Arsenal and Arsene Wenger: A Story of Two Perspectives

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Reasons for optimism at Arsenal: A second place finish in the Premier League, the club’s highest in 11 years. A finishing position higher than traditional rivals Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City. A young squad filled with promise. A 19th consecutive season in the Champions League. A finish above local rivals Tottenham for the 21st consecutive season. Continued support for the coach.

Reasons for pessimism at Emirates Stadium: No league title in 12 years. A league finish 10 points behind surprise winners Leicester City, a club with a fraction of the budget. A squad failing to live up to potential. Failure to make progress in the Champions League after yet another last 16 exit (the 6th in succession). A finish just one point ahead of Tottenham, the least experienced squad in the division. Mumblings of discontent with the coach.

Wenger extending his deal?

Football supporters are notoriously fickle beings, but the arguments for and against Arsene Wenger extending his tenure in charge of Arsenal are inherently subjective. Certain sections of the media seem to have decided the Frenchman’s reign should be coming to an end, using his frequent musings of his side’s ‘mental strength’ as a stick to beat him with after another morale-sapping defeat. Indeed, many of the Gunners’ support are inclined to back this opinion, as the organised protest during the home game against West Bromwich Albion on 21st April attested to.

Yet, that particular vocalisation of dissent actually proved rather muted, and there have even been suggestions in the past few days of Wenger extending his current deal which is due to expire at the end of the next campaign. The Frenchman himself has declined to comment on his future, but will continue to remain outwardly optimistic of his side’s possibilities of success in the near future. But was 2015-16 in fact a huge opportunity missed for this current Arsenal side?

Next season

The fallout from Leicester City’s shock title triumph will continue across much of the summer as the more established sides of the Barclay’s Premier League look desperately for the missing ingredient to carry them to success. At Chelsea and Manchester City, that already entails a new coach, with United also heavily tipped to do the same and dispose of Louis Van Gaal’s services. This will also mean, no doubt, some heavy investment in playing staff, especially with the increased riches of the new Premier League TV deal bulging the already generously laden wallets of the Premier League big boys. Will Arsenal be tempted to do the same? There is no doubt some investment in the squad is required, with defensive frailties again rising to the fore as the season progressed. The signing of Petr Cech was no doubt a watershed moment, but further strengthening in the centre of defence, at the very least, should be contemplated before another campaign is launched. There are also many who have questioned the genuine quality of Arsenal’s striking options, with the much-maligned Olivier Giroud often cited as lacking the class to propel his side to glory. Two signings, one up front and one at the heart of defence, could well make the difference, but players of the calibre required are often hard to find (as Wenger himself has so often pointed out). Money should be of no concern as Arsenal continue to operate the most financially viable business model of all top flight teams, yet Wenger has often remained reticent to spend the kind of money often flashed with careless abandon at Chelsea and Manchester City in particular, and even Manchester United in recent times. Arsenal supporters will hope to see a couple of genuine world class arrivals at the Emirates this summer, but this is a hope shared by followers of many other clubs, so competition will be fierce.

The current squad

Within the ranks of the current Arsenal squad, there are many reasons for Gunners’ fans to stay optimistic. Combined with the world class abilities of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech, are the younger potential of Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin and Alex Iwobi. When the experience of established internationals such as Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere (fitness permitting in the case of the latter three) are added to the mix, Arsene Wenger’s side appears to possess the correct blend of experience and talent necessary, albeit minus a couple of world class additions.

Possible Ins

With the search for a top class centre forward surely the priority for Arsene Wenger (despite his continued support of Olivier Giroud), the transfer chatter has been focused in the direction of Serie A, where Juventus’ Alvaro Morata and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain have both been identified as potential targets. Morata undoubtedly possesses the talent, if not quite yet the goalscoring record to truly set Gunners’ fans’ pulses racing, while Higuain, fresh from breaking the Serie A goalscoring record by bagging 36 in Napoli’s run to second, would be an expensive coup, especially as his buy-out clause from the Italian side is rumoured to be set at £72m. Defence would appear to be another area of the team that needs some upgrading, although the calibre of Ashley Williams, Swansea City’s courageous skipper, would possibly be questioned by many, especially as at 31, the Welshman may be a little past his prime. Borussia Monchengladbach’s Swiss midfield maestro Granit Xhaka and N’Golo Kante, Leicester City’s midfield dynamo, have also been touted as incomings that would improve the quality of the squad.

Possible Outs

Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky have already been released, but at 34 and 35 respectively, and injuries having taken their toll, these will not be major gaps to fill in the squad, their experience notwithstanding. Doubts surround the future of England pair Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, both set to miss this summer’s European Championships in France, the former through injury and the latter due to  omission from Roy Hodgon’s squad. Neither have kicked on in their careers at the Emirates, and both could feasibly be moved on to incorporate improvements to the squad. Loan players such as Wojciech Szczesny, Mathieu Debuchy, Yaya Sanogo and Carl Jenkinson could also find themselves surplus to requirements at the Emirates, while doubts also surround the long term futures (and effectiveness) of Kieran Gibbs, Joel Campbell and David Ospina, among others. It could be a busy summer at Emirates Stadium in what promises to be a defining summer in the story of Arsenal FC, and its long established romance with Arsene Wenger.

2016-17 Premier League: To Win Outright

Manchester City – 2.50

Chelsea – 6.00

Arsenal – 6.50

Manchester United – 8.00

Tottenham Hotspur – 8.00

Liverpool – 10.00

Leicester City – 26.00

All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 17/05/16

Steve Paget