Looking at the calendar, you know it is late April when Arsenal sits at fourth in the Premier League table and the “Wenger firing” articles are coming faster than furious Gunner fans can read them. Well, he is yet another one.
Arsène Wenger is currently finishing up his unbelievable 20th year managing Arsenal. As of now, his overall record stands at 639 wins, 260 draws and 218 losses, a pretty impressive record over such a long period of time. Here are where the main positives for keeping Wenger comes into play: consistency. Where Chelsea fires a manager a couple of months into a season (coming off a championship year no less) or other clubs rotate world-class managers every 3 years, Arsenal has relied on the Frenchman since 1996. He, for better or worse, has come to represent Arsenal itself, much like Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs or Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. The difference? Pop and Belichick have a lot of rings, and Wenger does not even come close.
Consistent top four finishes are fantastic year after year but, at some point, everyone looks around and wonders why they are not getting first every few years. Specifically, many have said this year should have been the year where the Gunners finally hoist the Premier League championship. Chelsea had an old-fashioned coup, Manchester City refused to play to the level of its obvious talent for a few months and Manchester United continued getting 1-0 wins or losses. Who rose up? “Stalwarts” Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, not Arsenal. Arsenal arguably has a top three team based off of talent, but are still struggling to solidify a Champions League spot.
So, why has this continued to happen? Wenger’s double-edged sword has been loyalty. The term is constantly thrown around in sports: should players be loyal to organizations and vice versa. Well, Wenger is about as loyal as it gets. He has kept guys like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud and others around for a long, long time. They each are individual cases. Walcott has shown promise for years now, but he is 27 now and does not appear to ever be reaching the potential he once had. The Ox is still young, but he probably should have been loaned out by now to get more playing time; he has also dealt with a lot of injuries that have disrupted his progress. Giroud has played well and been a solid goalscorer. The problem? He should be the best backup striker in the league, not a mediocre starter for a team that wants to compete in European competitions. Other guys like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey have shown a lot of promise, but inconsistency and a dreadful rash of injuries have limited them as well. Injuries have hit the team hard with some of its homegrown products, and it is only natural for Wenger to want to help these guys in their career after difficult spells. But, at a certain point, enough is enough.
Wenger still makes smart signings, however. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and the more recent Mohamed Elneny have all performed well. Petr Cech was a big signing last summer, and he has helped anchor the Gunner defense with great saves, leadership and awareness. It is simply too little, too often. There is room for signings each year, especially with Arsenal’s tendency to get a lot of injuries throughout the year, but Wenger does not and the squad suffers as the season drags on.
Wenger probably will not be fired when the season ends, and he should not be. Give him one more year to make a case. Make some signings in the summer to bolster the entire lineup, be smarter about in-game adjustments and slowly change the culture of underperforming. If another season of mediocrity happens, be ready for life after Wenger.
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