Arsenal must not let sentiment get in the way and must call time on Arsene Wenger’s reign now – and move for Jurgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti.
It all felt like a ‘very Arsenal’ performance last night.
After defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in their first game, this was the match that Arsenal simply had to win. But the 3-2 home reverse to an Olympiacos side, who were – by the way – winning for the first time in England at the 13th attempt, was unthinkable.
We’d debated whether English sides could still compete for glory in the Champions League on Tuesday, and Arsenal’s lack of progress in the competition was highlighted – but that said, we didn’t believe the problem was that big for Arsenal.
Bayern Munich home and away lie in wait for the Gunners next, and it’s not beyond the realms that Wenger’s side could be looking at a fourth straight defeat in the Champions League. Suffer that fate and it would also mean they’d be exiting the competition at the group stage for the first time in 16 years.
The flip side is that, should they manage to beat Bayern Munich twice, their Champions League hopes still very much reside in their hands. Can anyone realistically see that happening, though? Certainly the two performances so far suggest nothing but successive defeats against an in-form Bayern side.
So, if the expected happens now and Arsenal do crash out of the Champions League, what will this mean for Wenger and his future at Arsenal?
Certainly the voices calling for him to be replaced will grow louder, and I have to say, I’m firmly in the camp now that says he has to go.
The Wengerites, as they’re often referred to, will point to the consistency that Arsenal have enjoyed under his leadership. The title might have been lacking since the Arsenal Invincibles of 2003/04, but a Champions League spot has never eluded them in that time. Compare that to Liverpool (more often out than in); Manchester United (slipped out last season); and Tottenham (only one foray in competition), and you have to admit that Arsenal’s consistency is impressive under Wenger.
But ultimately, I’d like to ask the pro-Arsenal brigade, are they happy with simply plodding along? Yes, ‘plodding’ for Arsenal denotes the regular rewards of Champions League football. They’ll also point to back-to-back FA Cup successes – but after a nine-year trophy drought I’d say that’s the least a club of their stature and playing squad should achieve.
The FA Cup final triumphs over Hull in 2014 and Aston Villa in 2015 might have proved Wenger’s saving grace then (would he have survived 11 years without a trophy?), but surely Arsenal need / want / deserve (?) more than that….
As it happens, I do think Arsenal were proved right in retaining Wenger’s services when the voices to have him axed grew louder a couple of years ago. The FA Cup triumphs proved that. But a disappointing transfer market this summer – when Wenger freely admitted the money was there for the right player – coupled with their likely Champions League elimination at the group stages, means Arsenal have diverted from type: they’re no longer consistent; they’ve gone backwards.
And the decision to take a chance on David Ospina last night – which Wenger unforgivably defended – was borderline farcical. Given the Colombian’s error for Olympiacos’ second, he’d have emerged with more credit if he’d admitted his mistake. After all, why gamble on your goalkeeper when a match is must-win.
Two years ago, when Arsenal fans were last discussing the removal of Wenger, there was a lack of bona fide candidates available. That, as much as anything else, probably ensured the Gunners decided to stick and not twist.
Klopp to Arsenal?
But football is very much about the here and now and in Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti there are two proven and successful managers currently on the market.
Let’s start with Klopp.
OK, his record at Dortmund wavered at times and suffered from spells of inconsistency, but as a club that often parted with their best players – usually to rivals Bayern – how well would he do at a club that didn’t have to part with their best assets?
Aside from his notable successes, the obvious reason to move for Klopp would be his personality – and that could do wonders for the players at Arsenal. Yes, they’ll all tell you they ‘like’ playing for Wenger. But is the love there? A fresh approach and a manager the players genuinely want to play for would be like a breathe of fresh air for Arsenal. It’d give them an extra 10% – of that I’m quite sure.
Amid links to Liverpool earlier this month, Klopp has hinted he’d be available for the right job – but Arsenal do need to act now as there’s a growing feeling in Germany that he’s the man in waiting at Bayern Munich once Pep Guardiola calls time there. But could the Arsenal job persuade him to move to England? In my eyes, yes.
Another man currently taking a sabbatical from the game, Ancelotti is currently biding his time after being removed as Real Madrid coach over the summer. A proven winner and regarded as one of the most respected coaches of his generation, Ancelotti is one of only two managers to have won the European Cup / Champions League three times.
His record therefore, isn’t in doubt; neither would be his willingness to work in London, having spent two years in charge at Chelsea between 2009-2011. He’s also another who’d command the respect of the players, and give them all that much needed fresh approach.
But again, it’s a case of acting fast, and grabbing their man while they can, because a coach of Ancelotti’s calibre won’t be on the market for long.
But what of the other candidates? We’ve seen Unai Emery mentioned – and he too would fit Arsenal’s profile, but would the Gunners pay out compensation when there’s a equal number of coaches available for ‘free’?
Essentially, Arsenal have two choices: stick or twist with Wenger.
Standing by Wenger would be the easy option, but I’d urge the club not to let sentiment stand in the way here. So entwined is Wenger at Arsenal that removing him after 19 years would be a horrendously emotional decision – I don’t doubt that. But Arsenal do need to be cruel to be kind now and start thinking a little bit more about themselves, their long term strategies and removing themselves from the stale state they’ve gotten themselves in under Wenger.
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