An interesting point was raised in yesterday’s comments but perhaps from the wrong perspective. Questioning Wenger’s future seems premature now but in December, I am sure that some will be raising doubts. Perhaps it would be more pertinent to ask if the man himself will be asking the same of himself. In view of his contract expiry at the end of next season, he may well decide that this is one job too far for his managerial skills – may be even that it is going to take too long for him to complete and that handing over the reigns in Summer 2007 would be better than say 2008?
But why would supporters be raising doubts about his future? It would seem Wenger is the victim of his own success. For many, and I do not level this at the Vivb personally, they have only known his success. In terms of Arsenal’s history, there is little doubt that his tenure has been the clubs Golden Age. Until last season, there were top two finishes in all of his years in charge, doubles, semi-finals, a UEFA Cup final complimented by a Champions League Final and League Cup semi – final. Given the teams’ poor patch for about five months last year, to finish fourth should not be dismissed even if there was some assistance from rogue bacteria.
To those of us that remember the dark days of Don Howe and before, this is a time to relish. Personally, I would not countenance changing managers nor questioning his future by fans for at least eighteen months. It is time for some brutal truths to be swallowed by Arsenal fans. The current squad will not win the Premiership in 2006 – 07 season. For that matter, a top three finish should be the aim but a comfortable fourth place would not be a disaster. There are too many learning curves still to climb.
Senderos for example, had a torrid time early in 2005 – 06 and although he showed signs of improvement throughout the tale end of last season, he still has much to prove, not least that he is going to able to avoid injury and contribute in excess of thirty games in the Premier League. Fabregas and Eboue now have to show that they have the mental strength to dig in at places like Wigan, Watford, Portsmouth and Reading. The former in particular is going to find himself marked closely following the plaudits he received last year; it is all very well having good games in Europe but it is domestically where 85% of a season is built. Reyes has to live up to the expectations. For the last two seasons he has been out of the traps quickly but faded by October. This time round, he will (hopefully) not have the escape clause of injuries to van Persie to keep his place in the side. It should be down to his form, nothing else. I would suggest that Hleb will be a key man in midfield, starting at the expense of Ljungberg until the latter is fully fit at least. He adjusted post – Christmas to English football. Delivery should come in full this season.
Most of all though, the team need to migrate their European form to the League. Tactically, the side is suited to playing a five man midfield away from home in Europe where they get more time on the ball. That is the artistic side of their nature, if you like. But they need to adapt this to the 4-4-2 Wenger favours. The second striker has always been an attacking midfielder in his teams that have done well. Rosicky has a lot to live up to but he should relieve a lot of the creative pressure that was placed on Fabregas. Bergkamp’s departure and that of Pires and Campbell robs the team of experience but only Bergkamp will be truly missed when the going gets tough, his ability to find a colleague to alleviate pressure needs to be forthcoming from another source. Even then he could be as guilty as the rest of going missing.
Much was said of how much the younger players learnt over the last six months of 2005 – 06 season. This is the time to prove it. But the performance needs to be judged over 2006 – 07 and 2007 – 08. It is the latter season where the true worth of this squad should be shown. If by then the team is not realistically challenging for the title then some surgery will be required, funds released for the transfer windows. The Champions League is Window Dressing. Great tournament to do well in but look at it’s recent history. Only AC Milan can say that they have performed consistently over the last three or four years. Everyone else has been good or bad to varying degrees. Be prepared for people such as Ljungberg moving on. Should Adebayour prove incapable of scoring around 15 goals a season, other options need to be introduced. Fundamentally, the squad need to shake the habit of relying on Henry to dig them out of holes. There is little doubt that at club level, he has no peers in the English game at this moment in time. However, he may hit a prolonged dry spell in front of goal so where are the alternatives? Playing van Persie may well give more in that department but we should be looking for more from everyone.
For the team to have a good season, Henry needs to be over 25 goals, the second striker needs 15 and two other players at the very least need to score comfortably over 10 goals. Defensively, there need to be more clean sheets. Defeats at Middlesbrough, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and the like have to be turned to draws at worst whilst Villa, Blackburn have to be wins.
I do not think the team is in transition any longer. It is growing up. Realistically, there may be one addition to the squad but Wenger has shown his faith in his charges so that is likely to be cover for the defence, another youngster such as Davies or Richards to deputise for Senderos or Toure should injuries beset them.
But for goodness sake, let’s not start on Wenger this season. Bear in mind that if he goes the club will enter a state of flux. Whoever comes in will need a track record of success and sufficient reputation to build upon the work he has done. Potential candidates of that stature are few and far between. There will be enough media sniping if the team are not in the top two. Do not feed that before the season has even kicked off.
One final point – Channel 5 are showing Bergkamp’s Testimonial for those that can receive it. Coverage starts at 4.45pm BST on Saturday.