Wenger: Time to say goodbye?

Conor Sheridan

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Last night the clamour surrounding Arsenal’s long-serving manager reached fever pitch. A gutless 3-0 defeat at Selhurst Park to a Crystal Palace side battling relegation marked their fifth defeat in eight games and extended an awful run of form on their travels which has seen them not win away from the Emirates since beating Swansea in mid-January. Despite failing to consistently deliver major silverware over the last decade, Wenger has always been able to hang his hat on the Gunners annual top four finish, but this season that is starting to seem less and less likely. With his main tool for deflecting criticism taken from him, Wenger’s departure is looking more and more inevitable, although there are some reports which state he may sign a new contract.

Familiarity breeds contempt and there is doubt that some sections of the Arsenal support have had enough of the Frenchman. Cries of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to go” were clearly audible from the away end. The players were similarly abused, being told they were not fit to wear the shirt.

The above video is from ArsenalFanTV, an ever-growing YouTube channel which seeks to gain an insight into the opinions of Arsenal’s fan-base and conducts post-match interviews with a select few supporters, who have become pseudo-celebrities in their own right. They have gathered some degree of notoriety,  with Gary Neville speaking about them earlier in the year and their videos gaining millions of views. Over the course of the season the tone of these videos has changed and become more visceral as the tide continues to turn against Wenger.

Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky reacts after being defeated by AC Milan in their Champions League last 16 second leg soccer match at the Emirates Stadium in London March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN – Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

This shift in opinion is entirely understandable. Despite initial early success which brought league titles and the unbeaten season of 03/04, Arsenal have not won the Premier League since then and look less likely to now than they have in years. Qualification for Europe’s top prize comes with the caveat that they never get remotely close to winning it, as one losing final appearance in 2006 will testify to. Arsenal as a team and as a club have become stale, stuck in a constant cycle of mediocrity compared to what the experienced around the turn of the millennium and for a few years after. Change is surely around the corner.

I caught up with two of the administrators from The Arsenal Forum, Conor Flynn and Jack Wilson, to get their take on what is going on in North London.

The Circular: Do you think Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal?

Jack Wilson: I wouldn’t be mad into the whole ‘Wenger Out’ crew now but I think at this stage, yeah, he has to go. The team are a bit spineless really and to freshen things up wouldn’t be the worst.

Conor Flynn: I do think Wenger should leave. I’ve been ‘Wenger Out’ since about 2012. The only time since then I would have been ‘Wenger In’ was in 2015 when we won the FA Cup. We looked like we were in a good place to go on with Sanchez and a new striker. No other teams were set up to challenge properly and that’s why Leicester won the league last year. If Wenger was ever going to win anything meaningful it should have been last season and they didn’t so it’s a comprehensive Wenger Out from me.

TC: To what extent do you think the Arsenal board are culpable for what is going on?

JW: They definitely play a huge role. The fact that they are supposed to be Wenger’s boss but he apparently gets to decide whether or not he gets a new contract is ridiculous. They seem happy to just make their dividend every year and not succeed on the pitch which is really disappointing.

CF: I think the board have a lot to do with it. They take the most responsibilty of anyone. They won’t let Alisher Usmanov [Russian business magnate who owns 25% of the club and is the 37th richest man in the world] onto the board. All he wants to do is win things and spend money, whereas the current board don’t have that mentality. It just baffles me. They’re the main problem for me but Wenger has such an influence at the club that he’s probably involved in that too.

TC: If Wenger does leave, who would like to see come in and replace him?

JW: I actually don’t know. I suppose there’s managers around like the Tuchel’s [Thomas Tuchel, Borussia Dortmund manager] of this world and stuff we could take. Obviously you’d like someone who still likes to play good football but I’d like someone who offers more solidity throughout the team and wouldn’t be afraid to clear out the deadwood in the squad, like Theo Walcott.

CF: Ideally I would like to see Diego Simeone [Atletico Madrid manager] come in but realistically I’d like to see anyone with a bit of balls or defensive know-how like[Massimiliano] Allegri [Juventus manager].

TC: How much responsibility do you think the players have to take for Arsenal’s poor season?

JW: I think at the moment it’s a tough one for the players. There’s a lot of indecisiveness about Wenger, whether he will stay or go, is filtering through to the players. Doesn’t seem like some of them are giving their all. The entire central midfield are under-performing and [Shokdran] Mustafi has gone off the rails recently. Apart from [Alexis] Sanchez none of them are performing well enough. Still, I wouldn’t really blame the players, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

CF: Wenger does get a bad time but the players should take more responsibility. Players like Walcott, posting videos about himself making a comeback and committed to tracking back and then just stopped it in November. There’s no fight from any of the players really bar Sanchez. I don’t think it’s all their fault. If you look at Ozil, maybe he shouldn’t be playing in every away game.  Wenger should know when to take him, he doesn’t know when to take him off so obviously it’s not all their fault. Maybe they should be playing five at the back. Wenger does them no favours, doesn’t change the formation.

TC: What are your thoughts on ArsenalFanTV? Are they a positive or negative thing for the club? 

JW: I kind of like it. I have a lot of respect for Robbie [the host] for setting it up the way he does. The other clubs channels are controlled by big companies and told what to say whereas he does his own thing. There is a few idiots on it but there’s plenty of them everywhere.

CF: I like ArsenalFanTV. It does seem to be getting a bit outrageous these days, a bit repetitve but it’s funny if you take it with a pinch of salt. It shows proper emotion which is good.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Mark Gill

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Conor Sheridan