Arsène Wenger’s future at Arsenal has been a hotly discussed topic over recent years, but the speculation surrounding the Frenchman’s tenure at the Emirates has only intensified following the Gunners’ stuttering form which has seen them depart the FA Cup and fall 11 points behind leaders Leicester City in the Premier League.
This was touted as the season for Arsenal and Wenger to end their Premier League drought; 12 years since Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ dominated the division. This season, Chelsea have endured a startling capitulation which saw Jose Mourinho sacked at Christmas. Manchester City have significantly under-performed, particularly since Manuel Pellegrini’s departure became public knowledge, whilst Louis van Gaal and Manchester United continue to underwhelm.
However, Arsenal’s dream scenario hasn’t materialised and since the turn of the year their form has unravelled. They’ve won just two of their last nine games in all competitions, which has left them trailing Leicester, and their arch-rivals Tottenham.
Wenger's consistency can be taken for granted
Arsenal fans have justification to be disappointed, frustrated and angry, but the abuse and vitriol directed towards Wenger; the club’s greatest ever manager, has been nothing short of deplorable. It’s one thing to want a change of manager, but to abuse and discredit the man who has done so much for your football club is a sad indictment of a minority of individuals.
Wenger’s longevity is unparalleled in the modern game, and his consistency of securing Champions League qualification for 17 consecutive years is a magnificent achievement.
Arsenal fans will maintain, rightly so, that their ambitions should stretch beyond clinching a top four spot, but Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool would all desperately like to be in the North Londoners’ shoes at present.
Their stumbling title challenge should be criticised, however their consistency of maintaining their Champions League status should not be berated, instead admired.
It’s fair to say that everybody associated at Arsenal will have to take collective responsibility if they aren’t able to produce a miraculous recovery and clinch the title. Arsenal were the only club in the top five European Leagues not to purchase an outfield player in the summer transfer window, but they’ve been plagued by injury, as well as underperforming players.
Nevertheless, Wenger has been the central target for criticism, and this has culminated in ‘Wenger Out’ banners being brandished at away games against Hull and Everton, which both ended with Arsenal victories. The individuals responsible for the banner are insisting that the wording of the banner is not disrespectful, as it thanks the 66-year-old ‘for the memories’.
Yet, the mere fact that it’s being presented in such a public and confrontational manner is disrespectful in itself. Wenger deserves so much more than fans attempting to hound him out of the club that he has given such success, style and consistency to over a period spanning two decades.
Players must assume responsibility for stuttering form
Wenger’s belief in his players is arguably both his biggest strength and weakness. It’s no coincidence that Wenger’s former players all speak about the Frenchman in glowing terms. He always defends his team to the hilt, which leaves him susceptible to greater criticism. Arsenal’s current crop respond immediately to defeat by insisting: ‘We’ll bounce back’, or ‘it wasn’t good enough today’, but it’s time they did their talking squarely on the pitch, where it counts.
Wenger has shown immense faith in this group of players, and the judgment on whether it was misguided is ironically in the hands of the players themselves. They have the quality, they have the experience and they have to deliver.
The veteran Frenchman has repeatedly taken the heat off his players in pressurised moments; now it’s time for the Arsenal squad to return the favour and demonstrate that Wenger’s trust in their quality and mentality is justified, otherwise his illustrious tenure at the Emirates could rapidly be approaching its conclusion.
Wenger has pointed towards Arsenal playing in a ‘sceptical environment’ at the Emirates in recent weeks, which could explain their floundering home form. The Gunners’ best displays during this time have all come away from home, at White Hart Lane, The Nou Camp and Goodison Park.
After Swansea stunned the Gunners with a 2-1 victory at the Emirates in March, Swans’ midfielder Jack Cork claimed the frustration from Arsenal’s fans gave the visitors a big advantage, admitting: ‘When the crowd turn on you, it’s hard to play.’
Fans must show Wenger respect and unite behind the team
Arsenal supporters have become incensed with typical failings resurfacing in decisive moments and cannot be blamed for becoming disillusioned, although in a vital stage of the season, it’s imperative that the Emirates faithful unite and create a hostile atmosphere for the opposition, rather than their own players, because the toxic atmosphere is counter-productive to the club’s ambitions. It’s time to leave any potential inquests until the season is over, and unite behind the club as a whole.
The minute that Wenger calls time on his stay at the Emirates, plans to immerse him in bronzed statues will already be in place and that accolade is the least he deserves. Critics continue to maintain that Arsenal was big before his arrival, and they’re absolutely right. However, Arsenal football club is now far bigger, as a consequence of Arsène Wenger.
He has brought unprecedented success to the club and he’s not only revolutionised Arsenal, he’s altered the style of English football as a whole. So when Gunners fans are next venting their anger or banners towards Wenger, they should realise just how much he’s done for this football club. Sentiment may not be justification for sticking with a manager, but it is definitely justification for showing a legend of your club the respect he so richly deserves.