Wednesday 16 January 2019

Comment - Arsene Wenger needs to play his final hand at Arsenal, but he may not be ready to fold

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Arsene Wenger now only has one card left to play in his losing hand and it can only be hoped that he finally appreciates the time has come to fold.

After the debacle that was Arsenal's Carabao Cup final performance against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday, Wenger needs to announce that he will be standing down at the end of this season and in an instant, the mood of despair that he has helped to generate will evaporate around him.

This is what should happen after the final nail was hammered into the Arsenal coffin by a Manchester City team led by a manager who is to the Premier League what Wenger used to be - a visionary taking the game to a whole new level.

Those of us in the London press pack who have covered Wenger for more than two decades find it hard to plunge the knife into a gentleman who has been a joy to work with for most of his tenure, yet even his final few loyal disciples have run out of excuses for a manager who should have left long ago.

Wenger now needs to act quickly to avoid being hounded out a job he has made his own over the last 22 years. He needs to confirm his farewell roadshow starts now, that Carlo Ancelotti will be welcomed in as his successor next summer in a move that has the potential turn the hate into adulation.

The trouble is, Wenger has shown no sign that he is even thinking about throw in the towel before his latest contract expires in the summer of 2019.

The 2014 FA Cup final win was the perfect moment for Wenger to bow out as a winner, as he ended Arsenal's long wait for a trophy by beating Hull in the FA Cup final and yet instead of identifying the moment to step down, this stubborn old manager saw his Wembley win as a mandate for more.

To his credit, he has added two more FA Cup triumphs to his collection in the years since, but the mood of despondency around Arsenal has not been so evident for a generation.

There have been protests from a number of Arsenal fan groups in recent seasons calling for Wenger to leave.

Wenger is now alone in believing he is the right man to lead Arsenal back to the glory days and that reality is a worry former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson suspects will ensure he tries to battle on.

"Wenger should have gone a long time ago, but he won't go and no one at the club is big enough to tell him to go," Sky Sports pundit Merson told

"He should have stepped down a long time ago and I reckon Arsenal could have got Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp to replace him.

"Both of them would have come to London, they would have come to Arsenal.  You are in a wonderful city at a massive club, everything is in place to go places.

"You are also inheriting a team that players great football and it probably just needs a tweak here and there to take to where it could be. At the moment, everyone loves Arsenal and says how great they can be to watch and there’s a reason for that; they'll never win anything important so long as Wenger is there. That is the honest truth."

Paul Merson believes Wenger should have stepped down as Arsenal manager 'a long time ago'

Merson was horrified by Arsenal's limp performance against City on Sunday, but he suspects the mood in the dressing room after the game was far from a scene of devestation.

"I can imagine what the Arsenal dressing room is like when the players sit around after a big defeat…I bet it is silent," adds the Arsenal legend.

"When I was at Arsenal, you had characters in every corner of the dressing room. Tony Adams would be shouting at you in one ear, Martin Keown in another. Ray Parlour would be giving it some and Ian Wright would never be short of an opinion.

"That’s what you want in a dressing room. You need leadership, you need people who are going to stay up and dig someone out for criticism is that is what they deserve.

"Who does that in this Arsenal team? I don’t see anyone doing that on or off the pitch and the manager has to take responsibility for that."

Merson echoes the sentiments of what is now a vast majority of Arsenal supporters and it can only be hoped Wenger is ready to listen to the demands for him to go.

If he doesn't, what could have been a glorious end to a wonderful career in English football will end in unnecessary acrimony.

Next Arsenal manager odds:

Carlo Ancelotti - 11/4

Joachim Low - 5/1

Thomas Tuchel - 10/1

Diego Simeone - 12/1

Thierry Henry 12/1

Massimiliano Allegri 14/1

Patrick Vieira 14/1

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