Arsene Wenger: Has he run his course at Arsenal?
A popular quote from Harvey Dent is: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
Whilst this was used to express a different situation, you can't help but find this also currently relates to the managerial career of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Having been at the club since 1996, the Frenchman has seen his various squads claim numerous titles, accolades and triumphs along the way. His "Invincibles" side is still the only Premier League team to go a whole season unbeaten, an achievement that even Pep Guardiola and his formidable Manchester City have not managed to match this term.
In total, 17 major titles including three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup trophies, is another impressive record that Arsene should be proud of. However despite this, there are experts and supporters aplenty who believe that he should hang up his own figurative boots and call it time before his legendary status weans even further in his attempts to lead the club forward into the future.
Top-quality departures, poor replacements
Arsenal's squad have seen a range of various world beaters from the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown, David Seaman and Robin van Persie been replaced by mediocre players - Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Squillaci, Manuel Almunia and Marouane Chamakh just to name a few.
While it'd be unfair to say these players were woeful, they were no adequate replacements and Arsenal supporters themselves would agree that the same can be said for recent acquisitions - bar Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil. There have been clear weaknesses in the Gunners' squad for years: their goalkeeping issues have not been resolved by Petr Cech's arrival from Chelsea, as the experienced 'keeper is nowhere near the peak of his powers any longer.
Defensively, they never seem to be without flaws and faults, whether that be through players who are positionally weak or simply not good enough, to the enfuriating insistence of zonal marking - a defensive tactic which is not effective in this current day and age. In their midfield and attack, there are often players drafted in to replace the few key figures left after a summer of departures and up-front, you could genuinely argue they still have not replaced Robin van Persie, who they sold to Manchester United six years ago.
Too little, too late?
I spoke to an Arsenal fan following their humbling 2-1 away defeat by Brighton recently, who said that whilst Aubameyang is indeed a good attacking signing, he's one that should have been brought in three years ago - having first appeared on the scene in the Bundesliga as a formidable asset in the final third. The same can be said for Alexandre Lacazette, who they signed from Ligue 1 side Lyon last summer.
Having netted within the first few minutes during his competitive debut, many fans had reason and a right to be optimistic for the future. Despite showing promising signs of his ability, he is yet to really kick on in-front of goal but in truth, doesn't get enough service on a regular basis to justify the level of criticism he has garnered this term.
There have often been times this season where he's looked lost up-top by himself, with seemingly no options or forward runners in support - this was particularly apparent during their 3-1 defeat by Swansea, where he was stifled by both Angel Rangel and Alfie Mawson in the Swans' backline.
Arsenal's decline is apparent across the pitch
Despite his managerial quality, Wenger has undoubtedly led his team backwards. Having consecutively finished in the top-four places for 19 years, Arsenal are now competing for glory in the UEFA Europa League - a tournament that his own players have infamously mocked previously.
Realistically at this stage of the campaign, winning the Europa League is Arsenal's only realistic opportunity at qualifying for Champions League next term - which just highlights the struggles that have continued to plague the north London club in recent seasons.
It's fair to say that this news is not sudden or much of a surprise for fans anymore either, as Arsenal have lacked the world-class quality and strength in depth needed to compete with their rivals for quite some time: you can see it clearly by highlighting every position.
Petr Cech's inconsistencies have stooped to lower standards over the past few seasons, in comparison to Thibaut Courtois and cat-like David de Gea who are valuable for their respective sides. Calum Chambers' clumsiness and the declining Laurent Koscielny for example, are no match for centre-backs like Vincent Kompany and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Arsenal's midfield has become increasingly average with players like Mohamed Elneny - who should be no more than a utility player - whilst they manage to accomodate Danny Welbeck in attack, despite his lack of a clinical edge in-front of goal.
Alexis' departure in January also revealed another problem with Wenger, one that has still not been rectified after previous frustrations. Once they sign a world-class player, it's increasingly likely that their rivals can tempt them away by offering more money and naturally, better opportunities to win more trophies.
van Persie and now Sánchez are two of Arsenal's attacking heroes who quickly turned to villains after leaving for rival clubs with seemingly no hesitation. While the players must take a share of the blame for this, it's ultimately the manager's job to pick a squad and suitable tactics to pose more of a challenge than this.
In my opinion, Wenger now lacks the passion, motivation and desire which previously led to him becoming an adored figure in the red half of north London. His lack of energy on the touchline, his hung and resigned facial expressions and his acceptance of defeat at the hands of clubs aplenty prove a clear sign: they are continuing to regress under Arsene's management.
With that being said, it's naturally sad to see this happen to both a club of the Gunners' stature and a thoroughly decent gentleman, one who few fans could fail to sympathise with. However, the club is always bigger than any man - player or otherwise - and surely this season is the final one of Wenger's long, distinguished and respected reign over a great club, one who have declined in recent years but equally have the potential to return back to the champions they once were.