Wenger heads for the exit door

LONDON. — Arsene Wenger has around 90 minutes to save his job as the longest-serving football manager in the English Premier League. The defining game will be Arsenal’s FA Cup fifth round replay at Hull tomorrow night. If the Gunners lose that — before their expected exit from the Champions League in Barcelona on March 16 — the Frenchman is likely to be “invited” to leave the club he has managed for 20 years at the end of the season.

Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager is as fragile as it has ever been after two defeats and a draw in his last three games. That small dip in form has cost the Gunners considerable ground in the title race, and Wenger is taking much of the flack for it.

Many fans have run out of patience with the Frenchman, who hasn’t won the Premier League since the “Invincibles” season of 2003-04. And former club legend Patrick Vieira, made captain by Wenger in Arsenal’s glory years, on Sunday night emerged as favourite to succeed him.

The decision to potentially replace 66-year-old Wenger is believed to have been seriously considered for the first time after Arsenal’s third successive defeat at home to Swansea last week.

Insiders say the manner in which previously loyal supporters turned on him after that 2-1 loss finally convinced directors that a change may be necessary, even though the Gunners still have a realistic chance of winning the English Premier League title.

After 84 per cent of fans in a London opinion poll called for Wenger to be axed bookmakers William Hill installed Vieira, currently head coach of New York City FC, as 7/1 favourite to take over the club he served for nine years as a player and with whom he won three Premier League titles.

Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone (8/1) and Southampton manager Ronald Koeman (10/1) are the next most fancied to land what has previously been regarded as the safest job in football.

Simeone and Koeman have also been linked with the vacant manager’s job at Chelsea when interim coach Guus Hiddink leaves in the summer.

Whatever happens Wenger’s leaving — voluntarily or otherwise — will speed up a top flight managerial merry-go-round that started when Jose Mourinho was axed at Chelsea and will go into a frantic summer spin with the touted departure of Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s arrival at City in place of Manuel Pellegrini.

Wenger’s position will probably only change if Arsenal beat Hull, go on to Wembley and also manage to lift the league title as well.

And, of course, he doesn’t decide to call it a day anyway.

Arsenal fans were not impressed with the Gunners’ performance in the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Wenger’s men were held to a 2-2 draw with Tottenham, damaging their title hopes as leaders Leicester City went five points clear in the table.

And some fans have called for Wenger’s resignation as a result.

Meanwhile, Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin has apologised to Gunners fans after his red card helped turn the North London derby in Tottenham’s favour on Saturday.

Wenger’s men led 1-0 when Coquelin was given a second yellow card for a late tackle on Harry Kane, and seven minutes later they found themselves 2-1 down.

Alexis Sanchez rescued a draw, but Arsenal are now eight points behind Premier League leaders Leicester City with just nine matches remaining.

“I’m really sorry to all the fans for the red card, I think with 11 against 11 we could have won the game as we were playing really well,” Frenchman Coquelin told Arsenal TV.

“This red card changed the game. I’m really sorry to the club, to the team and all the fans. I actually thought I could get the ball when I slide tackled (Kane) — that is why I went for it. I touched him and (the referee) gave me the second yellow.

“I didn’t really see the goal (because I was in the dressing room) but someone came and told me that we scored the second one — it was a relief for me.

“I did not want us to lose today because at 1-0 I thought we were doing great. But at the end of the day, it’s a good point and hopefully it will be an important point for the title.” — The Daily Express.

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