It will be 13 years this May since Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ won that memorable Premier League title at White Hart Lane.
A team studded with stars, part of a golden generation on the red side of North London. Yet, despite the unbelievable season of 2003/04, Arsenal have not progressed, but quite the opposite.
They have stagnated. The once imperious Gunners have struggled to hold pace with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea over the past decade or so.
But the problem is more than just money. The ultimate issue has been Arsenal’s inability to adapt to a changing league, and this ultimately falls on the manager.
Arsène Wenger’s 20-year reign has clearly not been without success. Regardless of Arsenal’s disappointing performance over the past decade or so, Wenger is unquestionably one of the greatest managers of his time.
But 13 years without a domestic league title is a disaster for a club with ambitions such as Arsenal’s. To put it into context, since Arsenal last won the league, Pep Guardiola has retired, won La Liga three times, the Bundesliga three times and the Champions League twice, and now finds himself managing against Wenger for the Premier League title.
Longevity is no longer a recipe for success. Jose Mourinho came back to the Premier League, had a season, then won it, then got sacked the following year. Compare this to Wenger, who has managed just three FA Cups and two Community Shields in the past 12 years.
If this were any other top club, Wenger would have got the chop years ago. Loyalty is something that Arsenal can pride themselves on, but it has done them little favours in terms of winning things, and also keeping players from leaving (and winning things).
Need we remind Arsenal fans about Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and even Kolo Touré, all of whom have won at least one Premier League title since leaving Arsenal.
Clearly, Wenger’s reign has not been without hardship. Moving into the Emirates Stadium cost Arsenal on the pitch, and off it, in terms of the players they could bring in and the ticket prices that the fans were made to pay. Mind you, only one of these policies has changed.
Wenger’s ability to allow the club to pay off the debt for a new stadium, whilst regularly ensuring European football should be commended. That time has now been and gone.
The debt for the stadium is paid, yet Wenger is still haggling over every penny in regards to transfers. Yes Mesut Ozil cost £42.5m, and Alexis Sanchez £35m, but both these players were both deemed surplus to requirements by Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
A prime example of Wenger’s haggling was the Luis Suarez saga, where in the end, Arsenal lost out to Barcelona because of the reluctance to pay over for the player. Yes, David Dein’s departure has not helped, but it is still no excuse.
Perhaps Wenger’s greatest downfall has been his reluctance to change. The great man has an unignorably stubborn persona, particularly in his admittance that Arsenal need more depth to their squad. It is the same old conversation year after year.
Arsenal fans also have the justification to be angry at Wenger’s reluctance to pay top dollar for the best players. Arsenal’s cheapest season ticket stands at £1,014. Compare this to Bayern Munich, which will cost you £104.48 on average, and at Barcelona, a season ticket will set you back just £73.88 (plus a £130 membership fee), but almost certainly guarantees success.
Arsenal fans pay the highest prices to watch their team struggle in a battle for fourth place with a now rising Spurs side.
It becomes harder and harder for even the most die-hard of Arsenal fan to defend what is effectively failure year upon year. Arsenal fans should not have to accept a fourth placed finish and an occasional FA Cup as a successful season.
Arsenal are now a club mocked on social media with fourth place jokes, and what Paul Merson said now seems poignant, “No one hates Arsenal because they don’t win anything”.
At a recent ‘Legends’ game at the Emirates, Wenger was booed by the crowd, after a string of poor performances by the current side. If this isn’t a sign that change is needed or wanted, then we don’t know what is.
No one can question that Mr Wenger has been an incredible manager and an unbelievable servant of Arsenal Football Club, but come the end of the season, (with the exception of winning a league and cup double), Arsene should leave on his own terms, with dignity, and be offered a well-earned place on the board of directors.
Wenger is one of the greatest managers of his time, but all good things come to an end, and just like Arsenal did to Highbury, back in 2006, maybe it is time for Arsenal to give Wenger his ‘final salute’…