It's the end of an era for Arsenal. St. Totteringham's day is canceled, the Gunners are probably going to miss out on the top four this year, and if they miss that goal, they won't be in Champions League for the first time in two decades. Arsene Wenger's future at Arsenalis hanging in the balance, and that means the club'sfuture is hanging in the balance.
Winning the league hasn't been a priority for Wenger in years, and his stubbornness in refusing to change his ways has seen the club spiral. Now, with top four out of reach,the Gunners have no choice but to undergo the wholesale changes they should have undergone years ago. And if they do, maybe this season's embarrassment will turn out to be good for the club, because they desperately need an overhaul.
For years, finishing in the top four has been the hook Wenger's hung his hat on. His teams have qualified for the competition every year since 1997, and he famously called it the equivalent of winning a trophy five years ago. Competing in Champions League brings prestige, it attracts higher quality players, but most importantly, it brings big money.
"For me there are five trophies every season: Premier League, Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League," Wenger said during an Annual General Meeting in 2012. "The fourth is the FA Cup and then the League Cup.
"When you look to sign a player, he does not ask if you have won the League Cup recently. He asks if you are in the Champions League."
For every single year since Wenger's been at the club, the Gunners have had a positive answer to that question. Even thoughit became a running joke that Arsenal wouldn't make it past the UCL knockout rounds, at least they stillmade it. It didn't matter if they didn't mount a proper title challenge, or if they were embarrassingly out of their depth in the Champions League later stages. As long as they were in Champions League each year, Wenger's job was not only safe, but it was comfortable too.
Now that there's a distinct probabilityArsenal won't make top four, it means something needs to change. But what will change? And what should change?
After 22 years, it's time for Arsenal to modernize.
Wenger almost single-handedly built Arsenal up to the club it is today. His training methods, revolutionary dietary methods, style of play, and the players he brought to North London transformed them from "boring, boring Arsenal" to "va va voom", and it brought titles as well. Wengerhelped to change the face of the Premier League, but now, it's changed so much, it looks like there maynot be a place forhim anymore.
The Premier League is a turbulent one, and Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United have all made sweeping changes to both staff and players, spending billions between them in search of league and continental success. Every single team in the top five have hired a new manager within the last threeyears, and each team has spent more money on the transfer market than Arsenal. Firing coaches and cycling through players isn't necessarily a sign of success, but it definitely can be taken as a sign of ambition. And ambition is exactly what Arsenal haven't had in the last few years.
Before last year's second-placed finish behind tiny Leicester City, Arsenal hadn't finished in the top two since 2005. Top four was secured every year, but legitimate title challenges came few and far between. Arsenal's inevitable fade from the title race during the tough winter period turned from running joke to actual reality every year, but still there was no real pressure on Wenger's shoulders.
Last season's capitulation -- and even worse, the ignominy of seeing Leicester win the league -- was the last straw for a number of supporters. For over a decade now, Wenger has blamed everything else but himself fortheir inability to win. From pitch conditions and referees, to Arsenal's lack of spending power compared to their league counterparts, all blame is shifted away from himself, but it's clear the issue lies with him at this point.
Arsenal don't have a sporting director. Personnel and footballing decisions come down to Wenger. That means when they win, he's the one who masterminded it all, but when they fail, it also sits on his shoulders. Every single player at the club right now was brought in by Wenger, and their individual and collective failures all come back to him as well. For years, the gaps in Arsenal's team have been glaring, but Wenger hasn't properly addressed them.
As bad as it is to finish behind Spurs, it's even more startling that, at most, only three Arsenal players would get into the Tottenham team. And this isn't exactly new -- the team has been regressing for years without Wenger, or anyone at the club, making the major changes necessary to land the talent and build the team that the Gunners should demand.
Wenger's taken his fair share of deserved criticism in the last few years with his team's constant injury issues, tactical naivety, and inability to really rally his players and inspire them to win. His time may have passed as a top level manager, but it with the rumors that Arsenal have already offered Wenger a two-year contract, change might not come in the coaching position. If he's going to stay as manager, at the very least, it behooves the Gunners to bring in a sporting director who can work directly with Wenger to bring in the quality of players Arsenal need to succeed. If they're not going to bring in a new manager who can reinvigorate the current team, it's vital that they bring in better players to give Wenger more quality to work with.
For years, Arsenal have excused their failings. They didn't buy a centerback, or a midfielder, or a striker, no matter how badly they needed it. But they finished in the top four and that was considered a success, so why mess with success?
Now, they are guaranteed to finish behind Tottenham and look likely to miss the top four. At that point, the season will have been an unequivocal failure. No one at the club, from Wenger on down, or anyone on the board, could argue otherwise. And as painful as that is, maybe it can lead to some good?
Maybe Arsenal will finally make the changes they should have made years ago. It's all they have to look forward to now, because this season was been a disaster and that could be the one saving grace.