With the current season almost drawing to a vastly climatic close, Arsenal’s otherwise so-so 2017-2018 season will invariably and potentially be defined by a litany of recurring trends or alternatively a triumphant vindication that awaits in the wings in north London.
It is unquestionably a major definition which will come to confirm the future of Arsenal manager, Arséne Wenger.
A Europa League triumph ultimately remains Arsenal’s sacred saving grace in the current season. As similarly a lifeline and bona fide gateway for the much-needed qualification of UEFA Champions League action next season. Whereas, the ongoing pendulum proverbially hovering over Wenger’s head has become more viciously vindictive and exponentially pressured than ever before, as the ever-defiant and stubborn Frenchman aims to both silence critics and fans alike without a coup de grace before the end of the season.
The grossly torrid toxicity and overflowing negativity from a significant portion of anti-Wenger Arsenal fans has effectively and contagiously spread externally to the die-hard Wenger loyalists and iconic disciples (see: Ian Wright, Martin Keown, David Seaman) throughout the course of the present season, which in turn has created tremendous underperformances and unprecedented distractions for Arsenal players, coupled alongside grave uncertainty, mainstream media backlash and a lethally humiliating public low blow for Wenger, whom is speculated to be replaced this summer.
The mainstream media in the United Kingdom have been praying religiously on the downfall of Wenger this season, whereas Arsenal fans have seemingly bought into the mantra of sacrificing and forcing the Frenchman out of the door without dignity. Some decisions from referees have deprived the Gunners of three points this seasons, which is evident in Arsenal being among the league leaders in conceding penalties to opposition. Then of course, there has been injuries, inconsistency and a humiliating early F.A Cup exit at the hands of SKY BET Championship side Nottingham Forest. What a game that was… well for a Forest Fan. They certainly got value for money. Although tickets in English Football have never been higher, so it’s no wonder people are always on the lookout for broadband deals to subsidise costs.
Be that as it may, Wenger has publicly stated that he will remain with Arsenal next season although the high-profile decision surrounding Wenger’s future has single-handedly been highly disruptive to Arsenal more than ever this season.
If the upper echelon at Arsenal decisively hit the trigger and fired the Frenchman at the apex of the negavity which transpire a few months ago, rigid rammifications and inevitable domino effect could very well have proved far more harm than actual good in hindsight.
Arsenal’s biggest fear is for the club to experience similar internal and external woes and hardship which Manchester United have experienced post-Sir Alex Ferguson, which in turn has witnessed three managerial changes since 2013 (David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho). This is in addition to an uphill battle to reclaim their status as a dominant force in the stratosphere of the game. Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure have consistently lacked the fight, never-say-die spirit and controlled aggressiveness which witnessed United claim thirteen English Premier League titles during his immortal reign at Old Trafford.
A post-Wenger Arsenal seemed unthinkable a few short seasons ago, notably given the fact of Wenger’s many contributions and banner accomplishments at the north London club. When Wenger arrived Arsenal in 1996, it was a breath of fresh air thereafter fans experienced the successful, albeit, uber-defensive tactics of George Graham and of course, the underwhelming Bruce Rioch era. That once fresh air has ultimately turned stagnant and the act of complacency has settled in for Arsenal players.
Wenger is highly synonymous with Arsenal and has an innate comprehension of the club’s history and tradition, whilst also being a champion of developing younger players who have come through the youth academy at Arsenal.
However, many of Arsenal’s products from the youth academy in recent memory have been either fringe and rotation players with no solid assurances where their future truly remains given perennial loaning to clubs within the SKY BET Championship and below. This is a philosophy also adopted and championed at Chelsea, whom also have many gifted players who are destined to search for greener pastures and opportunities elsewhere.
Ultimately, the overall fear factor of opposition playing against Arsenal has also been exploited by Arsenal’s internal and external problems, which have of course been amplified loudly on a daily basis in the mainstream media.
Arsenal indeed have a plethora of talented players, some of which are not worthy of wearing the shirt, notably the injury-plagued Danny Welbeck, who was most recently called up into the England squad for friendly games against The Netherlands and Italy.
Welbeck is a very hard worker on the field, yet lacks the overall end product and solid consistency which Arsenal fans are truly accustomed to. The expectations and bar has been lowered to a certain degree as to what an Arsenal player constistutes.
Furthermore, Granit Xhaka is another fine example of not being of Arsenal standard. The combative Swiss international is often a feisty red card waiting to happen and has seemingly not justified his worth since his arrival in north London.
With that being said, Arséne Wenger is a bona fide symbol of Arsenal and embodies the virtues, values and integrity of the club in every measure. Wenger is arguably Arsenal’s greatest-ever Head Coach in history and arrived in north London during an unsteady period when the Gunners had become accustomed to mediocrity, particularly in the English Premier League in the mid-90s during the Rioch era.
Arsenal were affectionately known as a cup team and consistently succumbed to below-par signings such as Chris Kiwomya, Glenn Helder and John Hartson to name a few. Wenger purged the aforementioned upon his arrival and brought in the French connection of Patrick Vieira, Gilles Grimandi and Emmanuel Petit, as well as a variety of other proven and potentially exceptional international players.
In addition, the Frenchman revolutionized the English game in terms of dietary analysis of players, as well as technical training methods, global scouting and a discipline which allowed players to extend their careers. Arsenal’s legendary defenders(Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Steve Bould) are prime cases of Wenger’s exceptional dietary discipline, as well as David Seaman, Paul Merson and Ray Parlour, who furthermore had successful years ahead thereafter Wenger’s arrival at Arsenal.
At present, the writing has been on the wall and the slow decline in expectations, for Arsenal and Gunners fans alike, has been both a heartbreaking revelation and an assertive home truth for a few seasons, irrespective of Arsenal’s collection of hardware in recent seasons.
Arsenal fans at large appear to pose an insatiable thirst for something more than the oldest competition in the world – the FA Cup – as well as the Europa League, which is second best to the more favored UEFA Champions League.
The English Premier League and UEFA Champions League have undeniably been on the agenda for Arsenal over the past few seasons and as a club have failed on all accounts to keep up with the current English Premier League frontrunners, coupled alongside observing the emerging forces and fearless teams in the English Premier League, who have fought tooth and nail to divide the once broad gap between the top six and the rest of the English Premier League.
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Make no mistake about it, Stan Kroenke has been largely held accountable for Arsenal’s slow and embarrassing demise as a top four English Premier League team, notably when it comes to Kroenke’s immense loyalty toward Wenger as well as the American businessman’s inability to provide the green light for desired world class players during transfers windows as opposed to settling for players which are not deemed Arsenal quality.
Arsenal’s fans are often very supportive although this season has witnessed divisions of the pragmatic, delusional and negative with no unity or compromise. Arsenal fans have fought and verbally insulted each other at games at the Emirates Stadium and also away this season, which has been well-documented. The banners of boycott and protests for Wenger to leave have fallen on deaf ears from the powers-that-be at Arsenal, thus nullifying the fans voices and bold opinions.
Wenger has been Arsenal Head Coach for twenty one years, with observers stating that the Frenchman’s golden years were during the first eight years of his tenure at Arsenal (1996-2004).
Moreover, Wenger this season has been frequently called to leave Arsenal by the mainstream media and has seemingly besmirched his reputation for holding on too long at a club where he could once do no wrong; the outstanding invincible team from 2003-04 remains a great watermark for Wenger.
Which of Arsenal’s current team would be worthy of competing in the undefeated 2004 invincible team? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang comes to mind, whereas some would suggest Laurent Koscielny and an in-form Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere could possibly make the grade. Furthermore, Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey would also potentially be within conversation given his gritty endeavor and firm commitment.
The Gunners have recruited fairly ambitiously and savvy in recent years (Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal, Héctor Bellerín, Henrikh Mkhitaryan) after years of selling many key figures; Wenger once revealed the shocking sales of Thierry Henry to FC Barcelona and Patrick Vieira to Juventus were timely given that Vieira had approached 31 and Henry was nearing 30.
Historically speaking, Arsenal also sold players who brought stability and solidarity on the basis of balancing finances due to Arsenal’s then incurring owed funds for the Emirates Stadium, which the Gunners moved into in 2006 thereafter leaving Highbury. In Wenger’s defense, he has profiteered very well on players whom he paid a lesser sum of money for.
In addition, Wenger has been very efficient and skilled when selling players who have either peaked or nearing the end of their respective prime.
Currently, upper echelon at Arsenal have claimed that the Gunners have sufficient funds to purchase any player in entire the world not named Lionel André Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. In terms of Arsenal’s transfer policy, there has often been astute tentativeness or an ability to invest in a mold of player which is already vastly stock piled. This has been a prevalent and slightly underlying theme of Arsenal’s slow descension and standing in the English Premier League today.
Essentially, it is paramount for Wenger to deliver on guarantee after receiving yet another brand new contract extension from Arsenal’s pro-Wenger owners. At present, Sean Dyche’s gritty and determined Burnley remain behind Arsenal in the English Premier League.
Burnley have labored arduously on such limited budget and talent, whilst not overhauling a squad which brought them promotion to the English Premier League in the first place, which is credit to Sean Dyche.
In terms of ability, Arsenal have talent in abundance although their overall application and desire both on and off the field has not been apparent this season. There is a sense of acceptance as to what they have become as opposed to what they can and will become, which has ultimately infuriated and frustrated fans this season.
Will the Arsenal owners accept another FA Cup win or a fith or sixth placed finish in the English Premier League next season? No. Would the Arsenal board and owners accept another final sixteen or final eight elimination in the UEFA Champions League next season? Absolutely not.
Finishing third place in the ever-competitive English Premier League is the equivalent of winning a bronze medal at the Olympics with less fanfare, but fifth and sixth place finishes in the English Premier League is highly unacceptable for a stature of a club such as Arsenal.
Admittedly, Arsenal fans deserve far better than that and the long-standing Wenger era is very much enduring its unofficial farewell tour, particularly given protests which have materialized both inside and outside of the Emirates Stadium this season pleading for Wenger’s resignation.
Many pro-Wenger supporters will conveniently note that F.A Cup winning triumphs have been attained in recent years for the club. With all due respect to the FA Cup competition, but within the realm of the English Premier League big four (Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur) the F.A Cup has lost its mystique, importance and luster long ago ala the now irrelevant EFL Cup.
Tottenham Hotspur, however, do remain in the F.A Cup as do Manchester United, but merely as a consolation prize given both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are both out of contention for both the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League.
Moreover, the bottom line for Arsenal is rock solid consistency week in and week out and remaining injury-free, whilst holding showdown ultimatum conference meetings with Wenger in-person this summer with regards to the direction the club is heading to in the present and future.
A spontaneous approach has been fostered almost and the long-term goal to reclaim their status as a top four English Premier League will need to be established before talks of Arsenal being in remote conversation of winning the English Premier League or the UEFA Champions League.
Wenger admittedly is very meticulous and is a masterful planner, but falls short in contrast in terms of the beautiful and effective play which Pep Guardiola orchestrates for Manchester City.
Guardiola’s Manchester City have been extremely dominant this season and their one-sided, rampant lead has generated a huge divide. Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s highly attacking Liverpool side featuring Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino currently remain in the UEFA Champions League and have great plans and ambitions in the summer to strengthen an already solid team which is destined for glory.
Conversely, Arsenal’s bitter north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur move into their brand new 61,000 capacity stadium soon and that allure alone will solidly attract some of the top players around the world who long to play under Mauricio Pochettino, coupled alongside playing with the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min to name just a few.
José Mourinho’s Manchester United, irrespective of their ill-fated Europa League elimination to La Liga Primera side Sevilla this season, are a team heading in the right direction contrary to popular belief, whereas reigning English Premier League champions Chelsea have largely underachieved this season under Antonio Conte.
Chelsea have looked anything like reigning English Premier League champions this season and opposition have mightily exploited their own shortcomings, especially with struggling West Ham United salvaging a 1-1 draw this past weekend against the Blues.
The narrative about Wenger has been polarizing and perplexed this season. It is a burning, million dollar question as to whether Wenger can match the ultimate ambition and desire of the current top four clubs in the English Premier League, in order for Arsenal to build upon a brighter future moving forward.
Wenger’s overall relationship with the board seems very positive, for better or worse. It is a necessary relationship which will make or break the Gunners aspirations of greater prosperity in the future.
Will the mundane mediocrity continue or will Arsenal confirm the status as a top four English Premier League club once again next season? The answer most certainly remains in the summer, whether Wenger stays or leaves.
Where Arsenal on the field have often lacked spine this season, it is now up to the bold brass of the Arsenal board and the upper echelon to exhibit if they have just that in the summer.
The questions remains: Will Arséne Wenger remain at Arsenal?
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(Photo Credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe/Edited by Kyle Andrews)