Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Pigheaded Wenger must be driven out
Up to Arsenal fans, owners to force change
Arsene WENGER admitted something on Friday that supporters of Arsenal Football Club should find very troubling: He intends to stay on as manager until his contract runs out in 2014.
In other words, next season promises to be as bereft of success as this one and the previous seven at the north London club.
Arsenal hasn't lifted a trophy since winning the 2005 FA Cup final on penalties, and after Tuesday's 3-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League they're poised to extend that barren streak to an embarrassing eight years.
Now, Wenger can't take all the blame for his side's slow descent to irrelevance. The front office, the players and even the fans (yes, the fans) are all culpable to some degree, whether for failing to provide the manager with adequate funds, making amateurish mistakes on the pitch or steadfastly defending the status quo when what was really needed, and needed years ago, was a popular uprising.
But when failure becomes a habit -- when it becomes predictable -- it's the boss who ultimately answers for it. It's he, after all, who is put in the line of questioning before every match.
In his Friday press conference ahead of Arsenal's Premier League encounter with Aston Villa (today, 9 a.m., Sportsnet World), Wenger addressed questions about his future, saying, "I have a contract until 2014 and I will be here until then. I will not be leaving before that and I will make a decision on my future in 2014 -- not before."
He also dropped this beauty: "I have never thought about throwing in the towel. I love winning, so I will carry on."
To which Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini inadvertently replied in a comment made to a Guardian journalist, later posted on Twitter: "I'm not Arsene Wenger. We're different. I want to win."
Ouch. Someone call the burn unit.
What we're seeing at Arsenal are the final, painful days of a manager who should have made his exit some time ago, who has been passed and lapped by both time and the opposition -- opposition that now includes many of his former players.
There's a popular joke that Wenger actually manages Arsenal's B team -- that his best squad plays its football in Manchester, where former Gunners Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri play for reigning Premier League champions City and Robin van Persie (Arsenal's top goal scorer last season) represents current leaders United.
Naturally, all the player sales have brought considerable funds into the club (more than £200 million), but at no time has Wenger spent the money made available to him on replacements anywhere near the quality of their predecessors.
Take the 2011 summer transfer deadline, for example. Only days before Arsenal had been shellacked 8-2 by Manchester United, and with the registration period about to end Wenger was forced into some last-second panic buys.
His "reinforcements" included left-back Andre Santos (£7 million), defender Per Mertesacker (£10 million) and midfielder Mikel Arteta (£10 million). Only Arteta has panned out. Santos quickly developed a reputation as one of the most plodding fullbacks in England, and earlier this week Mertesacker was described by a Telegraph writer as a "giraffe in a sport of gazelles."
That same summer Wenger might have had Gary Cahill for considerably less than he paid for Mertesacker or Phil Jones, who joined United for just over £16 million. Fulham's Mousa Dembele would have been a good purchase as well, but the following January he went to archrivals Tottenham for £15 million -- less than Mertesacker and Santos combined.
Instead, Wenger has spent the money ownership has given him (and while not a colossal amount, it has been significant) on fancy attackers such as Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin and Aaron Ramsey -- each of whom required a considerable sum to sign; none of whom have made any sort of meaningful impact in a fast, physical league.
Wenger has never shown an interest in acquiring the sort of steely contributors that played such a big part in his success more than 10 years ago (Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour were all signed by George Graham), and the one player in this mould he did obtain -- long-time captain Patrick Vieira -- he sold straight after that last FA Cup win.
Vieira, incidentally, went on to win four league titles with Inter Milan, one with Juventus and the 2011 FA Cup with Manchester City. Arsenal, in the meantime, won precisely nothing.
None of this is intended to add to the pile-on the beleaguered Arsenal manager is currently experiencing. But it's just so easy. And we're only scratching the surface.
Arsenal will not win another trophy under Arsene Wenger. But he'll only go when he's told. And until either the owners or the fans tell him that, they share the blame in their club's demise.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 C7
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