Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal this summer

It’s not something to be said lightly. After all, no current Premier League manager has served for so long or given so much to the game. Yet this summer Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal.

Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. That same competition represents the club’s only chance of silverware this season. A win after extra time and penalties this evening leaves Arsenal facing either Sheffield United or Hull City in May’s final. However should Arsenal end the agonising wait for an accolade, it must be Wenger’s swansong, not the beginning of a new chapter for him at the club.

The Frenchman may have the final say on whether or not he signs a new contract, and indeed there has been talk of him being handed £100m to spend in the summer transfer window, but the time is right for Arsenal’s longest serving manager to go.

Incredible to say about a club who have consistently qualified for the Champions League, but Arsenal are stagnant. Their seasons have predictable peaks and troughs. This campaign, while they and their fans remained defiantly certain that their excellent pre-Christmas form would carry through to the end, everyone else waited for the implosion.

It wasn’t Schadenfreude on the behalf of  non-Arsenal supporters and analysts, it was just recognition of the Arsenal condition. Consistently inconsistent. The past few seasons have followed the same narrative. A slow start, concern over Champions League qualification only appeased by a strong finish from February to May.

This season however, boosted by the capture of Mezut Ozil and the form of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal started strongly. They looked like genuine title contenders in the first few months of the campaign, but it just couldn’t last. The usual problems arose. A lack of strikers, poor performances against the other top teams, a lack of leadership when games got tight.

Heavy defeats to others in the title race have derailed Arsenal’s season and left them fighting for a place in the Champions League once more. Whilst shipping five and six goals against Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, what was more alarming for Arsenal fans was their capitulation to Everton last Sunday.

Watching the game at Goodison Park, there were two major talking points. It was striking to see how much Roberto Martinez’ side looked like the Arsenal of old. A team that passes the ball with aplomb and tears opponents apart with the speed of their play. The second thing was just how indecisive Arsene Wenger was when it came to substitutions.

He’s not a manager to make hurried changes, but with Arsenal 2-0 down at half time to the team threatening to put a stop to their incredible Champions League qualification record,  something had to be done. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman were causing all sorts of problems down the flanks. Santi Cazorla was playing too central, allowing Baines space a player of his class can exploit. On the other side, Romelu Lukaku wasn’t being picked up by either Lukas Podolski or Nacho Monreal. This led directly to Everton’s second goal.

With Aaron Ramsay back in the squad after injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also available, the break or just after was the time to bring these players on and give the Everton midfield and defence something to think about. When did Wenger make these changes? With an hour gone and Everton 3-0 up.

Wenger can’t shoulder all the blame for not making changes in time. The players he selected to start the game have to step up and perform. That just didn’t happen and as a result Arsenal were blown away, not for the first time this season. Leaders seem few and far between on the pitch. Tomas Vermaelen is the captain but with a fully fit squad the Belgian would not make the starting XI. Why is a certified starter not handed the arm-band, someone such as Per Mertesacker or even Jack Wilshere? Because there is no one on the team right now who has shown the necessary leadership to be captain.

Wilshere and Ramsay are definitely future captain material, but they are still young and raw and they need a Patrick Vieira like figure to bring their game on to the next level. Paul Scholes may have drawn the wrath of Arsenal fans for his assessment of Wilshere on Sky Sports a few weeks back but he doesn’t seem the type to court publicity for his opinions. He was just giving his honest opinion.  A Jack Wilshere playing to his full potential would not just be good for Arsenal but for England too.

That is where Arsene Wenger has failed most blatantly, and perhaps the main reason the Gunners have not won a trophy in a decade. Wenger has not brought in a leader to replace the likes of Viera, Martin Keown and Tony Adams. Cesc Fabregas may have become that player had he stayed. Wenger has placed an emphasis on talented youngsters and while that project was and remains admirable it is nothing without the grit that a good leader adds to a side.

Ironically, the one player that could have contributed that leadership, albeit on a temporary basis, was Kim Kjallstrom. The Swede came to Arsenal in January, incredibly while nursing an injury that has kept him out until now. His experience may have been exactly what Arsenal needed for the second half of the season, but the decision to take him on injured, even with his parent club paying the wages while he remained out, was ludicrous.

Arsene Wenger’s detractors will point to Gervinho, Andre Santos, Sebastian Squillaci and others as examples of his inadequacy in the transfer market. That doesn’t do the man justice, as he was also responsible for signing Thierry Henry, bought for £11m and one of the bargains of the Premier League era. Nevertheless, the fact that flop Andrei Arshavin was Arsenal’s record transfer signing until Mezut Ozil shows a stubbornness on Wenger’s part to move with the times financially. While he has bought in some excellent players at reasonable fees, with Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain two recent examples, he has yet to adequately replace Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. Bringing in the 30 year old Mikel Arteta in the same transfer window that as Cesc left, with all respect to the former Everton man, was insufficient compensation for the loss of the younger Spaniard.

Manchester United have been criticised this season for their poor performances, and much of the blame has been put on the board and David Moyes for failing in the transfer market last summer. The last minute purchase of Marouane Fellaini at an inflated price has been questioned and rightly so. The Belgian has yet to prove his worth, and that money may have been better spent on a ball-playing central midfielder. But what of Mezut Ozil’s transfer to Arsenal? £42m for the German who, while undoubtedly a spectacular creative force, occupies a role in the team that other players already at the club could have filled.

The acquisition of Ozil brought Arsenal’s spending over the past three years close to £150m. This has been offset of course by the sales of key players Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for a combined total of around £80m. The loss of this caliber of players certainly impacted on Arsenal’s ability to challenge for trophies, but it must be remembered that Tottenham Hotspur spent over £100m last summer and now look set to change managers for the second time since. Spending lots of money, whether you are a top six club or QPR, leads to expectations from the board and from the fans. Failure to meet those expectations usually proves to be the end for a manager.

David Dein leaving Arsenal in 2007 no doubt hindered Arsene Wenger. As Arsenal’s vice-chairman, he had a big part to play in transfer dealings during first decade of Wenger’s reign. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas… All of these players were bought on Dein’s watch. In the interim, the club has been less of a force in the transfer market.

Thierry Henry was the first big-name player to leave in the aftermath of Dein’s departure. In the seven years since, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Gael Clichy to name but a few have followed suit. Wenger said in the summer of 2011 that if Arsenal sold both Fabregas and Nasri the club could no longer be called ambitious. Both players left in August. Former Arsenal player Niall Quinn said recently that if Wenger was to stay at Arsenal past the end of this season Dein should be reappointed. Given that Dein left due to irreconcilable differences with the rest of the board, his return to Arsenal is unlikely.

Dein’s exit left Wenger without a key ally, and it has shown in transfer dealings in the meantime. With the exception of Ozil, there has been no major financial investment in a player in recent years. What Arsenal fan can honestly say that Arsenal have bought a world class striker since Robin Van Persie came to the club in 2004? Eduardo had the potential before his leg-break, but Chamakh? Gervinho? Even Giroud can’t be considered in the same bracket. Wenger’s supporters may point to constraints put on the manager while Arsenal continue to pay off the Emirates Stadium, but if £42m can be spent on Ozil, then why could Arsenal not secure the quality striker they desperately need? Wenger’s reluctance to buy a proven goal-scorer in January has cost them dear this season, with Nicklas Bendtner the only senior replacement for Giroud.

Wenger cannot bring the club any further. Three losses on the trot and the “Wenger Out” brigade are in full voice. Three wins and they are title challengers, before another loss has Wenger vilified by certain sections again. There is no consistency on the field, and no consistency to some of the support off of it. The average level-headed Arsenal fan, who appreciates how much Wenger has done for the club, must also recognize that the time is approaching for the Frenchman to leave. The average Arsena fan is grateful for the Arsenal legends Wenger brought to the club, for the Invincibles, for the style of play that at times made Arsenal better to watch than Barcelona. But the average Arsenal fan, without setting up Facebook pages on the issue, surely knows that it’s time for a new manager to come in and breathe new life into the team.

Wenger’s battles with Alex Ferguson and later Jose Mourinho were some of the most fascinating in Premier League history.  The trophyless Arsenal narrative would be but a bed-time fairytale for young Spurs fans were it not for goalkeeping errors in the 2006 Champions League final and the 2011 Carling Cup final. Arsene Wenger introduced a style of play to the Premier League that entranced Arsenal fans and neutrals alike, but this summer he must leave before his legacy is tarnished.

Sheffield United and Hull will have other ideas but an FA Cup to end almost a decade of drought would be the perfect goodbye gift from Arsene to Arsenal.

 

 

 

Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.

 

McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.

 

Featured Image: GETTY Images

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

Last weekend’s round of games saw a shift in power at the top of the table. With Manchester City and Chelsea both dropping points, Liverpool took full advantage with a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur.

In the race for a Champions League place, Everton’s victory over Fulham saw them keep the heat on Arsenal. Fulham meanwhile remain rooted to the bottom of the table, five points from safety.

West Brom and Cardiff City played out a six goal thriller at the Hawthorns last time out, with a last gasp equaliser keeping the Welsh side within touching distance of safety, albeit with a game more played than last week’s opponents.

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

City dropped points at Arsenal last time out and need a win in today’s early kick-off in order to keep the pressure on Liverpool. They’re favourites against Southampton however, having lost just one of their last 19 Premier League games. Southampton had big win against a lacklustre Newcastle last weekend, consolidating 8th place in the table.  They haven’t lost in their last two meetings with City, drawing 1-1 at St Marys earlier in the season.

Kenyan midfielder VictorWanyama could make a return for the visitors. Sergio Aguero has resumed training but remains unavailable for City selection.

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

Mistakes have cost Chelsea dear in their last two games. A John Terry own goal at Crystal Palace and three defensive mistakes against PSG have halted their momentum. Mourinho is less concerned about the defensive mistakes than he is about his strikers inablilty to score goals however, and it’s likely that an overhaul of the attack will take place in the summer.

Stoke won 3-2 at the Brittania in the reverse fixture and have four victories in their last five games. Interestingly, for all the criticism leveled at the Potters’ style of play in the last few years, they have only scored two headed goals all season. That’s the lowest of any side in the league.

Eto’o is still out for the home side, but Stoke welcome back Jonathan Walters from suspension.

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

Both sides hover just above the relegation zone and defeat for either side would mean a nervous run-in. The Canaries are unbeaten in last six at home and a victory could see them move up to 12th in the table. Pepe Mel has failed to turn West Brom’s season around. The midlands outfit have won just one of their last 21 league games. However a win at Carrow Road would put them level with today’s opponents with a game in hand.

Leroy Fer, who scored in victory against the Baggies earlier this season is still unavailable for Norwich. West Brom have received a boost in defence with the influential Jonas Olsson back from suspension.

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

The Toffees welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for a high-stakes encounter at Sunday lunch-time. Everton are four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez’ men have won their last four games in the league and have only lost one at home all season. The last time these sides met in the league it ended in a draw, however Arsenal took the spoils in the FA cup earlier this year. Victory for Everton puts them in the driving seat for fourth place, but they have the tougher run-in on paper.

Ross Barkley should be passed fit after being substituted with a calf complaint against Fulham last weekend. Aaron Ramsay makes a welcome return to the Arsenal squad for the first time in 2014 following a thigh injury.

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

liverpool suarez carroll west ham southampton man city norwich west brom chelsea stoke

“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came to Anfield in January 2011 as a result of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea. Looking back now, it’s unbelievable to think that Suarez was the cheaper of the two. The Uruguayan has been in scintillating form this season, and has the opportunity to break the Premier League scoring record before the end of the season. He’s two goals from making it his own, and with six goals in his last five league appearances it’s difficult to see him not adding to that tally today.

West Ham will prove a different proposition for Brendan Rodgers’ men to the spineless Spurs outfit they encountered last weekend. Andy Carroll, now a permanent Hammers player following his £15m move last summer, will look to outmuscle an often-times defensively frail Liverpool back four, with another former Liverpool player Stewart Downing supplying balls into the big centre-forward.

Lucas Leiva made his return as a substitute for the Liverpool last weekend, and could make the starting line-up for the first time in almost three months. West Ham should have captain Kevin Nolan fit after coming off with a back problem in Monday’s win over Sunderland.

 

3 vital points at stake as Arsenal welcome Manchester City

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Wilshere and Silva clash in December’s clash

Manchester City go to Arsenal on Saturday evening chasing the three points that will keep their title tilt on track. Arsenal meanwhile need the victory to stave off Everton who are breathing down their necks for the fourth and final Champions League spot.

If this fixture had occurred a few weeks back it would have been billed as a battle between two title contenders. However a bad run of league results in March for Arsenal, victory over bitter rivals Spurs notwithstanding, has left them adrift of the top three. Last weekend’s 6-0 hammering by Chelsea was followed by a calamitous midweek draw at home to Swansea. Everton are now just 6 points behind the Gunners with a game in hand and Arsenal still having to visit Goodison Park in April.

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was quick to put the boot in on Tuesday night, questioning Arsenal’s lack of leaders and heart in big games. Even his own beleaguered former club has taken four points off of Arsenal in the league this season. In games against strong opposition this campaign Arsenal have crumbled. Against Liverpool in February they shipped 5 goals away to Liverpool while in the December’s reverse of Saturday’s fixture Manchester City hit them for six.

As is usually the case with Arsenal, talks of a crisis don’t tell the whole story. They may be out of the Champions League after losing to Bayern Munich and have no chance of lifting the Premier League trophy, but they are still in the FA Cup (felling Liverpool the week after losing 5-1) and haven’t fallen below fifth in the league all season.

Nevertheless February and March have, for the past few seasons, seen the start of a good run of form for the Gunners which would consolidate their place in the top four. That has certainly not been the case this campaign, and if they should capitulate to Manchester City on Saturday then Everton will certainly fancy their chances of overtaking them.

City go into the game having scored 8 goals in their last two outings. Yaya Toure has helped himself to half of that total and Arsenal have to  find a way to subdue the big Ivorian, along with the in-form David Silva. Pellegrini’s men had no difficulty in demolishing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, even with the home side crowding the midfield in an attempt to curb Toure’s influence. If Arsenal’s midfielders don’t harry and hassle City in the middle of the park at every opportunity, they will leave their defence with too much to do.

With City only three points behind league leaders Chelsea, with two games in hand, they know that a victory at the Emirates will give them the upper-hand going into a crucial period of games which includes a trip to Anfield to face second placed Liverpool.