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Are Wenger’s Arsenal Still a Big Club?

By Periscope @periscopepost
Are Wenger’s Arsenal still a big club?

Former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. Photo credit: Ryu Voelkel

Arsene Wenger’s future as manager of Arsenal could be in serious jeopardy if his team fails to secure qualification for the Champions League group stage against Udinese tonight. Trophy-less since 2005, Arsenal have had a nightmare start to the 2011-12 season with just one point from their opening two Premier League games, and the humiliating departure of star players including Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

Back in July, Wenger said this: “Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri – you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that. If you give that message out, you cannot pretend you are a big club, because a big club first of all holds onto its big players and gives a message out to all the other big clubs that they just cannot come in and take away from you.” Well, that ‘worst situation’ is now a reality and Wenger can hardly blame people for starting to ask the question he himself raised: are Arsenal still a big club?

  • Pressure on Wenger. For Jim White at Yahoo! EuroSport, the imminent departure of Nasri to Mancester City is “the summer’s most significant signing,” not so much for the player involved as for the further evidence of “what is emerging as serial behaviour at Arsenal under Wenger: his club has now become the research and development operation for the game’s big spenders. The manager identifies talent early, buys it cheap and then carefully nurtures it before seeing it slip through his hands for big money just as it might bolster his trophy-winning opportunities.” Doubting whether Wenger will be able to reverse this trend and this now widely-held perception of Arsenal, White suggested that for Wenger, “the act of polishing diamonds only for others to pop them on to their crown increasingly threatens to be the defining memory of his career.” The Telegraph also offered a handy timeline charting Wenger’s miserable last few weeks including transfer humiliations, spineless defeats, red cards and touchline bans. If Arsenal fail to get past Udinese tonight, the paper declared, the clubs “will hit a new low.”
  • How bad can things get? The Evening Standard echoed this analysis, with James Olley calling failure against Udinese “worse than a wost-case scenario.” Olley declared called this “the biggest week of [Wenger’s] near decade and a half as Gunners boss,” and detailed exactly how disastrous it would be if Arsenal missed out on the Champions League group stages for the first time in 14 years. Qualification will earn the club £25 million, and this “is a source of income a club who pride themselves on self-sustainability have come to rely on and without it, Nasri’s transfer free will merely fill a black financial hole.” And the knock-on effects could be even worse, as Olley pointed out that if Arsenal fail to qualify, top-class players may be less willing to join the club. “It would substantially diminish the calibre of player available…with the window a week away from closing on a squad gasping for fresh air,” he explained. Another gloomy prognosis was offered by stats gurus Opta at ITV Sport, who went into painstaking detail to illustrate just how big a loss Fabregas is to Arsenal. “The Spaniard’s departure has left Arsenal with an obvious lack of creativity in midfield,” they argued, pointing out that while he was at the club, Fabregas contributed an “astonishing” 301 assists. What’s more, Arsenal won 59% of the games in which Fabregas played and averaged 2.01 points per game, compared with just 44% and 1.65 points without him. The best option against Udinese might be “shutting up shop and hoping for the best for an Arsenal side shorn of its creative heartbeat.”
  • Wenger out? Probably not. Beyond the professional commentariat, Arsenal fans themselves are divided on the best solution to the club’s current malaise. Traditionally fiercely loyal to Wenger, few have seriously suggested that he is no longer the right man for the job, but frustration is growing. “Arsenal are a sinking ship right now,” posted Martin at The Goon Blog. Pointing the finger indirectly at Wenger, Martin continued: “For me the current crisis – and there is no other word for it – is down to a few factors and isn’t just because of the slump at the tail end of last season and this embarrassment of a summer so far, it is down to not adding to this squad in previous summers and making sure that our number one assets are nailed down to long-term contracts at the right time … Get some good business done Arsene, the sort that doesn’t involve selling anyone else preferably.” Arseblog offered some sympathy to Wenger, but concluded that the fans are “fast falling out with the management and the way things are being run at this moment in time.” However, at least one fan was happy to trot out the typical Wenger defence on Football365: “Wenger is only under pressure in the press. The majority of fans want him to continue … I have yet to hear any meaningful talk of “Wenger out” in the ground … With Wenger you get a philosohpy, an holistic approach to the game ….” and so on. Perhaps the best illustration of Arsenal fans’ true feelings can be found on Facebook, where the most popular of a number of “Wenger Out” pages has only 143 likes, whereas the page “Arsene Wenger out unless he spends some serious money!!” has 275 likes. Tonight’s result will go a long way to determining just how much money Wenger will have to spend.

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