Thursday 18 January 2018

Time for Arsenal to find new top gun and move Wenger upstairs

Wenger will be just a month short of his 67th birthday when the 20th anniversary comes around: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Wenger will be just a month short of his 67th birthday when the 20th anniversary comes around: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Jason Burt

Arsene Wenger, already the longest-serving and most successful manager in Arsenal's history, could, in six months' time, celebrate 20 years at the club.

However, if Arsenal do not win the Premier League this season, then the question has to be asked: will they ever do so with Wenger in charge. If they do fail, then it is time for him finally to step down.

Wenger will be just a month short of his 67th birthday when the September 16 anniversary comes around and will also be in the final year of his contract. Whether he signs a new deal is already in doubt.

The natural step for him is to take on a different role at Arsenal at the end of this campaign - and few managers appear as suited to become a director of football as Wenger.

The argument against Wenger going has always been that people should be careful what they wish for and his status as one of the greatest managers Europe has ever seen would be untainted even if he did not win another league title.

No one should question his importance and the effect his brilliant football has had. But, sometimes, it is right to change.

If you apply Wenger's own logic, then that would appear to be the case. Recently, he confirmed what was suspected and written about at the time - if he had not won the FA Cup in 2014 then it would have been "difficult" to carry on.

His reasoning was "because it would have been a massive disappointment for everybody" had Hull City not been defeated and a drought of nine years without a trophy not been ended.

Apply that logic to this season's title race. In a season when Chelsea have imploded, Manchester United are in chaos, Liverpool are rebuilding (again), Tottenham are a young and developing team and Manchester City have been distracted by the appointment of Pep Guardiola, then Arsenal have never had a better opportunity to win the league for first time since 2003-04.

If they fail, then that will be an even bigger disappointment, surely?

Instead, it is Leicester City who are out in front. Looking at it hard-headedly, that is an indictment of the underperformance of the big clubs as much as it is a glorious effort by Leicester.

And that indictment is at its greatest at Arsenal. While other big clubs have been in a maelstrom, Arsenal have gone from giving the impression they can capitalise on their continuity to appearing set to be paralysed by it.


It is in danger of developing into another 'Groundhog Day' campaign, where the club appear to be trapped in a cycle. That sinking feeling is beginning to take hold - almost certain Champions League exit, Premier League chances blown.

As a pundit, just as a player, Graeme Souness is at his best when he goes in hard and his reaction to Arsenal's defeat at Manchester United last Sunday was brutal.

"Arsenal bordered on being a joke," Souness said as he condemned an "insipid", "weak", "unacceptable" performance.

What matters now is the reaction to the reaction. Arsenal are at home to Swansea City tonight and away at Spurs on Saturday. Win both of those games and it is feasible they will be top of the table. The nightmare scenario is also as likely: Spurs beat them and end their hopes.

Yet, even if Arsenal do win the title, then maybe it is still time for Wenger to step down. How could he top that?

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