Neville’s criticism completely justified

Gary Neville received criticism for his scathing commentary on a miserable and lacklustre Arsenal performance against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final, but his comments lambasting the Gunners were rightly attributed to them, and Arsène Wenger remains at the heart of the problem.

When there are players walking around on the pitch in a cup final, at Wembley, in front of 85,000 spectators, there is something seriously and fundamentally wrong with the set-up of the club. Wenger might have achieved great success throughout his time at Arsenal, but it is clear as day to see his management has dwindled over the past decade.

The former Monaco manager used to be regarded as one of the best talent spotters in world football, especially after learning some of his trade in Japan, but player acquisitions in the past five years show that Wenger’s eye for genuine talent has worn down.

Players like Granit Xhaka, Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny – among others – are simply not good enough to be playing a major part in a club aiming for success in the Premier League or in Europe’s top-tier competition. These players have been passengers for the Gunners this season, and seldom take charge of situations or influence the game in a defining manner – they don’t have enough to their game to change those fortunes, either.


Wenger just part of the problem

Not everything is the manager’s fault, and that was shown in Shkodran Mustafi’s five seconds of idiocy when he was at the centre of a calamitous mistake. The German international – yes, international and World Cup winner – was firstly the wrong side of Sergio Agüero, arguably one of the deadliest players on the planet, and was subsequently easily muscled out of the way and beaten to the ball as it came down from the goal kick for the Argentinean to meet.

Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero

The fact that Mustafi’s first instinct was to dive to the floor in the hope that referee Craig Pawson would award him the foul, instead of actually trying to correct his initial mistake and get back round on the right side of Agüero to thwart the danger, was immensely pathetic. It is no wonder Gary Neville lost his temper live on Sky Sports with Arsenal when the decision making was atrocious and there was no sense of responsibility from the players on the pitch. Everything appears to be someone else’s fault.

To have that mentality of naivety running through the veins of the team stems down to the manager’s power over the dressing room. There have been great examples of managers rooting out the problems of a very colourful playing squad – Sir Alex Ferguson’s dismissal of David Beckham from Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s fire sale of Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Deco at Barcelona come to mind – but Wenger has seemingly allowed the rot to stay and the dressing room to remain a place that is a hotbed for weakness.

Arsenal can’t handle pressure

With Arsenal, there always seems to be a great improvement in the level of performances when the pressure is off. Around this time of year, when they are usually knocked out of other competitions, their domestic results become positive and the style of play elegant. And yet, whether it is immaturity or just not being able to handle the pressure, when the going gets tough, senior players cower in the shadows and look to someone else to take them into the promised land.

Given this has been going on for a decade, it is just pathetic to watch a team undertake the same cyclical year every 12 months, without fail. There is no change of intensity or a different plan to try and overcome their shortcomings. It’s just the same thing year in, year out, and you can understand why Arsenal fans are so fed up with the current management – and Board – for letting the club they adore enter a sustained period of wilderness.

A mighty proportion of Arsenal fans will tell you that they have seen these problems mature over the years into what everyone can see before them in the present day: a deep misery for a once-great club. There have been times when the Arsenal Board should have cut ties with Wenger and appointed managers such as Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, and even Diego Simeone, when the Atlético Madrid manager was flirting with leaving but a serious offer from the Gunners never materialised.

Change happening slowly but surely

With Ivan Gazidis, the club’s chief executive, bringing in former Borussia Dortmund chief scout Sven Mislintat, as well as the Director of Football that previously worked with Barcelona, Raul Sanllehi, it shows a changing of the old guard. It is clear that Gazidis has had enough of what he’s seen in recent years and is starting to, slowly but surely, change the day-to-day operations at the club and has brought in two very progressive thinkers to take up key roles at London Colney.

The final leap that the chief executive must make is relieving Wenger of his contract one year early. For enough is enough as the Frenchman must take his exit from a club that has to try to return to the top of its game. No one can deny the revolutionary managerial characteristics Wenger brought to England when first joining, most notably the change of diet, but his time is up and there’s nothing more he can do for the Gunners.

Potential Wenger replacements lined up

 There are two outstanding choices: Joachim Low is the  favourite, and Thomas Tuchel is another interesting option () but Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry should not be snuffed at – especially not the former. The ex-Spain international has been under the wing of his compatriot, Guardiola, at Manchester City this season, learning the ins-and-outs of the trade and gaining first hand experience of how to win a Premier League title.

When Barcelona appointed a former player of their own in Guardiola, there were many to belittle the notion of the ex-midfielder to be a success, and the same was said about Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid. However, Arteta, too, has had coaching elsewhere, and looks to have that winning mentality instilled in him from and understands perfectly how a club of Arsenal’s stature should be occupying the top positions in the league.

Arsenal will inevitably go through a shaky transition period, but the changing of the guard has been on the horizon for a number of years and is needed now more than ever.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion