We need to talk about Arsene

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald http://www.flickr.com

Don’t we Arsenal fans? I suspect there’s talk of little else at the Emirates at the moment. Wenger has been talking about the fans recently. Actually, to be more precise, he’s been blaming them.

Apparently it’s the “difficult climate” created by Arsenal fans during home games that’s been causing his delicate stars to underperform. I can only imagine the Arsenal dressing room at half time:

Wenger: “lads you’ve been terrible out there today” (actually maybe more likely, “I sense an undercurrent of discontent and a lack of fluidity in your interpretation of my tactical arrangements.”)

The Lads: “but boss, those nasty fans are shouting nasty things at us again.”

Wenger: “yes, I also suffer in this climate of hostility. Let them suffer too, carry on as you were.”

Fans are entitled to their opinions, their expectations (so often unfulfilled), and indeed to their protestations. Fans, in short, pay their money (rather a lot of it for the privilege of watching Arsenal) and will understandably blame the manager if they think that results are poor. It’s a brave manager that feels entitled to blame the fans in return.

In doing so, Wenger may finally have reached a tipping point at Arsenal. At the home game against Norwich there was an organised protest calling on Wenger to go. It didn’t involve a majority of Gunners fans inside the ground but the sense of discontent is gathering momentum.

It was a very polite protest as these things go: ‘All Good Things Must Come to an End’ suggested one placard. And so invariably they must. Wenger admitted after the game that he had been surprised at how small and mild the protest was (rather undermining his claim about the difficult climate that he bemoans having to endure).

That Wenger has been a good thing for Arsenal is not in the slightest doubt. The question is whether he remains a good thing for the club. He’s not.

The outburst blaming the fans illustrates the level of the Frenchman’s frustration but also suggests a lack of willingness to face up honestly to his own shortcomings. Arsenal may have as many as 99 problems but the supporters aren’t one. Wenger has wasted money, neglected to fill obvious gaps (a truly world class centre forward being the most glaring), and failed to figure out a formula to break down lesser teams on a regular basis.

You can, it seems, have too much of a good thing. Wenger is methodical, astute, and an excellent developer of young players. But he is also stubborn, inflexible, and increasingly brittle. It’s very sad to observe that he’s become a liability to Arsenal but that is the logical conclusion to draw from this season.

His side will probably finish in third place on Sunday. It’s been a Premier League campaign of fairy tale drama but also a distinct lack of quality. When was the last time that so many big guns fired so many blanks? The Gunners own firepower was more cap gun than cannon.

Wenger has been at Arsenal for almost 20 years, an incredible feat in modern football, but will he have a better chance to win the league in the next 20 years than this one? I doubt it.

There was no evidence of progress being made in the Champions League either. There isn’t a big team in Europe that fears Arsenal and the Emirates has not proved a difficult climate for very many visiting sides. Being eliminated by Barcelona is no disgrace in itself but Arsenal’s exit was meek, and like the protest, milder than expected.

That’s what really upsets the fans.

Next season? If Wenger remains in charge, they can expect more of the same. They do expect more of the same. Some Arsenal fans must be looking on enviously at the galvanising effect that Jurgen Klopp has had on Liverpool. Expectations have been raised for next season at Anfield. At the Emirates, expectations are about as low as UK interest rates.

And Arsenal fans are losing interest. Patches of red are starting to appear; emptied hope producing empty seats. It’s not a difficult climate that should concern Wenger but an apathetic one. Dynamism and energy are ebbing at the club.

The same is true of Manchester United and it began towards the end of Ferguson’s reign. He stayed on just a little too long, didn’t revitalise the squad as quickly and thoroughly as he should have done. Man U are still paying the price, and it’s an expensive one with the spending habits of Van GaaI.

Wenger has claimed that he won’t go on as long as Ferguson and I believe him. I’m not sure that he’ll be given the luxury of choosing the timing of his departure as the Scot did though. The transition at Old Trafford was botched and Arsenal should learn from it. Replacing a legend is never easy.

Wenger’s legendary status at Arsenal is guaranteed, it’s in the bank. So apparently is a considerable amount of money that he’s left unspent. I suggest he gets the chequebook out this summer because if he doesn’t then the chants of Arsene out will only get louder.

His future is less certain than at any time in the past 20 years. Maybe soon the board will feel the need to talk about it.

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