FOX Soccer Exclusive
Wenger, Arsenal already in crisis mode
Assuming that nothing radical happens between now and Oct. 22, come that date Arsene Wenger will begin his 18th year as Arsenal's manager. With Sir Alex Ferguson settling into a quieter life in Old Trafford's directors box, that longevity stands him apart from everybody else in English football by a distance.
Currently, the next longest server is Paul Tidsdale, of Exeter City, with seven years of service to his club. Below that a small group have stuck it out for three of four years. Then come the rest -- a whopping 83 of the 92 professional football managers in England have been in situ for two years or less.
This feels like a critical moment for Arsenal in a period that stretches back almost two decades. The Wenger era is on a knife-edge. A summer of inertia, segueing into an opening day home defeat to Aston Villa which came with an unlucky spate of injuries and a suspension heaped on top, leaves the team in a fragile state as they head to Turkey for a critical Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce (live, FOX Sports 1, Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET).
It is impossible for all this not to affect the one big signing -- or lack of -- that hangs over the club. Wenger is in the final year of his contract, and at some point Arsenal are due to negotiate a new one. But for the first time the wisdom of doing so is under serious scrutiny.
Over the weekend the Arsenal Supporters Trust -- a group of small shareholders who have the means to talk to the board -- released a statement asking for Wenger's new contract to be taken off the agenda.
Arsenal's disappointing home to loss Aston Villa fueled fans' fury at manager Arsene Wenger (Getty Images: Clive Mason/AP Images).
Fans were desperate for him to renew his contact in seasons past. That was a sign of the phenomenal regard in which he was held, and the achievements he inspired during the golden era of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira et al. Such is the current situation, the Arsenal Supporters Trust say offering Wenger a new deal is "inappropriate."
The mood as Arsenal came unstuck against Aston Villa felt self inflicted. Normally a crisis club is on their knees and doesn't know where the next player is coming from because the manager has not got a bean to spend. Arsenal have no ordinary crisis. It is not often that a club can get themselves into an almighty pickle when they have 150 million dollars sitting comfortably in the bank. Pristine. Untouched. You've almost got to hand it to them: one game in, super rich, and under colossal pressure. That takes some doing. There was an extraordinary moment as Wenger sat to offer a few words of explanation after Arsenal's painful home loss. Unsurprisingly the subject of purchasing players to improve the squad's chances came up, after a summer in which the club promised to show off their new "financial firepower" expressed some high profile interest in some high profile players, but fielded last season's team.
"People say: 'Buy players, buy players...' But who?" mused Wenger, as if he were being asked to perform brain surgery with a toy doctor's kit.
Does that suggest he thinks everyone else has bought badly this summer? It seems he reckons all those who have managed to move during this window are simply not worth buying at market prices. Not a player like Simon Mignolet, who started his Liverpool career with a match-winning penalty save. Not a player like Roberto Soldado, who earned Tottenham three points. Not Gustavo, who excelled for Wolfsburg in Germany. Not Gonzalo Higuain, who is starting out for Napoli in Italy. The last two were Arsenal's if they wanted them, but Wenger decided it best to back off. His assessment of a player's worth does not seem to tally with the rest of the football market any more.
It is hard to understand how a man with all that money hasn't come up with anything other than Yaya Sanogo, a young prospect from the French second division with a checkered injury history.
It is mystifying. Why would a man jeopardize his own legacy? It is troubling to explain, because the evidence of what he was capable of -- in buying brilliantly, in outstanding team-building, in creating a team of winners -- is fresh enough in the memory.
For all that Arsenal have been unlucky with injuries, to be running out of players after one game of the season smacks of being ill-prepared. That is of their own doing. Wenger said that he could throw money off the top of the Eiffel Tower and still not be able to magic up any new players in time for Wednesday's game at Fenerbahce. But they have had an entire summer to build a stronger, deeper pool of talent from which to pick and rotate.
Something is broken in the club's structure. The process of scouting and negotiating transfers, of decision-making and deal shaking, is a once smooth machine that has seized up.
The immediate schedule is tough for a small set of players. Four games in eleven days, including two Champions League knockouts, and two London derbies (away to Fulham and at home to their bitterest rivals Tottenham). "I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat," says Wenger.
They have a lot do too, and a lot to think about.
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