Wednesday night’s Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund secured Arsenal’s progression to the knockout stages with a game to spare. It has been anything but plain sailing in the Premier League so far for Arsene Wenger and his team, and the Frenchman’s position is under more scrutiny than ever before.
In the past, Wenger, with a fair degree of justification, was able to point out the Gunners’ lack of financial firepower as a mitigating factor in his team’s lengthy trophy drought. Last season’s FA Cup triumph bought the Frenchman, now in his 19th season in North London, a measure of time, but that has quickly evaporated following Arsenal’s dismal league form.
That’s particularly been the case since Wenger signed Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona for £32m during the summer, following on from last year’s record capture of Mesut Ozil. The Chilean has settled in quickly and has impressed at the Emirates, but perhaps it is a signing that the manager failed to make that has brought him more criticism.
Wenger has openly admitted that he turned down the opportunity to bring back former captain Cesc Fabregas, who instead signed for front-running Chelsea, and has been magnificent as Jose Mourinho’s side appear to be marching towards the title in style. Ozil has of course been injured, and cutting your losses after a huge outlay is difficult, especially at Arsenal, but it looks like a major gaffe to pass up a player who virtually came with a guarantee of how good he would be.
There will always be some who would argue that as the club’s most successful ever manager, and with over 1,000 games at the helm under his belt, the 65-year-old’s position ought to be untouchable. This was the status that Wenger’s old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson achieved while in charge at Old Trafford, despite some low points during his reign.
Ferguson’s validity was never questioned on such a regular basis however, and it was his old side that further damaged Arsenal’s credentials last weekend. If Angel Di Maria hadn’t fluffed a gilt-edged one-on-one moments before Olivier Giroud emphatically pounced, a 3-0 home defeat against what has been a struggling Manchester United would have been something of a catastrophe.
Luckily for Wenger his team responded impressively against Dortmund, pointedly seeing off Jurgen Klopp’s charges, similarly struggling on the domestic front while easing through to the knockout rounds in Europe. The persistent reports that Klopp wants out of Dortmund and the impression that he seems the ideal fit for Arsenal refuse to go away.
More immediately for the Gunners is a trip to the Hawthorns to face West Brom, not an easy proposition considering the Baggies’ up and down form so far this season. Some poor performances have been interspersed with decent results such as a win at White Hart Lane and credible draws at Southampton and against United.
Defeat at Saturday lunchtime could see Arsenal 18 points behind Chelsea before the day is done, and considering November isn’t even done yet such an insurmountable deficit would be calamitous after the projections of serious contention following the unshackling of financial constraints.
Excellent form in the Champion League last season was nowhere near enough for David Moyes to keep his job, and a title bid that’s over before December could see the end of Wenger’s storied reign.
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