This is not a snap judgment. This has been in the works for some time now, but it is finally time that everyone is on the same page regarding the rebuilding of Arsenal. After losing to lowly (comparatively) Bournemouth and looking lost, generally, chock full of wantaway stars, the Gunners need to take a moment and sort themselves out.
It’s getting embarrassing to watch it unfold. And this coming from someone who genuinely despises Arsenal.
I have been calling for Arsene Wenger to retire from the club for eighteen months now. I don’t believe that his managing career is over (he would excel internationally for a number of countries, or even back home in France domestically for a top side like Paris Saint-Germain) and I certainly do not believe that he doesn’t have “it” anymore. However, it is doing the side no good to continue to tread water. Arsenal are a big club that needs to be winning trophies. And by “trophies” I am not just talking about the FA Cup, a tournament they have dominated for the last four years (winning thrice). They have the history and money to be challenging for the title and making significant noise in the Champions League.
An implosion of the current infrastructure is necessary and that begins with the departure of the club’s greatest ever manager. A full on reconstruction of the club at all levels.
Wenger hasn’t guided Arsenal past the round of 16 in the Champions League since 2009-2010, where they made it one step further before exiting in the quarterfinals. Since that same season, Arsenal have finished 4th, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 5th in the Premier League. As we speak, the North London club sits in 6th, an image of a forlorn beast carrying a mortal wound miles deep into their soul. It’s just simply not good enough.
If the fans and the board are satisfied with mediocrity (top four finishes and making it out of the group stages of Europe), then carry on. They have that locked up. And honestly, it kind of seems that THEY ARE. But, I argue that that is selling themselves truly short. Arsenal are bigger than that. They are sincerely better than that.
After the 2nd place finish in 2015-16, Wenger should have bowed out. But, he didn’t. After finishing 5th last season and beating the champions Chelsea in the FA Cup final, Wenger should have bowed out. But, he didn’t. Both instances would have been honorable endings for such an icon. Both instances allowed the board and the owners to make a difficult, but correct, decision surrounded by easy circumstances the fans would have gone along with. Wenger would have been off and his legacy would have been firmly in tact. I never wanted to see him sacked or go out forcibly, but we are starting to reach the point of no return.
Every Arsenal season is the same. It is a cycle. They start well, hopes are high, Wenger is in good favor. They dip shortly thereafter and the fans call for his head. This slump continues agonizingly for months before one last final charge. In this mid Spring gallop, the club does well in the FA Cup and salvages a top 4 finish. And it consequently seems cruel to sack the manager. And so it goes every. single. season. Every year.
The changes need to come from the top down. What Arsene Wenger has accomplished at Highbury and now The Emirates is nothing short of astonishing. He’s brought titles and cup wins. He’s also brought NINE years without any kind of silverware. He has been afforded the longevity that is legitimately unheard of today in the modern era. He will go down as an Arsenal hero and his name will be sung from the terraces forevermore. He owes the club nothing and frankly nothing is owed him. It’s not that he’s outstayed his welcome, it’s more that it’s time for serious, momentous change. I am not here even saying that they will find someone better, but the effort has to be put in to try and move this club forward positively and relinquish the aura of failure currently suffocating the core.
So, Wenger goes. Many names are available (Carlo Ancelloti likely a bookies’ favorite to waltz in) and many will be interested. And now the players have to be held accountable. This is a culling that needs to be enforced with brutality removed of sentiment. In the summer, I stated and called for the players who do not want to play for the badge to be sold. Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil should have been shipped out. But they remain (and will eventually leave for free or at bit part prices now that their contracts are expiring in June) and are both cementing a form of cancer in the side with nonstop speculation about their futures. Theo Walcott cannot get a game and beams of being shot of confidence. He is a shadow of the full of spark teenager we knew and thought would take over the world. He can go. Francis Coquelin wanted out and has already gone in this window. Olivier Giroud doesn’t start and cuts a frustrated figure when jogging on from the bench. He can go as well. Per Mertesacker has had a wonderful career. At 33 years of age and having put in 155 appearances for Arsenal, the captain can hold his head high and will be fondly remembered as the BFG (Big Fucking German) in the stands. But, his lack of pace and mobility lends itself to being a liability in today’s ultra fast game. He can go. Mathieu Debuchy? I forgot this man still played for Arsenal, so he can surely keep it moving. And lastly, as unpopular as this may sound, I also would sell Petr Čech. The Czech legend will find work elsewhere in a heartbeat and still has much to offer between the goalposts, but at 35 and a touch slow off the mark (just watch Bournemouth’s equalizer against them), Arsenal should look to invest in a quality, young keeper for the future. Because this is what a rebuild is about: the future.
And Arsenal have the spine to keep them going. They have a backbone in place to progress and prosper. But will need to invest. It’s a simple philosophy of only buying players who want to play for you. Use the funds they have access to wisely — a central defender to partner Laurent Koscielny (if Shkodran Mustafi wants to exit, he also needs to be sold), a holding midfielder to allow Jack Wilshere to roam further forward and also account for the multitude of things Granit Xhaka is not doing, and a playmaker to relieve goalscoring duties from the oft lonesome and seemingly exiled up front Alexandre Lacazette. The club is known for it’s exciting youth prospects and they need to capitalize on that to fill in where new signings are not necessary. Ainsley Maitland-Niles looks a proper player. At just 20 years old, he can play as a right back and on the wing. Alex Iwobi is still only 21 and needs to be given time to develop. He can contribute up front and on the flank. Not to mention he is the nephew of the iconic Jay-Jay Okocha, the dazzling Nigerian midfielder who starred in the 90s and 2000s, so the talent is in the blood.
Arsenal have an opportunity in this window to begin this starting up again process. If they sell Sánchez to Manchester United, they would get a decent fee of £35m as well as Armenian number 10 Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan is vastly talented but has fallen out of favor with Jose Mourinho and the player you’re seeing now is performing scared the few minutes he does indeed get the opportunity to see the pitch. When he is comfortable and in form, he can change games with his vision and goals. The Gunners are also favorites to sign superstar striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund. Aubameyang has not covered himself in glory in wanting a move away from Dortmund, but nobody can deny that he scores for fun and against anyone. And finally, Arsenal are in line to buy Bordeaux’s extremely promising attacker Malcolm who looks to be yet another Brazilian who can finish tidily with lightning speed to boot. And all this for a net spend of £65m?! Very clever business if they can pull it off. A monumental step in the right direction.
The newfound stability will bring in more players. And not just players nobody else wants to sign, but Arsenal will get back to competing for signatures that the biggest of clubs are after. A new manager and footballers to complement the current stable is how this begins. Take a glance at rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool: their current success stems from the solidarity the players and manager share as well as the passion for the crest. The stars that do not want to be there are gone (Philippe Coutinho and soon Emre Çan for Liverpool) and the stars that want to play are thriving (Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen for Tottenham).
It is a difficult and messy task to stop the rot. It will be emotional. But Arsenal are a massive side with a litany of stories amassed in their history. That very history that will continue long after the current squad is gone. Now is the time to get back on track and add more success to the cabinets. That entails decisions from leadership guided solely by what is best for the club and its fans.