Next season could very well be Arsene Wenger’s last with Arsenal, should he be unable to keep midfield stars Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.
By Kelvin Tan
I’ve been accused by many commentors on ESPNSTAR.com of having an anti-Arsenal bias, which has led to much mirth on our editorial desk.
The truth is I’ve been a card-carrying Arsenal fan for most of my adult life, and have a tattoo to prove it, as well as a desk full of Gunner knick-knacks that tends to attract sarcastic quips from my Manchester United- loving colleagues.
It’s sometimes hard to keep objective as a journalist, given topics on our favored clubs tend to hit close to the heart, but perhaps it has helped that my support for the club has stretched to the George Graham era in the 80′s, when the North London side was more famed for staid 1-0 victories, which has helped to maintain a balanced perspective of the Gunners’ fortunes.
Honestly, it feels like yesterday when the Evening Standard splashed “Arsene who?” on their front page to welcome the Frenchman to the London club, and what a difference he has made to the club, since being poached from Nagoya Grampus by then-vice chairman David Dein in October 1996.
While I will be the first to laud the achievements that Wenger has achieved in North London the past two decades, the truth is that he has been stuck in a rut for some time, and the reason for that is simple.
While signing Wenger may have been the most astute decision made by this current Arsenal board ever, forcing Dein out certainly marks as one of the most foolish.
This was the same man who brought in Wenger, a then-unfancied manager, and also masterminded the signing of Sol Campbell ten years ago on a free transfer from arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, the very player who provided the defensive backbone of the “Invincibles” squad that went unbeaten in the 2003-04 Barclays Premier League season.
Why was Dein forced out, you ask? Ironically, the Englishman was a supporter of a takeover by American Stan Kroenke, while the rest of the Arsenal board were against it in 2007.
In the end though, the Englishman’s enthusiasm to help his club to take a financial leap upward, ended up leaving him alienated from the board, in particular club chairman Peter Hill-Wood, who said then that he would be “horrified if the club were to go across the Atlantic”, only to backtrack later in 2011 saying in quotes reported by the Telegraph: “Mr Kroenke, although relatively new to Arsenal, has shown himself to be a man who values and respects the history and traditions of this very special club that we cherish. We are confident that he will be a safe custodian of its future”.
It is certainly no coincidence that post-Dein, the club have had suffered a trophy drought, as well as fallen far behind their chief rivals, Manchester United and Chelsea, in terms of the quality of new recruits.
While Sir Alex Ferguson and the myriad of Chelsea managers were enjoying the addition of stars like Nemanja Vidic and David Luiz to their ranks, the Gunners have had to make do with players like Laurent Koscielny, Sebastien Squillaci, as well as endure the departures of lynchpins like Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb in 2008.
What makes matters worse is the fact that the club have missed out on crucial signings like Mark Schwarzer and Xabi Alonso in the dying moments of transfer windows, simply because no one else at Arsenal have the negotiating acumen of Dein!
It certainly doesn’t help that Wenger doesn’t have a strong number two by his side to tell him when he’s wrong. More often than not, Pat Rice has looked an impotent figure on the Arsenal bench, with it looking rather obvious that the Irishman has little influence over the manager, and his decisions on and off the pitch at the Emirates.
Six years without silverware have frustrated most Arsenal fans, and anger has grown towards the Arsenal manager as reports come in of key players Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy all looking likely to leave North London during the summer transfer window, after becoming disillusioned with “Wengerball” failing to reap any rewards.
It is becoming apparent that the Frenchman is losing his touch with his own players! While stars like Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, edu, Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit all left Arsenal in the midst of the careers, they had always left on Wenger’s terms, when the Frenchman had able substitutes waiting to take their place in the side, and for a transfer fee that was acceptable to the Arsenal manager.
That is certainly not the case any longer, with players like Hleb, Flamini, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Lassana Diarra departing the Emirates, despite Wenger’s best efforts at keeping them.
The tide of discontent is swelling at Arsenal, and what concerns me the most is the nature of the Gunners’ capitulation at the tail end of the 2010-11 season.
The players just didn’t seem up for the battle any longer, and draws with West Bromwich Albion, Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, coupled with a 2-1 loss to Bolton Wanderers, destroyed any hope of winning the league, despite all that was at stake.
Imagine what the dressing room will be like should key players like Fabregas and Nasri leave, and if the trophy drought continues next season, a revolting Arsenal fan base could very well send Wenger to an embarrassing end to his reign at the Emirates!
Is this the end for Arsene Wenger?