What Do Arsenal Do Now?

Difficult decisions are ahead for the club.

Copyright: Premier League

After the latest disaster in a 2-1 loss away to Bournemouth, there is more questioning than ever of the ownership of Stan Kroenke, and the stewardship of Arséne Wenger. As an Arsenal fan, not knowing anything other than Wenger's leadership of the team, it seems sometimes that there is very little that may be done. However, some things have to be addressed very soon, especially if the team wants to continue to bring the best players to the club. 

The Boardroom

Many of the problems at Arsenal can be solved simply by having a more involved ownership and boardroom team. At the moment, the club's majority stake is owned by the American Stan Kroenke, who owns several sports teams within the United States, including the LA Rams of the NFL, and the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. He also owns his own sports TV station in the Colorado region, as well as lacrosse and hockey franchises. With his attention mainly diverted by these, and the recent playoff run made by the LA Rams, his main man over at Arsenal is widely seen as Ivan Gazidis. 

Whilst Gazidis is very good in his traditional role as managing director, essentially making sure the club makes a profit, as it has done for many seasons, his other duties increasingly appear to be the main liaison for Arséne to make his concerns to. These include transfer funds, and general contract examples too. This is not the way for a club to be running itself, with very little, if any contact, between the immediate coaching staff and the ownership as to what they want to achieve.

The boardroom structure of Arsenal needs to change, and there are two options for this. The first is for Kroenke to take a more active role within the team. He would need to actually show fans he was getting involved, including in frank discussions with Wenger.

The only other option is for Kroenke to sell his majority stake in the club. This is unlikely to happen for two reasons. Firstly, whilst Kroenke doesn't take much interest in Arsenal, it is first and foremost, a profitable endeavour for him. If he wants to sell, he will be able to demand a large bit of money, that may not even be worth the amount that Arsenal would be able to provide in the long run. The second reason is that the most likely owner is Alisher Usmanov, the Russian businessman who has a mutual dislike of Kroenke. It is unlikely that Kroenke will choose to sell, especially if Usmanov is the person most likely to make an acceptable deal.

The Manager

Arséne Wenger has been at the club since October 1996, and is the manager who currently holds the record for length of time spent at a club in the Premier League. Throughout his time at Arsenal, he has stuck to his own footballing philosophy, and for the beginning of his tenure things went very well for him. From 1996 to 2005, he guided the team to four FA Cups, four Community Shields, and three Premier League titles, including the 'Invincibles' in 2003-2004, and two league/cup doubles in both the 1997-1998 and 2001-2002 seasons. This period of success eventually ended in 2006 at the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.

But in the 12-13 years since, success has been hard to come by for Wenger. League cup defeats by Chelsea, Birmingham City, and Manchester City have three times robbed of success in seasons otherwise bereft of measurable successes, a competition that Wenger has still been unable to win. The failure of a league title since 2004 has been a major source of frustration for fans, with FA cup wins in 2014, 2015, and 2017 only halting the annoyances of fans temporarily. This was compounded by the failure of Arsenal to win the Premier League in 2016, falling to second place behind Leicester City.

The failure to qualify for the Champions League last season only further showed how Wenger has slowly fallen behind the times, with teams such as Liverpool and local rivals Tottenham Hotspur taking the opportunity to climb above them in recent years. A section of Arsenal supporters have been calling for a change in the management for several seasons, and it has started to seem that they may be right, given the most recent string of results.

With Arsenal only in sixth place by five points, close to being overtaken by Burnley, a team that were in the Championship as recently as the 2015-16 season, the signs are all pointing to an exit for Arséne Wenger.

Poor transfer policy has only compounded problems, seemingly the fault of Wenger. Expensive signings that may have pleased the fans when they were announced, such as Mesut Özil, Lacazette, and Aubameyang have failed to improve Arsenal's fortunes over the long-term.

Simply put, Wenger, whilst having a good run to begin his time, has been figured out long ago by his fellow top quality managers. And many times has been let down by his sides. There is no reason to carry on with the manager who has more or less again failed to enter the Champions League, so often the target of Wenger's Premier League campaigns. There seems to be little reason to hold to him much longer. Whilst it makes no sense to fire him so close to the end of the season, the offseason could be the time where Wenger finally departs Arsenal.

The Team Itself

The only other part of the club that can be seen as the problem are the players that actually make it up. Areas around the team have been causing multiple problems for years, and Wenger has been seemingly incapable of handling crises when they arise.

Jack Wilshere is a prime example. As a player who has a high proneness to injuries, he has not been much of use to Arsenal. The attitude which he has is not the best, and Arsenal should have considered selling him after his season on loan to Bournemouth. However, it should be said in his defence that he is one of the players who is trying his hardest to get Arsenal back on track, for whether it is in the interest of the club, or if it is his attempt to get back into the England national team should be questioned.

The defence has never been the steadiest in recent years, with a lot of critics pointing out that Arsenal are too loose at the back. This has remained the case this season. Sloppy goals, and poor defending have cost Arsenal in a number of games, where players from midfield are simply not willing to get back and defend. There are so many offensive-minded players within the team, that even when Arsenal line up with a back five, with the left and right back playing as wing backs, that Arsenal essentially have only two or three defenders each game. This has been partially down to the attacking mentality of the manager, but the rest of the team has to take some responsibility for the defensive disasters.

But since the departure of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United in 2012, Arsenal have lacked a reliable goal scorer up-front. This season, between Lacazette and Aubameyang, they have scored only six goals in twenty-eight league appearances. These are two scorers that were touted as being able to bring the goals into the team, but have been completely unable to make an impact. Whilst it is true that Aubameyang has only played four games, the two goals he has scored have been inconsequential. His first was the fourth goal in a 5-1 rout of Everton, and the other was in the loss against Brighton. 

Either way you look at it, or whether or not you ultimately blame the manager for team composition, it must be said that the players themselves are as much to blame for this situation as anyone else at the club. For in the end, they are the ones who make the results out on the pitch. And after they start to play, there are limited changes you can make to change the course of a match.

Next Steps

On balance, the majority of the blame truly does lie with Wenger. With his philosophy drilled into the club and the players for over twenty years, it is impossible to believe that he has had little to no part to play in what has been a slow fall from grace spanning the last twelve to thirteen years. But there is the argument that the board, and the owner in particular, should not have let it go this far. Indeed, once the team missed out on the Champions League, the board should have decided not to renew the contract of Wenger, and should have tried to move on in a different direction.

Putting aside the unlikely possibility that Kroenke decides to sell the club, the first move will be to remove Wenger from his role. It is time for a change in the team on the pitch, and the first place to start should be with the manager. A concerted effort to replace certain players within the team who are not pulling their weight should be next, with players brought in who are proven at the Premier League level, whatever the cost. At this time of high spending in the Premier League, a return to the Champions League is going to cost a lot. However, this may be very little compared to the problems that are likely to be incurred should Arsenal not even make the Europa League for next season.

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