LONDON. – After almost 20 years in charge at the club he has revolutionised, it is time for Arsène Wenger to step down as manager – whether they win the title or not.
Arsène Wenger, already the longest-serving and most successful manager in Arsenal’s history, could, in six months’ time, celebrate 20 years at the club.
However, if Arsenal do not win the Premier League this season, then the question has to be asked: will they ever do so with Wenger in charge.
If they do fail, then it is time for him finally to step down.
Wenger will be just a month short of his 67th birthday when the September 16 anniversary comes around and will also be in the final year of a contract that he is expected to see out.
Whether he signs a new deal is already in doubt.
The natural step for him is to take on a different role at Arsenal at the end of this campaign – and few managers appear as suited to become a director of football as Wenger.
The club should not simply wave him goodbye and watch him leave the building – a building he built – this summer or next or whenever he goes.
The argument against Wenger going has always been that people should be careful what they wish for and his status as one of the greatest managers Europe has ever seen would be untainted even if he did not win another league title.
No one should question his importance and the effect his brilliant football has had.
But, sometimes, it is right to change.
If you apply Wenger’s own logic, then that would appear to be the case.
Recently, he confirmed what was suspected and written about at the time – if he had not won the FA Cup in 2014 then it would have been “difficult” for him to carry on.
His reasoning was “because it would have been a massive disappointment for everybody” had Hull City not been defeated and a drought of nine years without a trophy not been ended.
Apply that logic to this year’s title race.
In a season when Chelsea have imploded, Manchester United are in chaos, Liverpool are rebuilding (again), Tottenham Hotspur are a young and developing team and Manchester City have been distracted by the appointment of Pep Guardiola, then Arsenal have never had a better opportunity to win the league for first time since 2003-04.
If they fail, then that will be an even bigger disappointment, surely?
Instead, it is Leicester City who are out in front.
Looking at it hard-headedly, that is an indictment of the under-performance of the big clubs as much as it is a glorious effort by Leicester.
And that indictment is at its greatest at Arsenal.
While other big clubs have been in a maelstrom, Arsenal have gone from giving the impression they can capitalise on their continuity to appearing set to be paralysed by it.
It is in danger of developing into another ‘Groundhog Day’ campaign, where the club appear to be trapped in a cycle.
That sinking feeling is beginning to take hold – almost certain Champions League exit.
As a pundit, just as a player, Graeme Souness is at his best when he goes in hard and his reaction to Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester United on Sunday was brutal.
“Arsenal bordered on being a joke,” Souness said as he condemned an “insipid”, “weak”, “unacceptable” performance.
He undoubtedly shares the view that Arsenal suffer from a mental block.
What matters now is the reaction to the reaction.
Arsenal lost again to a second string Swansea City on Wednesday and are away at Spurs tomorrow.
The nightmare scenario is likely – Spurs could beat them and end their hopes.
It is, as is so often with Arsenal, on the cusp.
They can win the title: they can throw it away.
It is usually at this point of crisis, after the previous crisis was halted when Leicester were beaten late on a couple of weeks ago, that they rally again and Wenger has the temporary relief of a positive result.
There is another way of looking at it: even if Arsenal do win the title, then maybe it is still time for Wenger to step down.
How could he top that?
He will be well aware that Sir Alex Ferguson quit as United manager once he had regained the title and not before.
And did not hang around.
Wenger will also be well aware of what has happened at United since Ferguson retired.
Much of that was inevitable; much of it could have been avoided with a better succession plan.
Then there is the big question: who should replace Wenger?
A structure of Wenger as director of football alongside a younger head coach would appear ideal if he can bring himself to accept that.
Big candidates have gone – Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jürgen Klopp.
They would all have quite fancied the Arsenal job.
But there are always others – if the right amount of planning is done, if the right man is identified and the right amount of due diligence is completed.
Arsenal need that head coach, a younger coach, not a manager to overhaul or rebuild their club.
That work is already complete.
What is needed now is a change in mentality. And that may require a new manager.