Arsene Wenger must be tired of all this. Every passing season brings a strong sense of Déjà vu as his team once again conspires to sabotage yet another title challenge. While Arsenal fans have grown used to witnessing this time and time again, this season in particular feels like a huge opportunity missed, and one that has, led to many of them baying for blood. Over the past number of years a growing section of the club’s ever-weary fan base have turned against the Frenchman to the point where the ‘Wenger Out’ Brigade may now even be in a firm majority. Despite the vociferousness of these latest protests however, deep down most supporters know their boss isn’t going anywhere just yet. Dispensing with a long-standing manager of Wenger’s knowledge, devotion, and experience amounts to a virtual step into the unknown, and for a board as unequivocally executive as Arsenal’s, such a move would be seen as too big of a risk. It seems then that the dissenters will have to wait at least one more season as the top betting sites for football come to the conclusion that this could well be Arsene's final year in charge at his beloved Arsenal, the departure of Le Prof only seemingly apparent following the expiration of his current contract in 2017.
But does it all have to be so gloomy in the interim period? If Leicester’s march towards the League title has taught us anything it’s that we can take nothing for granted in football these days. Claudio Ranieri, a man who was roundly tipped as the first managerial casualty of the season, has emphatically proved his doubters wrong, despite having never won a league title in any country previously. If an ageing manager with a questionable track record can produce a shock of such seismic proportions then is it completely inconceivable to think that a managerial legend like Wenger cannot. As unlikely as it seems at this point in his tenure, fans have to believe that the great man can indeed inspire a turnaround in the club’s fortunes with one final push for the trophy that has eluded him for over a decade. If Wenger is to make this change however there are a number of things he must do in order to facilitate this, enabling the man who built the modern Arsenal to keep his legacy intact.
While they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, sometimes a little dose of reality doesn’t hurt. The painful truth is that the teams currently leading Arsenal in the league are not there due to their vastly superior playing staff. The one coaching principle that currently holds both Ranieri and Mauricio Pochettino above Wenger is a very simple one, basic organisation. While Wenger often appears to be a highly meticulous individual, his teams have a worrying tendency to lose concentration at key moments, sometimes leading to catastrophic collapses as we saw against West Ham on Saturday. While the onus is certainly on the players to maintain concentration and composure for the full 90 minutes, a culture of organization, structure and solidarity must be bred from the top down, and be drilled into the players on a daily basis if necessary.
Wenger is renowned as a manager who maintains the utmost faith in his players. While this is essential in building a strong team ethic and maintaining morale, it can also be a curse when that faith is continually left unrepaid. Despite the fact that this is arguably the strongest Arsenal squad in a decade there are a number of players that have been allowed to let the team down on a continuous basis. Be it through lack of effort, mental fragility, or unreliable injury records, a few names stand out as serial offenders and must be either dropped from the first team, or dispensed with altogether. Players like Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have failed to fulfill their potential, while the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Gabriel and Mathieu Debuchy have consistently demonstrated that they are not of the sufficient standard. All should be flogged to the highest bidder. In addition to this, permanently injured players like Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and even Jack Wilshere, have shown that they cannot be relied upon in any capacity, while question marks remain over a number of other first team regulars. Per Mertesacker, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey are all good players in their own right but none seem to fit in with Wenger’s ethos of a highly mobile, dynamic counter-attacking team. If elite level players can be found in their positions, they should also be replaced.
Find his best team and stick with it
Another reason behind the success of Messrs Ranieri and Pochettino, and Mr. Mourinho the season before, was that they decided on their strongest XI early in the season and persisted with it. Over the last two seasons Wenger, whether down to injuries or poor form, has experimented with several different combinations only to stumble upon a convincing team once the league is already lost. With balance being the key to a well functioning team, Arsene may have to fight his instincts to deploy some of his more favoured attacking players in an effort to establish a solid base from whence to build from. Injuries remain a problem for his side however, so like-for-like replacements are also required in every area of the pitch.
Appoint a permanent captain
Wenger would be the first to say that he has 11 captains on the pitch at any given time, but the reality is that on-the-field leadership, a trait the Gunners are regularly accused of lacking, can often be crucial. By persevering with the eternally absent Mikel Arteta as skipper this season Wenger effectively left the role up for grabs with Mertesacker, Koscielny, Cazorla, and, most laughably, Theo Walcott, all holding the mantel at various junctures. Mertesacker is the logical choice due to his experience and organizational abilities, but he has recently fallen out of favour. The likes of Cazorla and Koscielny meanwhile don’t seem to possess the type of dominant personality to fulfill the role. Considering that the captain should be an important member of the first team, while simultaneously providing a calming influence over his team mates, Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech appears to be the obvious choice.
Continue to trust in youth
Wenger’s knack for unearthing talent in young players is well documented and although his track record of late is not the most emphatic, there are certainly reasons for encouragement. Teenage starlet Alex Iwobi has been Arsenal’s best player over the last few games and looks an incredibly exciting prospect. The same thing was said of Hector Bellerin this time last season, with the Spaniard now a main stay in the team, becoming arguably the league’s best right back in the space of a year. With young players like Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Danny Wellbeck continuing to impress, Calum Chambers and Joel Campbell waiting in the wings, and loanees like Jon Toral, Chuba Akpom and Gedion Zelalem all expected to link up with the first team in the near future, Arsene needs to continue trusting in youth, particularly with North London rivals Tottenham proving so successful at it recently.
One facet of Alex Ferguson’s later years at Manchester Utd. was how he slowly phased out his time on the training ground, preferring instead to delegate those duties to his coaching staff, thus allowing him the freedom to manage the team. Although he will have to swallow his pride in this regard, Wenger should now too consider this option. With a talented group of coaches in Steve Bould, Boro Primorac, and Neil Banfield at his disposal, Wenger should trust in his lieutenants during training sessions, thus liberating him to concentrate on his managerial duties.
Introduce a successor
Although this seems something of a radical move considering Wenger’s overall influence on the club, the early introduction of a potential successor may well work in the team’s, and even his own favour. Arsene has always stated that he aims to leave the club in the best possible condition to whoever succeeds him, so why not prepare for the inevitable. Despite their apparent indifference to footballing matters, Arsenal’s board know they cannot afford to another Ferguson-Moyes handover scenario and are no doubt be aware of how a high profile departure can affect a club (ala the Moyes Man Utd. era) and are no doubt waiting on Wenger to provide them with a solution. By introducing a successor of his choosing that can learn the ropes both in training and on match day, not to mention gaining an early insight into the abilities of the players at the club, not only grants Wenger the opportunity to mould a new managerial protégé, and a definitive say in the club’s future at that, but also allows for an easier transition for the new man. In many ways it’s a win-win situation.