LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger questions the match officials after they awarded Liverpool an equalising penalty kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on April 17, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Imploding collapses. Another trophyless season. Frustrated fans, and players. Those are the facts of the end of this season for Arsenal, and could describe quite a few others, including last year and 2007/08. The failure of Arsenal to land that elusive trophy and win with a young and developing team have lead many in the media to question whether it is time for Arsene Wenger to go. Many other fans discuss how Wenger was able to keep the club in the Champions League places despite not having a large transfer budget after the move to the Emirates Stadium, and that his record at Arsenal means he deserves to be given a chance. Both sides have valid points and irrational points, which is why instead of drawing any conclusions, this article will instead evaluate the failures of Arsene Wenger but also the positive side of his management at Arsenal.
Arsenal may be 16 games unbeaten, but with 8 of those games draws, they have most likely thrown their title hopes away. Recently, the team has looked exhausted and part of that has to do with the state of the squad. Players like Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny and Samir Nasri cannot be rotated because Tomas Rosicky, Denilson, Sebastien Squillaci and Nicklas Bendtner have been unreliable. That may end up to be one of the key differences between Arsenal and Manchester United; their players are relatively fresh because of the better balanced squad at Manchester United, while at Arsenal, playing constantly has taken its toll. With the amount of injuries Arsenal have, it seems foolish that the backup squad players are so poor, and that is something that must be changed by Arsene Wenger.
Wenger also has a deficiency in the tactical side of the game and the defensive side. With regard to tactics, he is very stubborn, and often refuses to make changes to the game plan or system in order to make the play better. For example, in the recent draws, Nicklas Bendtner has been deployed as a right winger. In a game against teams sitting deep, where the Arsenal players are continually turning to crossing the ball, surely putting the Dane with Robin van Persie in a 4-4-2 or even a 3-5-2 would make sense. Instead, Wenger is usually very slow to make tactical changes, with the 2-2 comeback against WBA the exception, not the rule.
Arsenal's defending sometimes gets an undeseverd bad rep in the press, but there are some structural problems with it. This doesn't just have to do with the defenders, but also has to do with the entire team. Recently, Arsenal's pressing has been less intense, and as a result, teams have found it easier to play through Arsenal, as Tottenham did last Wednesday. The perfecting of a pressing system would go a long way in helping Arsenal concede less goals, as, with the emergence of Johan Djourou, they've become less susceptible to high balls in the air. However, when Arsenal drop deep, as they did against Barcelona, as they did against Tottenham and as they did in the 4-4 draw against Newcastle, they invariably concede goals and this suggests that the pressing game was a major factor in Arsenal's excellent run from December to February. If a coach was to come in and work on the team's pressing game and organising the team's defensive positioning from back to front, it would most likely lead to a reduction in the number of goals Arsenal concede.
We must however, remember that this is a manager that lead the only unbeaten team in England over the last 120 years. He's won the Double 2 times, the FA Cup another 2 times after that, and he got Arsenal to the final of the Champions League. He modernized the club, and brought it out of the doldrums that George Graham had brought it into. He's made some great signings in the transfer market, and he's managed to keep the team in the Champions League despite having very little money. With that record, he does deserve another chance at the title. However, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City will all improve next year, as will the other title contenders this year, Manchester United and Chelsea, who will surely fit Fernando Torres in next year. Arsenal too must strengthen. Players like Tomas Rosicky, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner should depart for better squad players, who can come in and effectively replace missing starters. A better tactician as the number 2, and a coach who is adept at organizing defensive play (Steve Bould?) should also be brought in.
If Arsene Wenger does not make these improvements, and Arsenal fail to win the title, or even miss out on the Champions League (which economically would be disastrous, because the club is dependent on Champions League money as shareholders don't make investments), then his position at the club, already tenuous, would surely become untenable. But perhaps the biggest question is who would replace him?