With the title race increasingly looking like a two horse race between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger yet again find themselves in turmoil at the business end of the season.
This was seen as Arsenal’s best chance to win the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea falling way behind the pack. What was not anticipated was the consistency of both Leicester’s and Spurs’ title charge further highlighting Arsenal’s shortcomings and putting Wenger’s position under even more intense scrutiny.
Wenger is staring another trophyless season down the barrel. Expected to be officially dumped out of the Champions League on Wednesday by Barcelona and suffering a shocking home defeat to Watford in the last eight of the F.A. Cup. Arsenal are expected to resume their ways of scrapping for the final Champions League spot for next season. What would compound his misery is if Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester team manage to do the impossible. What would be truly devastating would be if White Hart Lane is the destination of the Premier League crown. Mauricio Pochettino’s men currently sit five points off the summit of the table but eight games left there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns ahead.
Spurs have been irresistible at times during this campaign with budding superstars sprouting in every position: Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen to name just a smattering of the supremely talented squad. Pochettino in many ways is different to Arsene Wenger but what he has done is mount a serious title challenge by: blooding young English players, played attacking football, competing on multiple fronts, signing the right players and playing some beautiful stuff on the deck. These are all traits synonymous with Wenger and his title winning sides of the previous decade.
Should Spurs complete their mission to become champions they will have done it with an old Arsenal model. While Wenger stands defiantly in the face of his shortcomings and defends his team for their underperformance Spurs have pushed along full speed ahead with no sign of excuses to be seen.
While Arsenal have consistency frustrated in the past four years the notion has always been “they’re just one or two players away”. For many years they have been seen as the only realistic North London team to mount a serious title challenge. However now even their crown of being the best team in North London has been taken from them and should Spurs win the league it will could be the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal fan’s patience with Wenger.
When Petr Cech came in for a bargain at £10m – early on in the summer window too it’s worth adding, the consensus was that Wenger, along with the rest of the Arsenal board were really going for it and would bring in one or two impact players. Unfortunately their conservative nature in the window surfaced it’s head again and now entering the final eight games the same problems still arise: they need a top class forward. Olivier Giroud scored his only goal since January in a 4-0 F.A. Cup replay win over Hull and a holding midfielder should have been recruited in the summer as opposed to January.
Wenger has also been guilty of keeping players at Arsenal who simply are not good enough to fulfil the squad needed to compete on all fronts. Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky and up until the summer Wojciech Szczesny have all been allowed to stay with the squad and have been tasked with playing some big roles in big games. Pochettino has not been afraid of selling players who could be classed as a liability in favour of more stable contributors.
However, in light of extraordinary developments in Harry Kane, Alli, Dier and to an extent Ryan Mason. What is more gut wrenching for Wenger has been his inability to do the same with the likes of Theo Walcott, who looks to have hit his celling as a player, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is following an eerily similar path to his England team mate.
Although Spurs have always played attractive football the knock on them was that they fade towards the end of the season and have to settled for fifth or sixth position – no chance of that happening this term as Pochettino’s clever management of his squad has seen them boldly maintain their assault on the Premier League.
Back to back F.A. Cup victories have afforded Wenger more patience from the fans that the Gunners are returning to the glory years of 1998 and 2004 but yet again they have been exposed to lacklustre performances and confidence issues heading into the final third of the season.
Fans, pundits and ex-players now feel it is time for the Frenchman to gracefully step aside and usher in a new era at The Emirates Stadium. Wenger, since the day he arrived at Arsenal, has always stressed that winning is important but winning with style is everything. To win and give the fans a show is the ultimate goal of the once revolutionary manager and his philosophy is being exhibited perfectly – but in the white strip of Tottenham. Perhaps the ultimate insult.
Although the rush for big reputation managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti has passed there are still names out there who could step into the big shoes that Wenger would undoubtedly leave. Wenger would still have a big market – in the past Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have made no secrets of their admiration for the Arsenal boss and with Zinadine Zidane’s future at Madrid still not clear a manager of Wenger calibre would appeal to a club obsessed with big names.
Perhaps this Wenger-Arsenal marriage has finally run its course and all that is left is the very uneasy divorce procedure. Fans want him out now but their anger will surely intensify should they see their neighbours picking up the biggest domestic prize around while the Gunners are left with nightmares of what could have been.