Let’s put it in perspective: if – as looks all-but-certain – Arsenal finish the season potless, will it be a blow for the club and the supporters? Yes, undoubtedly. This is a team which lost in catastrophic circumstances against Birmingham, blew a four-goal lead against Newcastle, a two-goal lead against Tottenham (twice), a one-goal lead in the last minute against Liverpool, and have been held to goalless draws at home by Sunderland and Blackburn. So only the most myopic of Wengerite ultras could say there weren’t things to improve upon.
But you’ve got to look at what Wenger is working with. The team that beat United on Sunday cost less than the combined price of Carrick and Anderson. It cost less than Chelsea spent on Fernando Torres. It cost less than Manchester City spent on Kolo Toure and Emanuel Adebayor. It cost less than Steve Bruce has spent at Sunderland. So he’s going to finish behind two teams with far bigger budgets and ahead of countless teams with bigger budgets. Over the last six years, he’s developed some of the most thrilling and exciting players in the Premier League and in Jack Wilshere, he’s developed a player who will go on to do big things for club and country.
He’s done all this while playing some of the most attractive football on the planet. For delivering European football on a budget, for playing with style, Wenger must stay.
There are few medals in football with less sheen than that awarded to losing League Cup finalists. Arsène Wenger might argue that finishing third in the Premier League is better than winning a trophy, but aside from these made-up, notional trophies, his club’s trophy cabinet remains untroubled since the 2005 FA Cup.
But hey, at least they play exciting football. After the hideous first hour of the first leg of Madrid-Barcelona, this oft-used defence of Wenger should not be sniffed at. If the raison d’être of Arsenal was entertaining neutrals, Wenger would be doing his job very well indeed. But in football, entertainment and success so often fail to come hand-in-hand. After all, Arsenal’s run to the 2006 Champions League final was not based on entertainment, but on grinding out 0-0 draws in the second leg of the Second Round, Quarter-Final and Semi-Final ties.
The Gunners have been a shadow of their former selves since the departure of Thierry Henry. Leading from the front, the standout, key player of years of Arsenal success has proved impossible to replace. Wenger gives the impression of stubbornly denying the obvious, that he needs to drastically change his style of management to return to those days. Putting on my best Lord Sugar voice, it is with a heavy heart that I say, remembering all the good he has done for Arsenal and for English football as a whole, that he must be fired. Unless – and it’s a big ask – a bit of good fortune means they actually end up winning the league. In which case, would you be a dear and forget I ever said any of this?