For those who read my blog last week, this won’t come as a surprise: Leicester City fully deserved their imminent Premier League triumph and I congratulate them on their amazing achievement – although it really put the Arsenal and Arsène Wenger in a very difficult position. Leicester City are showing that winning against big-spenders without throwing money at other Clubs, players and agents is possible.
The cherry on the cake, Claudio Ranieri will get the guard of honour at Stamford Bridge, in front of the man who ruthlessly sacked him because “he will never win the league”. How right does it sound?
Anyway, back to the Arsenal and Arsène Wenger’s struggles.
For years, he tried to prove that a talented, solid and united team, built on less-known and young players, can defeat richer and better equipped rivals but failed and finally gave up – suggesting that competing with Clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City was perhaps not viable. His attacks on ‘Financial Doping‘ have been numerous and regular
He defended his position against everything and everyone and at the exact moment when he gives up, Claudio Ranieri and his humble, hungry and unknown players pull off what he called impossible and go on to win the league despite relatively minimal investment and incomparable incomes.
That’s hard to take, really hard.
So, what is next for Arsène, now?
He’s not leaving, he said he will fulfil his current contract with the Arsenal and there is no way the board will sack him. Not even if we go through the worst possible spell and fail to qualify for the next Champions League; he will still be at the helm next season and tell us that we are competing on all fronts and “do well” in every competition, hopefully “going as far as possible” in each of them.
Truth is that we are currently in the race to finish in the top 4 despite the horrendous season the majority of our usual rivals are having – Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, notably, but also Manchester City, whose collapse after the rather awkward announcement about Pep Guardiola has been spectacular.
With barely no credible opponents at the top, we are still in danger of not playing the Champions League next year – what will happen when Antonio Conte takes the managerial role at Chelsea and Pep Guardiola will take over at Manchester City? How will the Arsenal prepare for the probable revival of Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp and Manchester United, assuming José Mourinho will replace Louis van Gaal?
As much as it hurts to say this, Tottenham Hotspur seem more dangerous and reliable than ever and surprise packages such as Leicester, West Ham, Everton and Southampton are to be taken seriously.
With up to SEVEN opponents competing for a place in the top 4, how will Arsenal deal with the pressure?
Logic suggests that the Club and the manager should already have a plan – which I’m adamant they do – to identify, scout and sign the players needed to take this team a couple of levels above; as per today, I can only think of a handful of reliable, consistent and good enough players which would help us competing for the league: Petr Čech, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez.
Other players like Hector Bellerín and Francis Coquelin need competition for their roles or they might sit on their laurels while the rest of the squad is made of players whose impact can be either great or irrelevant – depending on the day; as much as I like Danny Welbeck or Jack Wilshere or Olivier Giroud, we need to be better equipped to have a chance to stay in the mix.
It doesn’t mean we need the “overhaul” media are insisting on but we need more of the ready-made, top class signings Arsène Wenger has completed recently.
One per season is definitely not enough, at this point.
Next season is going to be a make or break for Arsène Wenger, both because he will be entering the last year of his contract with the Club and will possibly face the toughest race of the Premier League era, with competition piling pressure on him and his players and fans becoming increasingly frustrated about the results. I hope however for the remaining matches this season our fans stay with the team and cheer them through to a strong finish on the last day at home to Villa (where you can but tickets at this website.) Finishing 3rd is critical to ensure his ability to attract the class additions we need to compete in 16/17 and we all have our part to play whether we believe in the manager or not.
Can the difficulty of the task bring out the best of Arsène Wenger in terms of ambition and determination? Will he have the long-awaited bounce to either sign off his career with a last league title or even build on it?
Or will the last season remembered for being the worst of his tenure, with the team unable to keep the pace with the rivals and sink to mediocrity?