independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Alan Hansen: Sacking Wenger would be act of folly for Arsenal

Anyone imagining the end of Arsene Wenger's reign at Arsenal should consider the following scenario. A new manager takes over and accepts the following task: to continue to balance the books (in most seasons actually making a profit in transfers), always reach the latter stages of the Champions League playing an attractive brand of football, and to win trophies each season, preferably competing for the Premier League title.

It is an unattainable dream and, if Wenger leaves at the end of the season, Arsenal fans will quickly realise the folly of it all.

The trophies have dried up for Wenger in the last eight years, but by simply fulfilling all those other criteria, the Frenchman has achieved more than any other manager could have at the Emirates Stadium.

Wenger is a football visionary who should have plenty more credit left in the bank before the debate about his future reaches a critical point, but the culture of modern football won't offer such grace.

It's incredible that a manager who has secured his place among the finest there has been now has so many doubters, but nobody is immune from the game's increasing demands.

Even if Alex Ferguson were to go four or five years without a trophy, I can guarantee Manchester United supporters would be flooding the airwaves suggesting it is time for a change.

Mentality

This is the current mentality. Even the greatest managers are vulnerable when results take a turn for the worse. It is inevitable that Arsenal supporters are asking difficult questions after eight years without silverware.

That is why Wenger looks and sounds like a manager under real pressure. It's not some media invention. This kind of momentum starts with the fans and then filters through to the press, creating the situation where every game – including tonight's trip to Reading – is being perceived as a 'must win'.

If he doesn't finish fourth this season – and I still rate Arsenal favourites to do so – Wenger has a serious problem.

Having said that, it would be some decision by the Arsenal board to consider replacing Wenger, given what he has done for that club, not least helping to effectively subsidise the new stadium by ensuring the financial results are consistently among the best in the league.

When Wenger speaks of the importance of finishing fourth above winning the League Cup and FA Cup, he is not a lone voice. Everyone in England now feels that way. You only have to observe the teamsheets of the top clubs in those competitions to see that.

Persistent Champions League qualification has kept Arsenal out of any economic difficulty at a time when, under less astute management, they would have been at their most vulnerable, having spent a fortune on a new arena.

Supporters want trophies, but they need to consider the vast changes in the structure of football, the shift of emphasis on achieving financial security as much as winning a cup, before allowing the hysteria of a League Cup defeat to Bradford to cloud their judgment about the way forward.

There is no getting away from the fact the loss at Valley Parade was inexcusable. A club of Arsenal's stature should not be losing such a fixture, but in the context of the season it will rank as a minor setback if they finish fourth again and progress further in the Champions League.

Wenger is being judged now on the extraordinary standards he set himself when he was winning titles by playing an artistic, pure brand of football.

It would have been inconceivable 10 years ago to be talking about Arsenal merely hoping to finish fourth. For supporters who recall going head to head with United every season, it must be difficult to understand how they have slipped, even if they are warned that ditching Wenger risks making the situation far worse rather than better.

Wenger was once adept at replacing top players with equally outstanding ones. He could sell established players for huge profits with the confidence he had someone younger and better ready and waiting.

That eye for talent appears to have deserted him lately: recent signings have simply not been up to the standard that is required to compete for the title.

His best sides contained steel to go alongside the skill, the likes of Patrick Vieira, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Tony Adams ready to throw their bodies on the line to get a result. Such players would relish an icy pitch in Bradford, not baulk at the challenge.

You don't see characters like this in the current Arsenal line-up and, in fairness, haven't for far too long.

However, Arsenal still have the right man to lead them for the next five years and longer. There is no one more suited to the club's needs than Wenger. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Reading v Arsenal, Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

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