Arsene Wenger may be one fifth place finish away from the end of his reign as Arsenal manager.
This time last year such a statement would have been laughed at, but is it really inconceivable that the Arsenal fan’s faith in Wenger would be permanently fractured should his young squad who he has for so long talked up fail to claim a Champions League spot? It’s certainly not getting any easier for him. Big spending Manchester City may feel they have the firepower to blast into the top four this season, with Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham also targeting the spot as their ultimate goal.
In Wenger’s own mind though his young team is in transition, on the cusp of being one of his greatest sides. But as time goes by he’s finding fewer and fewer people willing to go along with this project, including the players. He’s put a lot of effort into the development of Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas, but may find the two jumping ship before the final pieces of his master plan have been put into place.
Despite almost universal calls to sign some established players, Wenger’s only piece of business so far this summer has been to sign defender Thomas Vermaelen, who at 23 is young for a centre back. The Frenchman has always been reluctant to spend big sums on single players, but in a summer where all the top clubs are targeting massive signings, Arsenal need a big name to establish some buzz around the club again, and convince his employers, the fans and the players that they can challenge for honours this season.
There were certain other factors to Arsenal’s season that were out of Wenger’s control. Long term injuries to key players, dissent in the dressing room, fans getting on player’s backs. But in football more often than not you create your own destiny, and fault inevitably should be, and will be, saddled with the manager.
Wenger’s philosophy isn’t without merit. There were moments last season when we got glimpses of a side capable of great things. I fully expect players like Samir Nasri, Carlos Vela, Johan Djourou and Theo Walcott to continue to improve over the coming season, and Andrei Arshavin certainly looks like a fan favourite in the making.
But unless Wenger concedes his talented young players need some older heads to play alongside, the groundwork he has laid for Arsenal’s future will become worthless. A fifth place finish would mean losing their better players, and Arsenal may consider ending their relationship with the man who has guided them to so many glories.