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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Arsenal: Is it time for Wenger to study elsewhere?


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One of my pet theories about football is that there is nothing worse than seeing a once great player, manager, even pundit fall to depths that we all thought they would never be so lowly as to reach. At first it seemed like an amusing joke to me  – the Gooners missing out on trophies, the Gooners crumpling every season the calendar page switched to March, that arrogant Frenchy type Wenger being brought down a peg or two, what with his croissants and all. We all laughed, except for the Emirates faithful. But now? Apart from Spurs fans, that joke isn’t funny anymore – it’s pitiful.

Living in London I do have a few friends who are fans of Arsenal. Try as they might, there is this horridly inherent feeling that the reign of Arsene Wenger has gone full circle. And now it’s time for a new circle to be drawn, without the Frenchman. Arsene has been fabulous with Arsenal, bringing the club from mid-table mediocrity after a storming spell in the early nineties, to a new era of a fast-paced, almost articulate dominance.

We’ve all heard the stories about the revolutionary dietary changes. We’ve all heard the stories about the meticulous planning; the ‘Invincible’ season being the much-lauded crème de la crème of his reign. Contrast that to the lonely, thin, tortured figure he cuts on the touchline now. Some are even calling for his head to roll. Is this how it ends? With a whimper, not a bang? I think there is a part of us all that knows. There is no joy to be had when watching Arsenal or Arsene anymore. How could there be?

The dross that still flummoxes around at the club is an absurdity which baffles Arsenal fans. Rosicky, a once promising, effective midfielder has been out of sorts for a baffling period of time, while non-entities such as Djourou, Arshavin and most importantly Theo Walcott – kid’s books and all – relentlessly flatter to deceive. The argument over whether Wenger has money to spend or not refuses to fade into existence, but for whatever reason – the stadium, principle or an over-reliance on expensive youngsters - his side is one without backbone, steel and most certainly without gumption.

The six-week fling with the inspiring Thierry Henry has now been cut loose and the hopes of those within the squad that can bulge the net are rested solely upon the heavy shoulders of Robin Van Persie again, who God knows what will happen to when attractive offers come in.

Ah, and then we come to that old favourite – the non-existent mentality. The paper-thin, width-of-a-hair ‘grit’ that flitters away from Arsenal every season they embark on. It’s not enough. Wenger isn’t doing enough. After Arsenal returned fire with a 5-3 triumph over Chelsea, it appeared to have been pocketed; the right mentality. Arsene has let it free once more ... it just isn’t there and however hard he has had it with the new stadium, the place is as toothless as Jimmy Hill. But this isn’t exactly news to the Gunners. Arsenal have been toothless for too long now. So long that it might just be time for ‘Le Professeur’ to study somewhere else.

If there is anything that Arsenal have learned in their capitulation to Sunderland, it is that they won’t be lifting trophies anytime soon. They might not even be playing Champions League football again anytime soon. Under Arsene they refuse to change ethos or mentality, they refuse to break away from the grandiose tippy-tappy style, they refuse to leave behind what has failed so often before.

Perhaps someone needs to forcefully leave it behind so that Arsenal can succeed again. There is talk of Arsene moving upstairs, there is talk of Pep Guardiola coming in from Barcelona.

A change might just be what Arsenal need: eliminate the dross and gloss the Emirates with a dose of freshness. Stop the freefall because Arsene has shown us he sure as hell cannot pull the cord for the parachute to erupt; stop the arrogant refusal to change, stop the corrosive mentality and start from scratch. When it’s all said and done, which Arsene will you remember? The all-conquering intellectual that made Arsenal strong or the cruelly afflicted, unknowing figure on the touchline, wrapped up in that huge sleeping bag of a coat, steadily driving the club not just to underachieve but down further and further. How sad, but equally as understandable, if it is the latter.

Time is wearing thin. With many truculent fans angered, it’s looking as though Arsene only has a set amount of time to change fortunes.

A fixture against Redknapp’s top, top Tottenham side might just be symbolic. The Hotspurs have spent so long in Arsenal’s shadow and it is a duel they are surely set to win. It will only serve to emphasise the drastic gap in quality between the two sides. When it’s your time, it’s your time. And Arsene’s time is probably up. Sad, but this is football. It doesn’t last forever. Naturally when the old King’s men cannot put Arsene back together again, you just have to move on. Plan ahead – a new era. Let the Professeur leave with an ounce of grace, unless he makes vast improvements. It’s either that or the Gunners’ gunpowder will dwindle so fast, even the insipid blanks they are currently firing with fade away.

Calling all Arsenal fans. Do you agree with Jack? Do you think it's time for Wenger to quit the Gunners? Does he have what it takes to turn things around and rebuild the team? Who do Arsenal need to sign to improve the squad? How would you remember Wenger if he were to leave? How confident are you of beating Spurs at the weekend? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth

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