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It must be a confusing time to be an Arsenal fan right now. The sentimental ties to Arsene Wenger, especially to a younger generation who have known little except the Frenchman, must be great. In years to come he will probably be regarded as Arsenal's second-greatest manager after Herbert Chapman. He won the Premier League three times playing breath-taking football - which of course included the unbeaten season - and was certainly part of changing English football forever.
And yet, any Gooner watching their defeat to Swansea, a side who in terms of individual talent, come nowhere near to most of the Arsenal side, must have felt that the end was approaching. The end of something. The end of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal?
Most Arsenal fans I know are torn. They certainly don't fall into the category of spittle-flecked abusers screaming undeserved opprobrium at Wenger, but they recognise that something is wrong at their club, and probably has been for some time.
There are valid arguments on both sides of the 'Should he stay or should he go?' question, so this piece will try to present both cases, then it's up to you to decide what you think. Here goes.
Why Wenger should stay
We've been here before, haven't we? The start to last season was utterly dreadful, with results so comically bad that they made most Arsenal fans retire to a cold dark room and suck their thumbs. However, Wenger turned the season around - in January they were nine points behind Spurs but, partly thanks to some profligacy from across town, ended the season above them. As the excellent Arse2Mouse blog said this weekend, many had given up on fourth, and they finished third. This is perhaps evidence that panic measures are not required.
The question of how much Wenger has been hampered by Arsenal's financial constraints should not be underestimated. You're all familiar with their net transfer spend over the last decade or so, and this is not just because Wenger appreciates a nice-looking balance sheet - while the Emirates Stadium is being paid for, it's a necessity.
Wenger is usually ridiculed for his assertion that finishing in the top four is an achievement more important than a trophy, but when one considers the finances available to Arsenal's supposed competitors, it's hard to disagree. Manchester City and Chelsea have unlimited cash, Manchester United can still spend heavily despite being bled almost dry by the Glazers, while even Spurs are pretty well backed. And if making the Champions League is not enough, progressing beyond the first round for 14 straight seasons is even more impressive.
One must also consider the wisdom of getting rid of Wenger with respect to what comes next. For a start, the hierarchy at the club is in enough of a mess at present - Stan Kroenke drops in every now and then without saying anything, Ivan Gazidis is hardly a figurehead and Peter Hill-Wood's current concern is recovering from a heart attack, not something as relatively insignificant as a football club. And then of course there's Alisher Usmanov, who seems unwilling to disappear and more inclined to cause trouble from the outside. Wenger's departure could simply cause more chaos.
It is dangerous to view Wenger's departure as a sure-fire way of making everything better. There are bigger and deeper problems at the club (some of which are detailed above) than simply the manager, problems that will remain even if Wenger goes.
And then there's the question of 'Who next?' An Arsenal fan wrote into F365 this weekend to state that it doesn't matter who replaced Wenger, and he'd take virtually anyone at present. That's quite patently nonsense - of course it matters. To get rid of a man like Arsene Wenger just for the sake of it and without being pretty sure that the new guy will be better would be irresponsible at best. And who could come in? There's a reasonable argument to be made that anyone who is definitely better than Wenger - Mourinho, Guardiola etc - wouldn't be interested, and appointing a young, up-and-comer or someone with no record of tangible success would be as much of a gamble as sticking with Wenger, if not more.
Finally, Wenger deserves a little more respect than to be bundled out by an angry mob. Be critical, but don't force a good man, and one of the best managers of this generation, out like this.
Why Wenger should go
'This felt like the end of an era to me, and I said as much straight after the game,' wrote Tim Clark on the afore-mentioned Arse2Mouse after the Swansea defeat. There was something in Wenger's demeanour during his post-match media duties that suggested he knew it too. Wenger blamed fatigue for the loss, which coming at the start of December and a little more than a third of the season gone, smacked of a rather desperate excuse. And if it was a genuine reason, then the only man to blame for that is Wenger himself.
Wenger has created a squad with so few genuine threatening options that he has been left with little choice but to tire his players out. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla in particular look knackered, and if they're spent 14 games into the league season then it is Wenger's fault - it is responsibility to either ensure they have more rest or that they're fit enough in the first place. It seems like Wenger is running out of excuses.
Stability is often regarded as a virtue in football, an idea that I have my doubts about, not least because with stability can often come stagnation. Wenger's tactical approach is evidence of this - in the 16 years he has been at the club, with the odd variation he has basically used two formations; the 4-4-2 that served him well in the early years, and then the 4-2-3-1 implemented to get the best out of Cesc Fabregas. The best long-serving managers adapt and change, the most obvious example being Sir Alex Ferguson, who (perhaps under influence from various assistants) has experimented with just about every system going in recent years. There was talk that Wenger was toying with a 3-5-2 last month (something that, with the players in their squad, does make some sense), but this has yet to appear on the pitch.
What Wenger traditionally does well seems to be disappearing too. ArseBlog, another excellent Gooner fan site, made the point that Michu, the man who won Saturday's game for Swansea, is exactly the sort of signing that Wenger used to make - cheap, a little under the radar but hugely effective. Admittedly, 'under the radar' is more difficult to achieve than it was even ten years ago, but the point remains.
Wenger seems to be a manager relying on tomorrow for everything to come good. His reliance on youth is perhaps the best example of this, but if you wanted one player to sum it all up, then I give you Abou Diaby. While clearly a fine player, Diaby has only made nine league appearances (five starts) in the past season and a half, and yet still Wenger talks about how good the team will be once he returns. A more ruthless manager would have cut his losses and discarded Diaby long ago, instead of living for the day when he'll be fit forever. Tomorrow doesn't seem to be coming any quicker.
One of the reasons he has to rely on tomorrow is that his best players keep leaving. And one thing that should be noted is that none of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie have taken their decisions lightly. All have an emotional connection to both Wenger and Arsenal, but all, having considered the cold facts, chose to leave. They did so because they had a better chance of real success elsewhere.
And then perhaps we arrive at the thing that could actually do for Wenger. The problem with placing so much emphasis on qualifying for the Champions League is that if they no longer manage it, then he's left with little to back himself up. This is Arsenal's worst start to a season since he arrived, and the prospect of them finishing outside the top four is very real. What then? Wenger will have lost his best defence, and Arsenal will be without a vital source of money. While Wenger did turn things around last season, something's definitely seriously awry this time. If, at the end of the season, Wenger has not achieved his stated goal, it must surely be time.
Finally, if you want to be really reductive about it, he hasn't won a trophy since 2005. For a club like Arsenal, that's not good enough.
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So there it is. I deliberately haven't written a conclusion, for while I know which side of the argument I fall on, this piece was supposed to create debate around what is a difficult and marginal issue, rather than be a lecture. What do you say? Let us know by either posting a comment on the story or mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
Many thanks for their help with this piece to James Dall, Gareth Parker, Arse2Mouse and Arseblog. They're all on Twitter too, and you should follow them, not least because they're all marvellous human beings as well as sensible Gooners.