Arsene Wenger needs to overcome these Arsenal challenges to finish on a high
Arsene Wenger perservered through his most-difficult season yet, but the Arsenal manager is still facing four challenges
Arsene Wenger went through hell in the 2016-17 season, but the Arsenal manager kept going to his credit.
The 67-year-old endured a turbulent campaign which saw Arsenal exit the Champions League with a whimper and once again fail to sustain a title challenge.
The Frenchman was subjected to relentless pressure from some Arsenal fans as ‘Wenger Out’ banners littered the sky. His future looked bleak.
But Arsenal’s 2-1 win against Premier League champions Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup final has bought Wenger more time – a two-year contract extension to be precise.
You can’t fault Wenger’s unwavering perseverance – it’s a trait England’s greatest statesmen Winston Churchill would surely have appreciated.
Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League was the first low point. The north London side haven’t progressed past the last 16 since 2010.
The Gunners’ Champions League exit was coupled with a disastrous run of results in the Premier League to raise the volume of Arsenal’s dissenting supporters.
Alexis Sanchez reported fallout with Wenger led to his omission from the starting line-up for Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield. This is attracted more backlash from disillusioned fans.
With Chelsea thought to be interested in Sanchez and Arsenal out of the Champions League and Premier League title race, the Gunners were on course to implode.
Wenger’s refusal to shed light on his future with the expiration of his contract looming ahead of the summer was a bold move.
The Arsenal boss managed to coax some decent form out of his Arsenal team and the north London side finished the 2016-17 season with a flurry of victories.
Unlike in recent seasons however, Arsenal were unable to finish in the top four as Liverpool secured fourth place with a one-point cushion over Wenger’s side.
The FA Cup final presented Wenger with the chance to end the season on a positive note despite their demotion to the Europa League.
The Arsenal players delivered for their manager in a high-stakes game for the first time since a 3-0 win against Chelsea at The Emirates back in September.
Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey secured a third FA Cup crown in four seasons to give Wenger a viable defense ahead of the club’s season review. He is now the competition’s most-successful manager.
Arsenal bossed Chelsea with a commanding performance that will give Wenger’s supporters optimism ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
The French coach has been criticised for his failure to adapt in the past but Wenger’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation in recent months highlighted his willingness to embrace new ideas and methods.
His coaching abilities, which were criticised by Arsenal legend Tony Adams earlier this month, look to be sound given that his players followed his tactical plan to a tee at Wembley.
The big question is whether Arsenal can maintain that level of performance over the course of a full Premier League season.
No-one doubts that Arsenal are capable of one-off performances but it is their consistency over 38 games which has undermined recent title challenges.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is Wenger’s transfer additions. Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka cost in excess of £65m last summer but Arsenal regressed despite the two promising signings.
Of Wenger’s signings since 2014, only Sanchez has proven a real success. Whether his contribution is worth a significant wage increase is another question that Wenger must answer.
The spending power of his rivals – chiefly Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United – means that Wenger can ill-afford to waste £100m this summer on average signings.
His record in the top six mini-league needs to improve if Arsenal are to win a first Premier League title since 2003-04. They collected nine points from a possible 30 against their closest rivals this term.
Perhaps his biggest challenge will be reuniting the Arsenal supporters behind one common cause. Wenger will know this has been achieved when YouTube channels like Arsenal Fan TV fade into the background.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, Churchill once said. By the former British Prime Minister’s parameter, Wenger has been a success.
But the Arsenal manager, the club’s fans and his critics won’t rest until the 67-year-old wins his fifth and final Premier League title – or his perseverance wanes and Wenger admits defeat.