Tuesday 23 January 2018

Stephen Hunt: Even if Arsenal win the FA Cup, I think Arsene Wenger will leave anyway

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

The two managers coming head to head in today's FA Cup semi-finals will both be looking to win the competition to ease the pressure; one to win a trophy in his first Premier League season, and the other one in what I expect to be his last.

Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger would both love to lift the FA Cup next month but if the Manchester City boss does not win a trophy in his first year in England, he is not a failure. Even if Wenger wins the cup, it will not change his future at Arsenal. I think he will leave anyway.

Guardiola has the back-up of knowing that he will qualify for next season's Champions League so he can regard the possibility of lifting the FA Cup as a bonus to his first season in England. He has achieved his first goal as Manchester City boss and knows there is improvement to come over time.

It is looking increasingly likely that Wenger will fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years. That has put him under intense pressure from the Gunners supporters. Even winning the FA Cup might not be enough to appease them now.

It seems to me that Guardiola is the type of manager who will be prepared to accept that he has made mistakes in his first season at City, and he can and will learn from them, even if he remains stubborn enough to stick to his principles, such as over the issue of his goalkeeping selections.

Over the course of the season, he has made some costly errors, not least with the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who he eventually dropped. Not that I see Joe Hart as the solution to that particular problem because of the way Guardiola wants his team, and the 'keeper, to play.

Manchester City do have the money to bring in just about any senior player they want and Guardiola will know that the squad he has had for this season needs serious investment, particularly in defensive positions. And in a new goalkeeper.

Overall, they need a new 'keeper, a young centre-back with experience who is prepared to spend time on the bench, and two young attacking full-backs.

Over the whole season, John Stones has been a plus for City, so he is looking like a long-time centre-back for the club and, if he is fully fit, Vincent Kompany would be his first-choice partner. But that's a big 'if' at the moment . . .

Kompany has been a great defender and a true warrior but his body is not reliable enough and it has let him down for the last two seasons. Kompany may be one of those players who goes through a tough period like this but can then go through two or three seasons without any problems. Let's hope that is the case. Guardiola will hope so because if the Belgian is fit, he will pick him.

What City wouldn't give for two full-backs like Kyle Walker and Danny Rose this season. Both have undoubted ability but the Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has added some mental steel to their game and they have produced consistent performances across the season. The Spurs players have bought into it.

If Tottenham can add a couple of quality players in the summer transfer window, they could be serious title contenders for the next three or four years. Pochettino has been loyal to the current squad so it will be a difficult balancing act for the Spurs manager to bring the right people in.

The success of Leroy Sane this season will certainly give the Manchester City board the confidence to back Guardiola's spending in the summer. He might not have come cheap, but Sane has been another of the real pluses for City this season and he is only going to get better.

Although he only turned 21 this year, Sane is built like a man of 26 and he has tremendous ability, which is only going to improve at City with a coach like Guardiola guiding him. Sane is in a good place and it will interesting to see him develop in his second year in the Premier League.

The City owners might have become used to success in their time in charge, and they have put a structure in place which is aimed at long-term trophy hauls, but they will view Guardiola as a four- or five-year project, and won't get sidetracked by any short-term failure to win silverware this year.

City have invested heavily in the academy and I am sure the owners will eventually want to see that time and money come to fruition and see some of the young players coming into the first team.

They have found a way of getting the best young players in and they want to win everything in underage football. The owners have a desire to breed success throughout their business.

Guardiola will eventually have to justify that investment and start bringing the crop of those best young players from the academy into the first team. But it is not easy to take that risk.

The future still looks considerably brighter for Manchester City than it does for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal after a difficult season. As I've said before in this column, Arsenal fans should be careful what they wish for.

I would be very surprised if Wenger stays. That is an educated guess, judging from his press conferences and how he has handled the pressure from the fans and the media over the last couple of months. He just looks like he has had enough.

The decision on his future will not be determined by the media or supporters. They can keep asking the questions but he will not crumble and give the answer they want.

He will know already what he is planning to do and will make the announcement when he is ready, not when the press tells him to do so. He is far too stubborn for that.

They can keep asking the questions but he will only answer when he is ready. In fact, it would not surprise me if Arsenal reach the FA Cup Final and he makes the announcement on the eve of the final.

Wenger has not been helped by the behaviour of Alexis Sanchez whose behaviour celebrating the win at Middlesbrough on Monday night was unreal. I have been in that situation when you are under pressure and just relieved to win a game but looking at Sanchez, it was just too forced and false.

There is no doubt that Sanchez is a brilliant footballer but with a year left on his contract, Arsenal might be better to cash in now and let him move on. He is clearly still a player who is suited to the Premier League but perhaps he will be better off somewhere else, such as Chelsea or Manchester City.

He could play in any team in the league, if his attitude is right. But he is the big fish at Arsenal and perhaps he can get away with his behaviour there. Wenger should have been firmer with him and I can't see someone like Guardiola tolerating his indiscipline and attitude.

All of this is unlikely to be Wenger's concern next season and with Spurs finally looking like serious title contenders, perhaps now is the best time for him to walk away.

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