Arsene Wenger, if you believe the popular press, is "embattled", has "lost the dressing room", and has "lost the plot". The big question is, how did he get here? How did he go from revolutionizing the game to being a man who has supposedly lost the plot in such a short period of time? Many of the things you'll read in this piece are nothing new, they're familiar criticisms - I just wanted to assemble them all in one place and attempt to...well, I'm not sure what. I can't solve his problems, I can't know what's going on in training, I just want to better understand what I think I know. So, here is a list of what I see as Arsene Wenger's major issues at this point.
1. Tactical Rigidity. As we all know, Arsene Wenger is not a man to tinker. He has a way he likes to play, and he plays that way come hell or high water. When he has a team that can play in his preferred way, Arsene's method is unstoppable - it flows, it destroys, it makes people ooh and aah in appreciation and it's a joy to watch. Problem is, when he doesn't have the horses, he can't run his race - yet he still tries to, with obvious (and painful) results.
2. Resistance to evolution. Arsene Wenger revolutionized the English league when he first arrived. He seemed to be the only one to understand that fried food and copious amounts of beer are not a good post-training regimen, and that players shouldn't smoke; he introduced nutritionists at Arsenal and improved (and personalized) training regimens, and it created a super-fit team who ran past everyone for several years.
Now, however, the rest of the league has caught up to Arsene and his methods, so that advantage is gone; every top team is ultra-fit now, and every top team has sophisticated training methods and fitness regimes. This is where Arsene Wenger should be trying to find and exploit the next undervalued asset, to get all Moneyball, but he doesn't seem to be doing so.
3. Persistent bunker mentality. I understand that every manager has to have his players' backs, but I am getting somewhat tired of hearing Arsene, after a loss in which it was clear Arsenal were completely outplayed, say "this was a really good performance" and proceed to rationalize why they lost. At some point, the hand has to go up and say "This wasn't good enough" - he did that after Milan, and as painful as it was, it was refreshing to hear because he never normally does that. There are only so many rationalizations that a fan base can hear before they start not listening, and I was getting close until Milan.
4. Lack of rotation. This ties in with #1 a bit, but it's still frustrating - Arsene pays lip service to squad rotation, and has gone out and built a big squad, but the only time he ever seems to want to rotate is when he has absolutely no choice, through injury or suspension to his preferred starting lineup. I fully understand that soccer is a game of communication and understanding, and don't want Wenger to rotate just for the sake of it, but it does get frustrating to see the same team thrown out there for every single game when that team clearly isn't getting the job done.
5. The Contract Problem. I don't know how much of this is down to Arsene, but it is well known that there are millions of pounds' worth of mediocre players at Arsenal right now. I'm not referring to the starting lineup, but the reserves - there are players that never see a game for Arsenal who make £3-4 million a year, which is nice work if you can get it but it makes those players virtually unmoveable. A lot of those players could do a job at a lower Premiership team or a Championship team, but very few of those teams can afford the wage bill, so Arsenal are stuck with them for now. Again, I'm not sure how much of that is down to Arsene, but it is my (admittedly limited) understanding that he has a pretty big say in who to bring in and how much they make, so he has to have some share of the responsibility for this.
The common thread through all these issues, though, is that they are not fatal and are completely fixable. Nothing on the list I just drew up screams "WENGER OUT".
What I would love to see, rather than Wenger's head on a pike outside the gates of the Emirates (hey, it's England, they might still do that!), is another David Dein figure at the club - someone who can challenge Arsene's worldview, and push him to think a little differently. It's no secret Dein filled that role admirably in his time at the club, and while I wouldn't draw a direct correlation between Dein's departure and Arsenal's current state, it is telling that Dein left in 2007 and Arsenal haven't really progressed since.
The rest of this season and this summer will arguably be Wenger's most crucial stretch as Arsenal manager - if he proceeds as he always has, and doesn't change a few things, he might find it rough going next season. But if he can evolve and change himself the way he evolved and changed Arsenal, he could be the envy of the Premier League all over again. I know which one I would rather see.