Home and Away

It may be too late for Arsene Wenger to prevent Arsenal's terminal decline

Arsenal must do whatever it takes, and fast, to halt an undignified fall from grace and tumble into oblivion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:57am

Bradford, Blackburn, Bayern are the three dreaded Bs that have heaped the blues on Arsene Wenger and fuelled the alarming meltdown at Arsenal. But it seems they do not spell the end of his 16-year tenure.

Despite a near-certain eighth successive season without silverware - and far worse, the very real prospect of losing out on a Champions League spot in 2013-14 - the Emirates board has declared it is standing by the Frenchman.

While the baying for Wenger's head grows louder, chairman Peter Hill-Wood and major shareholder Stan Kroenke adamantly stated after Thursday's board meeting that their trust remains rock solid. They then promised a huge summer war chest worth millions so Wenger can replace the class players desperately needed to complement the home-grown talent.

In this uncertain age of austerity, such a bonus for underperformance is viewed as immoral and a major factor in the financial crash and society's malaise. Not so at the Emirates, it seems. You have to admire Hill-Wood and Kroenke's patience and generosity as well as their bare-faced defiance of modern wisdom and convention.

After all, they are backing the man who can this season deliver only two things: a damage limitation exercise of epic proportions during the return Champions League leg in Munich next month and a vicious dog fight with, among others, neighbours Tottenham, for the crucial English Premier League fourth-spot finish.

Every manager knows you are only as good as your last trophy. The last time Wenger delivered a first-class ornament was in 2005. Yet despite the lack of success and growing fan discontent, he is under no threat from the board. Even the usually calm, cerebral Wenger was visibly shocked by the gulf in class in the 3-1 loss to Bayern.

Arsenal may look like poor pedestrians on the pitch, but the club is reportedly swimming in cash with some £150 million (HK$1.77 billion) in the bank. And that amount will soon be doubled thanks to a £150 million five-year deal with kit sponsor Emirates.

The Gunners boss is, according to reports, already targeting Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic, Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Gotze and midfielders Victor Wanyama of Celtic and Toulouse's Etienne Capoue.

Yet failing to finish in the top four come May - which would be a first for Wenger since he joined in the club in 1996 - could seriously affect his plans, regardless of the brimming pot. How many from his dream list of ambitious top players would be willing to sign on without the prospect of playing against Europe's best next season?

Arsenal may have left it too late to spend. They are four points off fourth place, which is occupied by Spurs, and 21 behind leaders Manchester United. They look weak and Wenger looks too tired and incapable of dealing with the tailspin.

Wenger is blamed for believing he has too much power at the Emirates - a case of the emperor becoming too complacent and untouchable in his fancy clothes (aka his trademark sleeping-bag coat).

And what of home-grown talents like Jack Wilshere? Who could blame him and the other youngsters for wondering where the glory days have gone, and start looking elsewhere to shine and win accolades? Indeed, Arsenal fans are looking back (the unbeaten title-winning "Invincibles" of 2003-04) because it is less painful than looking at the remaining fixtures and the extension of the long trophy drought.

Now it is the wily, wise French fox and the thinking man's manager of enlightenment asking in vain for miracles. The spectacle of him on Tuesday with his head often in hands and highly agitated in the technical area, his arms flapping in dismay and looking helpless, clueless, lost and isolated, was upsetting even to neutral admirers. The personification of unflappability snapped. He menaced the pre-match press conference.

The Arsenal Supporters' Trust believes it is wrong to focus solely on Wenger's shortcomings. It believes the board needs to consider recruiting new, younger and experienced members "who can support and challenge Wenger to be a better manager".

Maybe. But whatever Arsenal need to halt an undignified fall from grace and tumble into oblivion - money, luck, miracles - they must be implemented pronto.

Once in mid-table mediocrity, it's a hard slog out. Just ask Liverpool. They were Champions League winners just eight years ago. Now they struggle to finish as high as eighth in the EPL. And that, as any Reds' fan will tell you, is bad - with a capital B.