebrated managing to pull Bournemouth back to 3-3 also. Arsenal also have the 2nd worst record when it comes to games versus the top 6. So where is it all going wrong? Is it tactics or is it terrible players?
It’s not the players on a whole. I’d say Arsenal have enough to beat most teams, if you have Ozil and Sanchez you’ve always got a chance regardless who the rest are. Sanchez is being now viewed as one of the best players in Europe and Ozil the best playmaker in football. There have been things thrown at Wenger that he doesn’t shout or show emotion to get the players fighting for the cause, but his team talks and man management seemed to work previously with the Invincibles and the first squad he inherited so why should it not now?
Honestly, I feel it’s just about character and being tactically rigid or stubborn. When Chelsea lost 3-0 to Arsenal, Antonio Conte saw his new tactic of playing 4 at the back wasn’t working so he instead of sticking to his guns, he changed the formation and the rest is history. I feel that Wenger would have just kept the formation and hoped to be proved right, sadly Wenger is never one to revolutionise the game tactically, you never hear him playing new random formations, he seemed begrudgingly to change to 4-2-3-1 after years of people demanding he quit the 4-4-2 now he’s finally losing the 4-2-3-1 for a simpler 4-3-3 so who knows where that could leave Arsenal.
Tactics aside the bigger problem is character, which is a thing that is overlooked on a global scale let alone just Arsenal, there are not enough leaders in football these days, guys that inspire others, make them be better people, let alone players. This problem is highlighted at Arsenal, the team are some of the most talented around but if you don’t have will to win, a desire to inspire, to work hard for yourself and your teammates, it only gets you so far. Xhaka who was bought in the summer to add a bit of leadership seems a little scared to, to be honest, like a totally different player that played in the Swiss team at the Euro’s.
Alexis Sanchez has famously fallen out with certain players due to lack of the character. He looks a pained man, so frustrated that players aren’t giving as much as he is during matches. My view on his tantrums recently is that, yes, it is understandable but there are ways and means to go about things that don’t make your team feel even worse than they already do, maybe try encouraging the players?
There are reports of a training ground bust up where Sanchez walked away from the training pitch, due to possibly a poor tackle on him. This resulted in him being benched for the next match against Liverpool. Personally, I feel he was brought on in the second half because Arsene Wenger takes Sanchez side. He is also frustrated at these players that aren’t giving as much as he is while he coaches the team. He coached players like Keown, Vieira and Adams who would run through brick walls for him and now he’s got players who wouldn’t even run a few yards to stop a player running through on goal. Wenger will always take the blame and shield players as much as he can, which in the past produced loyalty from such players but now it seems it produces complacency. It appears they think Wenger will take all the flack regardless how they play.
So, the dreaded decision. It’s widely speculated that Arsene Wenger has chosen to stay at Arsenal, right the wrongs he’s done and rebuild his tainted legacy one last time. It’s also widely reported Wenger will try either replace or appease Alexis Sanchez, with the big name, motivated signings like Alexandre Lacazette, Moussa Dembele, Kylian Mbappe and Marco Reus. Lacazette, although linked with Arsenal, is expected to sign for Atletico Madrid in a move to keep Griezmann at the club. The other 3 are high on talent on potential but do they have the winning character needed?
Obviously that question is immaterial and preceded in importance to the bigger one – if Wenger is staying, when should it be announced? Wenger said it won’t be announced during the international break so that means there’s no news until the end of the month at least. Personally, I feel the ideal scenario and maybe this is what they are waiting for, is to sign Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez up to contracts and announce all three in a joint statement to almost take the spotlight away from Wenger staying and focus on the two superstars being kept at the club.
I say take the spotlight away from Wenger staying, as there are calls from the media and certain sections of the fans for him to leave sadly. There have been banners, marches and planes flown in protest to Wenger which just leaves a sour taste in my mouth when I think of the club and indeed English football before he came along. Just take a moment to think of what English football was before Arsene Wenger joined Arsenal some 20 years ago, a game focused more on route one football, British know it all coaches, that in hindsight knew nothing. Think of the things that are fundamental now, like sport science and watching what players eat and drink before matches, Wenger brought it all to the English game. A forward thinker, ahead of the groove and yet now it just seems to be all forgotten. How people speak of him now, is as if he isn’t the vital man to football he is, as if he didn’t sacrifice a thing for Arsenal, like he didn’t reject numerous overtures from Real Madrid.
In conclusion, I feel it should never be a situation of people being Wenger out or Wenger in, but more a case of what is best for a club ready to be one of Europe’s biggest teams, moving forward. Could Wenger’s last present to Arsenal fans be his next term at the club, being a time of overhaul and preparation in steady hands for his successor. Who better to lead the rebuilding work than the man that had a hand in every inch of the Arsenal we know now, who better to prepare the club for the next man be that Allegri, Tuchel, Koeman or even Nagelsmann.
Wenger may have lost the trust of the fans but maybe and yes hopefully he can win their favour this one last time