NEIL ASHTON: Despite the charm, time's up for Wenger… Arsenal need another forward-thinking coach
08:48 GMT, 13 December 2012
Robin van Persie was invited into Arsene Wenger’s magnificently appointed home in north London towards the end of last season for talks about his future.
It was a tense meeting, a full and frank exchange between Arsenal manager and captain after another trophyless season at the Emirates.
With a year left on his contract, the top goalscorer in the Barclays Premier League wanted assurances that the Gunners were ready to invest heavily in the squad before committing himself to a new deal.
Wenger was indignant and the offer to keep Van Persie was never made.
Dead man walking: Arsene Wenger at Bradford
Fall guys: Humiliated Arsenal were dumped out of the Capital One Cup to League Two side Bradford City
After winning three Premier League
titles and four FA Cups in 16 years at Arsenal, Wenger still rules the
roost. He remains untouchable, even after Tuesday’s shameful defeat in
the Capital One Cup quarter-final at League Two side Bradford City.
A team who cost almost 67million to
assemble were beaten on penalties by a side costing 7,500, despite
boasting internationals from Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, the Ivory
Coast, Wales, England and Poland. Bradford’s two internationals have
played a handful of games for Bermuda and Northern Ireland.
For many Arsenal fans this is the endgame, beyond the point of no return.
Wenger’s observations at Valley
Parade, when he spoke of ‘pride’ and ‘self-belief’, were a smokescreen
for a manager who has been sending distress signals since 2007.
It is time for Arsenal to move on, to
do the unthinkable and thank him for 16 years of loyal service and look
to the future with another forward-thinking coach.
As charming as he
is, Wenger is on the way out as the club’s manager. It is over and an
increasing number of people within the game are beginning to recognise
The one that got away: Wenger emits a rueful smile after reacquainting with Robin van Persie at Old Trafford
Wenger earns 7.5m a year, and is the
highest-paid boss in the Premier League, yet Arsenal consistently
claim they cannot pay big bucks for players.
They were ahead of the game with
identifying the talents of Juan Mata and David Silva but their dithering
allowed Chelsea and Manchester City to step in and gazump them.
Even contract negotiations with Theo
Walcott, who is expected to be fit for Monday’s Premier League clash at
Reading, have broken down over the club’s pay structure.
Andrey Arshavin, a flop since his
move from Zenit St Petersburg in 2009, earns 110,000 a week all in.
Given the Russian’s pitiful contribution, it is not unreasonable for
Walcott to demand a similar contract, yet Wenger is refusing to meet the
England forward’s demands.
It was also revealed that players are
being asked to agree clauses in their contracts about a 20 per cent
reduction in salary if they fail to make the Champions League.
It seems inconceivable that Jack
Wilshere, England’s most exciting young player, who is about to enter
talks over a new contract to increase his 70,000-a-week package, will
agree to such a clause.
Bright hope: Jack Wilshere has announced he is committed to Arsenal – but what will happen if the club continues its downward trend
Wenger, known to avoid confrontation,
delegates contract negotiations to trusted advisor Dick Law following
the decision to fire his ally David Dein as vice-chairman in April 2007.
Dallas-based Law is the club’s transfer fixer, regularly sending emails
at 3am US time to fit in with the working day in London.
The coaching structure is
complicated, with assistant manager Steve Bould apparently marginalised
despite his promotion this season.
At 63, Wenger remains convinced he
can improve the players, taking training every day and planning every
move in meticulous detail.
Bould, a former Arsenal defender,
deserved his chance after 11 years with the academy and reserves but he
is largely ignored by Wenger. The pair are understood to have limited
communication and the distance between them is so big that, when the
boss missed training the day before Arsenal were beaten 2-0 at home by
Swansea, fitness coach Tony Colbert took the session.
Bould’s appointment, on 1.5m a year,
was heavily influenced by the Arsenal board following the retirement of
Wenger’s trusted assistant Pat Rice at the end of last season.
Rice is still a club scout but others
are frustrated by Wenger’s failure to take notice of the detailed
reports they provide on players. Gervinho, who won the French league and
cup double before he joined from Lille in 2011, was recommended by
chief scout Steve Rowley after coming to the attention of French talent
spotter Gilles Grimandi.
Out of sorts: Gervinho has failed to shine in an Arsenal shirt since his arrival from Lille
He scored 28 goals in 67 league games
for Lille but the Ivory Coast forward has rarely threatened to make a
major impact at Arsenal.
Left back Andre Santos, a surprise signing from Fenerbahce in 2011, is another mystery to the scouts.
Other coaches, like Bould, are
bypassed. Neil Banfield, promoted to first-team coach after years at the
academy, is paid a 1m salary but has little input in first-team
Former coaches are made to sign confidentiality agreements not to talk about Wenger’s methods.
The club used to outsource fitness
checks to a specialist company at a cost of 750,000 but the Frenchman
disagreed with results after he was warned players were being
Wenger was ahead of his time with
sports science, diet and training methods when he arrived from Nagoya
Grampus Eight in 1996. More than a decade later there is a growing
feeling the rest of the Premier League have left him behind.
The manager is proud of his
development strategy but one could argue that, in his 16 years, Ashley
Cole and Wilshere are the only bona fide graduates from the fabled Hale
End academy who have become first team regulars.
He points to the careers of Steven
Sidwell, James Harper, David Bentley, Fabrice Muamba, Anthony Stokes and
the Hoyte brothers as evidence of his success with young players.
Others at the club believe there is little point producing players to
play for other clubs.
Where are they now Former Arsenal academy graduate David Bentley is on loan from Tottenham at FC Rostov
It is an open secret at Arsenal Wenger and youth development coach Liam Brady rarely speak.
At the London Colney training centre, which was ahead of its time when
built 12 years ago, there has been a noticeable shift in Wenger’s
During the glory years at the turn of
the millennium, for example, first-team players would regularly tease
Kanu about the mystery surrounding his actual birthdate.
Wenger, who signed the Nigeria
striker from Inter Milan in 1999, would laugh along, telling him: ‘Kanu,
you know you are supposed to add a year, not subtract one.’
That was when Wenger could still rely
on the famous back four as they charged towards the Premier League and
FA Cup double in 2002.
Today he has tightened up, wrapping himself in his Arsenal jacket and feeling the pressure after seven years without a trophy.
Some believe the decline began with
William Gallas’s infamous sitdown protest after they drew 2-2 against
Birmingham but they beat AC Milan in the Champions League with goals
from Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor in the San Siro a few days
Others trace the slide back to Wenger’s decision to break up the team beaten by Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
Wenger always insists he is judged at the end of the season. Sadly, the verdict is already in.