Arsenal have had, arguably, the worst season under Arsene Wenger. There might have been other seasons where things might have seemed worse but I referred to this as ‘the’ worst because whenever the Gunners have had a terrible season, Wenger somehow, almost magically, crawls and claws his way back to the infamous top 4 spot and boards Arsenal into the group stages of the Champions League.
He has come under intense pressure from every direction over a few seasons now, which is understandable, although not entirely fair.
2016/17 saw Arsenal spectacularly unravel, which has, by all means, defeated their trademark breakdowns post-Christmas. This was particularly symbolised by Shkodran Mustafi’s form, for instance. The German centre-half began his career at the Emirates in stunning fashion. So much so, that Arsenal hadn’t lost a single Premier League game with his presence in defence for 20-something consecutive matches.
His spectacular dip in form was telling and symbolic of Arsenal’s, as he was outperformed by 21-year-old Rob Holding on several occasions. The German’s worst performance came away at Palace where he attempted six tackles and failed to win a single one, with Wenger’s men conceding three in the process. But there was something different this time around.
The internal struggle at the Emirates
The problems that reside deep within the Arsenal board are known to everyone, as it may be easy to forget considering the number of white lies that managers and board members are forced into conceiving. This time, the ‘Cold War’ between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov really did seem to take a toll on the team as well, as they looked uncertain and vulnerable, which is even more than what the Gunners have taken the liberty towards in recent years.
There was a lack of stability, which is down to a number of reasons. The instability of the board can be pointed towards as a factor. The constant speculation involving Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Arsene Wenger – three of the most important figures at the Emirates in terms of stature – has been another issue. Not to mention, their over-reliance on the Chilean who has been one of the standout players in the Premier League over the last one year.
Factors such as this, in turn, unsettled the entire fanbase, which is another major cause for concern. The words ‘Wenger Out’ have earned near-cult status considering the frequency with which they are heard and seen.
There is an ever-growing gulf between the board and the fans. ‘Arsenal was formed in 1886, not 1996. Wenger Out’ was a rather eye-opening placard that was found in the stands during a home match. As true as that might be, if Arsenal take the bold step to relieve Wenger of his duty after two long decades of service, there is a major problem on the cards.
The David Moyes Syndrome
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and was replaced at the helm by compatriot David Moyes, Manchester United were entering a whole new world of trouble that they weren’t aware of. They haven’t finished in the top three in the Premier League since then, let alone win the title.
Wenger has taken the burden upon himself to shape the way Arsenal transitioned into the 21st century (the move from Highbury to the Emirates was symbolic of this), transforming the way they play football. Sir Alex left his Scot successor with an ageing squad, in need of a mild revamp. 250 million pounds later, they still do. Similarly, if Arsene leaves now, his successor, whoever it might be, will have a difficult time meeting the expectations set by the board or even the fans.
The 67-year-old’s most recent two-year extension was understandably met with utmost pessimism. But, there is a valuable upside to it, as these two years need to be the pillars that would sustain one of English football’s biggest clubs. Whether that implies making statement signings or even transfers keeping the future in mind, Arsenal are in dire need of reinforcements in a number of areas on the pitch.
Wenger and Youth
Arsenal’s academy over the last decade has been largely unfruitful, with players only showing glimpses of their potential but failing to nail themselves down as regular starters or even squad members. Hector Bellerin is seemingly a bright prospect who had a breakout 2015/16 season but almost fell off the radar the following season. Alex Iwobi is another such example. But that shouldn’t be seen as a blatant loss for the Frenchman’s reputation as much as the academy’s.
Arsene Wenger has overseen the development of few of the greatest players to have played in the Premier League, such as Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Cesc Fabregas to name a few. But none more so than Arsenal’s best player in their history, Thierry Henry. The Frenchman was undisputedly one of the best strikers in world football at a point in time, and was one of the center-pieces of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.
The World Cup winner was signed as a temperamental winger by Wenger, who oversaw his transformation into one of the most lethal strikers the game has ever seen. Henry’s legacy in England as their record scorer has a lot to do with Arsene Wenger moulding him into a world class forward.
The Successor to ‘King Titi’s throne
There have been many young forwards over the years who have been dubbed a reincarnation of the legendary striker, from all parts of the world. But one such striker who has really managed to catch the eye has been Monaco’s young prodigy, Kylian Mbappe.
The boy, who recently admitted that Real Madrid have been trying to sign him since he was 14 years old, has been a revelation and troubled quite a few defenders this past season. He’s averaged a goal every 68.3 minutes, bettering some of the world’s best by scoring 26 goals and setting up a further 11. He has been spectacular to watch while bearing an uncanny resemblance to Henry – his long and dangerous strides spinning his way behind defenders while opening up his body and curling the ball into the far corner on the right.
There is something different about the young Monaco graduate, who is being tipped to leave Monaco for a world record transfer fee.
In his penultimate couple of years at the club, Wenger deserves to be given a transfer budget big enough to compete with the best clubs in the world – for the sake of his loyal service to the Gunners and his legacy at the Emirates. This is to land this very prodigy.
The player has openly admitted his desire to head to Real Madrid but has also stated that it might be too early an age to do so, which is where Wenger enters the fray. The Frenchman does have the pedigree in moulding young players like him and set him on the path to potentially becoming one of the best players in the world.
Real are arguably one of the two biggest clubs in the world but if Wenger can convince the young Frenchman by any means to arrive at the Emirates, Arsenal must provide the 67-year-old with the financial firepower he requires and more importantly, deserves.
Why would any player choose the Emirates over Santiago Bernabeu? More importantly, why would Real let the opportunity to acquire such a prodigious talent slip by?
The answer is quite simple. Kylian Mbappe can mature into the player that he is potentially capable of growing into. By ‘letting’ Arsenal sign him Real would be giving Mbappe even more time to develop before his apparently inevitable move to Spain. Moreover, Cristiano Ronaldo is already 32, and Mbappe’s delayed arrival can help him take over the Portuguese's mantel. The young Frenchman is too rare a talent to be allowed to mix with Real’s embarrassment of riches.
“He is not exactly the next Thierry Henry but it is true that he has similar qualities and the future and talent is similar. The potential is similar, after that if he has the same level of motivation, desire and intelligence that Thierry has, and the next two to three years will tell us that, then he can be very promising,” said the legendary manager himself about Mbappe.
He needs to be given the liberty to enter the transfer market and buy players he deems fit and who are willing to join, and for once, not worry about the financial implications like he has had to over the last two decades.
Wenger can finally bring his time at Arsenal with a memorable end if he can manage to help this young lad from Clairefontaine reach the heights that ‘King Titi’ did or even exceed them. Because if the former under the tutelage of Wenger can have a similar impact to that of the latter, the Gunners can hope for a realistic title challenge instead of what has become a customary top-four brawl. The 18-year-old seems to be an old school forward growing in a modern era, so who better to nurture him than the man who created his idol?