Following a humiliating 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the last-16 of the Champions League, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has faced mounting pressure to step down at the end of the season.
It seems certain that this will be the sixth consecutive season that Arsenal have crashed out of the competition in the first knockout round. It is a familiar trope for Gunners fans who have experienced their club fall into a number of reoccurring patterns in recent years. During Wenger’s 20-year reign at the club, Arsenal have successfully finished in the top four every season. However, they haven’t won the title since 2004 and their only silverware since then came in the form of two back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015.
By contrast, in his first ten years with the Gunners he won four FA Cups, three Premier League titles and in 2006 led Arsenal to the Champions League final which they lost to Barcelona. In the 2003/4 season the Gunners famously went a whole season unbeaten which still stands as one of the most remarkable footballing achievements.
Wenger is also chiefly responsible for changing the face of English football. He revolutionised training regimes and modernised players’ diets, turning footballers into athletes. The post-match pint was replaced with a post-match protein shake.He also placed emphasis on young players, buying them cheaply and honing them into world-class footballers. Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Patrick Viera all came to Arsenal as relatively young and inexperienced footballers and Wenger developed them into top-class players. However, football is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Since then an extortionate amount of money has been invested into the Premier League and any one of six teams could feasibly win the league title. Wealthy backers such as Roman Abramovich and City Football Group can afford to buy world-class players and demand instant results. It’s a cut throat world, highlighted nowhere better than at Chelsea, who have gone through 19 managers during Wenger’s time in North London. Although consistency is important, teams are willing to risk short term success over long term stability in return for silverware. The top four is no longer enough, the fans want to see their team winning the title.
Arsenal are stuck in a loop of crashing out of the Champions League and finishing in the top four. The Gunners are a long way behind Chelsea in the league, while their only chance of silverware once again comes in the form of the FA Cup, a trophy which will not be enough to placate disgruntled fans this time. You can blame a lack of experience and leadership in the squad, you can blame injury problems, and you can even blame referees or playing schedules if you really wanted to. But something needs to fundamentally change in the corridors at Arsenal Football Club.
Wenger has done remarkable things with Arsenal, but his reign must end eventually. Even with the additions of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s cycle has continued. The club needs a big shake up, and a new manager does not guarantee success. But it does guarantee change, and that’s what Arsenal desperately need.