Is This Wenger’s Last Season? Here’s Why it May Well Be
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As a man who has always inspired loyalty among his players, it is interesting to hear the thoughts of Arsene Wenger’s former charges on the future of the French manager. Both Martin Keown and Ian Wright (who still calls Arsene’ the boss’) have talked poignantly about the fact that Wenger’s 20-year tenure may be coming to an end, for example, while Paul Merson has also suggested that the Gunners should have moved heaven and earth to recruit Pep Guardiola last season.
These thoughts and opinions offer a fascinating insight into Wenger’s current standing as a manager, as even those who have shared incredible success with the Frenchman believe that his tenure may have reached a natural conclusion. The professional, if entirely expected, 2-0 win at non-league Sutton in the FA Cup will have done little to change this perception, while those Gunners who are adamant that the club must change direction in the summer continue to grow in their number.
The Season so Far, and Why is Wenger’s Star Fading?
In some respects, it seems strange that that Wenger should have come under such scrutiny this year. After all, this season has followed a familiar path to the previous 10, with early optimism giving way to the tension and uncertainty of competing for a top four place and Champions League disappointment (following a harrowing, 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the second round). Despite this, the Gunners retain hope of an FA Cup triumph, while the Premier League top four odds suggest that they are well-placed to secure their usual, European placing.
To many fans, however, it is the familiarity and obvious limitations of Arsenal’s season that has begun to weigh heavy on Wenger’s shoulders. After all, the club his poised to exit the Champions League at the first knockout stage for the seventh consecutive season, rendering the Gunners’ sustained qualification for the tournament increasingly meaningless. Arsenal’s consistent and seemingly inevitable failures against the leading clubs in the UK and on the continent have also taken their toll, exposing the weakness and lack of leadership that runs throughout the Gunners side.
The illusion that Arsenal are unable to compete more aggressively because Wenger does not spend money has also been shattered this season, with new, summer signings Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka costing more than the impressive pairing of David Luiz and N’Golo Kante respectively. Wenger himself has also appeared more vulnerable this year, while his staggering admission that Arsenal were ‘not mentally prepared’ for a recent league game against Watford the type of frank declaration that hints at a fragile emotional state.
Why the Death-knell May be About to Sound for Wenger
Collectively, these realisations and Wenger’s own lack of assurance have critically undermined the Frenchman this season, as years of perceived and recurring failures have gradually pierced his aura of invincibility. His questionable recruitment policy and inability to inspire Arsenal beyond their current level of attainment has also become increasingly apparent during the last 18 months, forcing Wenger to confront his new reality and consider a future outside of the Emirates.
The Frenchman has already declared that he will definitely manage last season, although tellingly confirmed that he could continue away from London. His demeanour certainly suggests that he is beginning to imagine a future managing elsewhere on the continent, with the decision of whether or not he leaves the Gunners likely to be his own.
This seems fair to some degree, particularly given Wenger’s early achievements as Arsenal manager and the legacy he has inspired in terms of fitness, nutrition and the possession-based style that has become synonymous with modern football. Securing this legacy is far from assured, however, and Wenger risks undermining all that he has achieved if he does not recognise that the time has come for him to seek out new challenges.