football

ANALYSIS: Will this be Wenger’s Last Season at Arsenal?

March 01, 2018

- Grant Whittington

In the wake of Manchester City’s 3-0 demolition of Arsenal during the Carabao Cup final, it was easy to bask in the reflective glory of Pep Guardiola’s brilliant footballing side. After all, they had just dismantled the Gunners with a relentless, second half display of strategic pressing and high-quality possession, with the endless rotation of ball and players leaving their opponents chasing shadows.

Now that the dust has settled, however, the spotlight has fallen on the Gunners’ and their under-fire boss Arsene Wenger, who cut a sad and distracted figure as the Citizens celebrated their triumph. In many ways, the Frenchman’s demeanour embodied his side’s insipid display, which was burdened by uncertainty, indecision and a distinct lack of leadership.

While Arsenal have endured many disappointments during the last 12 years of Wenger’s seemingly interminable reign, there was something symbolic about this latest final defeat. In fact, it seems to herald a significant shift in the English footballing landscape, and one which casts Wenger in the role of yesterday’s man and Guardiola as the bright hope for a brand new future.

How Wenger has Now Passed the Baton to Guardiola

For Gunners’ fans who are old enough to remember Wenger’s arrival in England 22 years ago, it was the Frenchman who once represented a new dawn in the British game. With this methodical approach and focus on fitness and nutrition, Wenger transformed the culture at Arsenal and arguably the English game as a whole, while also introducing an eye-catching playing philosophy that was based on speed, fluidity and one-touch passing.

Of course, Wenger’s style evolved markedly throughout the years, but it was always based on the same, crowd-pleasing principles. While athletic specimens such as Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry were replaced with diminutive technicians like Cesc Febregas and Robin Van Persie, Wenger always adhered to the same philosophy and afforded Gunners fans some genuinely wonderful moments across more than two decades.

In this respect, it is Wenger who has blazed a trail for managers like Guardiola to follow, with the Frenchman having arguably helped to inspire an entire generation of artisan coaches in his own mould. Still, Sunday’s League Cup final confirms that the pupil has now surpassed the one-time master, with Guardiola’s own brand of aggressive pressing and purposeful possession having established a new standard for British sides to aspire towards.

Not only this, but the Spaniard’s painstaking attention to detail has also created a level of tactical agility that Wenger always seemed to lack, underlining one of the the Frenchman’s core weaknesses in the process.

Is this Wenger’s Final Season at the Emirates?

Despite this, discussions surrounding Wenger’s future often seem futile at best, with the Frenchman seemingly untouchable and halfway through a recently signed, two-year deal. The man himself will also point to three FA Cup victories in the last four years, as well as the fact that his much-maligned charges managed to reach a Wembley final once again this season.

Few can argue with the seismic and comprehensive nature of Arsenal’s defeat at the weekend, however, even allowing for Jack Wilshere’s complaints about the refereeing at Wembley. Beyond this, it’s even harder to ignore the Gunners’ seemingly unstoppable and agonising decline, from invincibles to contenders and then also-rans in a little more than 13 years. With the club also set to miss out on Champions League football for the second consecutive season, it seems as though they are now teetering on the precipice of a great and glorious era.

While it may seem harsh to apportion blame to a man who has created a dynasty in North London, it’s hard to argue that the fault lies squarely at Wenger’s door. He alone has failed to replace lost leaders within the team (dating back to Patrick Viera’s departure in the summer of 2005), while also allowing the quality of his playing squad to diminish over time. It is also unfair to blame a lack of spending power for this, with Arsenal boasting the fourth highest spend of any EPL club during the course of the last five years.

This sense of apathy, along with the Frenchman’s apparent inability to identify issues and resolve them over time, has seemingly spread to the players and created an environment where passion,  commitment and desire have gradually become things of the past.

With this in mind, this may finally prove to be the trigger that encourages the board to end Wenger’s Arsenal career in the summer. Much will depend on what happens in the coming weeks, of course, but there is a growing sense that something should be done to safeguard the future of the club and protect Wenger’s increasingly threadbare legacy.

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