Arsenal were hammered 5-1 by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, in what club legend Martin Keown described as “embarassing” and manager Arsene Wenger’s “lowest point”.
The defeat in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie leaves Arsenal all but eliminated from the competition and led to intensified speculation about Wenger’s future.
It is now widely believed that Wenger will leave at the end of the season – bringing to an end his 21-year reign at Arsenal – with Juventus’ Max Allegri and Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe the bookies’ favourites to replace him.
Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon said he expects Wenger, whom he worked with for six years, to step down: “That is the first time where I’ve seen him where I’ve thought, ‘he thinks it’s time'”.
The Frenchman cut a dejected figure after the defeat, and his terse post-match press conference was cut short after just three questions.
The forlorn Arsenal manager reflected ruefully: “I do not look for excuses. We made everything wrong; the fifth goal shows that.”
Wenger has never won the Champions League in an illustrious career, and after Wednesday night’s shellacking it appears as though he never will.
One of the arguments that I find most difficult to accept is the ‘be careful what you wish for’ argument with people saying that Arsene Wenger should stay because who could take over from him? There is always someone. It is about choosing the right someone.
Keeping a manager because you are fearful of replacing him is not a healthy state of affairs. Arsenal have been good for Wenger and Wenger has been good for Arsenal. But that does not mean it will never come to an end. It is about managing that end now. A dignified way out would be to announce before the end of this season that Wenger is stepping down – it may even shock the players into a response. It would also mean that Arsenal can go about the business of replacing him without the fear of that leaking out and the end becoming very undignified.
If they do not have a Plan A, B and C as to who they want then that is a dereliction of duty. They do not have to look at Manchester United and fear a repeat of what has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It is their job to protect the club and its future.
Maybe what it needs is a change of structure with maybe a younger coach supported by a director of football so there is not one direct replacement for Wenger.