Arsene Wenger is a legend in the English game. He helped revolutionise football in this country, created some of the greatest teams to grace the Premier League and introduced players who will still be spoken about in glowing terms 30 or 40 years from now.
That status, in my view, will not be affected by a sequence of bad results.
When the summer comes though, I believe that opening statement will need readjusting. It will have to refer to how Wenger ‘was’ a legend in the English game. He said he will still be a manager “somewhere” next season during a classy press conference on Friday morning but we have reached the point where his reign at Arsenal should come to an end.
Dejected manager Arsene Wenger could be coming to the end of his time at Arsenal
As I watched Bayern Munich rip Arsenal to shreds on Wednesday, I felt sorry for him. Critics will ask why when he has a bumper salary to fall back on but feeling sorry for him, more than anything, is a sign when change is needed. Nobody in football wants to receive sympathy.
When pity becomes the dominant emotion, it shows your threat has disappeared.
He looked shellshocked in Munich but it has been the same for a number of weeks as results have dipped. Every time a television camera zooms in, every wince, squirm and scowl is magnified, every argument or angry gesture pored over as his emotions gnaw away at him.
Things cannot stay as they are, whether it is for Wenger, the team or their supporters. I’m not an Arsenal fan but a lot of the criticism comes from the fact the club have allowed a culture to develop where they accept they are second best.
Arsenal fans display banners calling for change at The Emirates
For all those who have placed Wenger directly in the line of fire, what about Sir Chips Keswick, the Chairman, or Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis, or Stan Kroenke the owner? They are the ones who have fawned over Wenger for the way he has become a money maker not a trophy taker.
Who allowed Wenger to develop so much power to the point where he is unsackable and can decide his own future? They did. Whatever shortcomings you believe the Frenchman has, the board have been more culpable. What they have done is a dereliction of duty to the club.
But the board aren’t the only ones with shortcomings. You have to question Wenger for the character of his squad. They are in a comfort zone, which stems from the fact Wenger lacks the ruthlessness of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho to send shockwaves through the dressing room.
The profile of player he targets now is a mystery to me, considering the template of the team he had from 1998 to 2004; he used to buy players with power and pace to accompany technique but now it seems as if he favours technique over everything, from physical strength to character.
Alexis Sanchez and the rest of the Arsenal squad look dejected after the defeat by Bayern
Of course there is a problem in the game in terms of teams lacking leaders but where was the personal pride from those who played at the Allianz Arena? Their displays don’t reflect well on Wenger but they should be ashamed and embarrassed about the way they have surrendered in big games.
There are some who believe Wenger should have gone five or six years ago but I don’t buy that argument, particularly when you consider certain factors. Arsenal, for example, had to go through a period where moving stadiums left them unable to spend.
And because they couldn’t compete with the new finance of Manchester City, as well as the established power of Chelsea and Manchester United, it meant Wenger’s best players were susceptible to being lured away.
Yet every year Wenger got Arsenal in the Champions League without fail. Does that feat get appreciated? Well, to give it context, if Manchester United fail to finish in the top four this year, they will have been out of Europe’s top competition three times in the last four seasons.
Arsenal were undefeated on their way to the title in 2003-04 and were full of strong leaders
How about Liverpool? They have had one Champions League campaign since 2009. So it was admirable for Arsenal to always be there when the purse strings were tightened during that difficult transition from Highbury.
But that was then, a different period. The situation has changed lately and the last three years, more than anything, show why the grounds for Arsenal to change their manager for the first time since October 1996 are so compelling.
In the current era, managers usually get judged on what they achieve over a three-year period. In that time, Wenger has never once progressed beyond the last 16 in Europe or challenged for the Premier League, finishing on average 10 points behind the champions. The whole point of moving to the Emirates was to fulfil those ambitions.
Another issue for Wenger is this: since Mesut Ozil arrived in September 2013 for £42million, Arsenal have invested £222.4m on new players, with signings including Alexis Sanchez (£35m), Granit Xhaka (£34m) and Shkodran Mustafi (£35m) arriving.
Mesut Ozil joined Arsenal in the summer of 2013 from Real Madrid for £42million
That is when there can be no more excuses about Arsenal not being able to compete financially, as Wenger used to protest; the net spend of £188.6m has only been eclipsed by the Manchester clubs.
When there is an outlay of that extent, fans have every right to believe they should be closer to the title. To make matters worse, it looks like Chelsea are going to make the leap from 10th last season to claim their second title in three years. They will do that with a net spend of just £7.1m.
Those who continue to support Wenger argue that fans should be careful what they wish for, using the example of Ferguson. There is, however, a huge difference. Ferguson left Manchester United as champions. Wenger won’t do that and that is why it makes Arsenal such an attractive proposition.
Will the house come tumbling down without Wenger? No. They won before he arrived and they will win again in the future. What a job this will be for someone with new ideas, with the prime location of London, the finances that make them one of the world’s richest clubs and the stadium.
This is not a club in need of major surgery. It is one screaming out for new ideas. And it should not matter that all the big names – Guardiola, Mourinho, Klopp and Conte – are elsewhere. The last time Arsenal wanted a revolution, they appointed some fella from Japan called ‘Arsene Who’.
And he, we should not forget, became a legend.
LET'S ENJOY ROBBEN
We are constantly told to enjoy Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo before they retire but what about Arjen Robben?
I’m not saying Robben is in the same class as Messi or Ronaldo but there is a reason we should enjoy him: he is among the last of a dying breed, an out-and-out winger with a licence to thrill as he showed against Arsenal.
There is no doubt Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs should have done more to stop him but the goal he scored has become a trademark of the flying Dutchman over the last 15 years, cutting in from the right to unleash a left-foot screamer.
Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben celebrates after scoring the first goal against Arsenal
Robben is only 33 and playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world
It seems like he has been around forever but he is still only 33. To be playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world as a winger nearly every week is phenomenal, a word which you can also use to describe his roll call of past clubs: PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea and Real Madrid before Munich.
Robben elevated himself to the top bracket with his performances at the World Cups of 2010 and 2014 but there has been so much more, such as being part of the Chelsea team that won its first title for 50 years and a goal to secure the Champions League – and the treble – for Bayern in 2013.
That was one of 21 major honours and he may yet be the man who is instrumental in securing Carlo Ancelotti his fourth Champions League as a manager. I don’t really think Robben has had the appreciation that his achievements deserve.
MAN OF THE WEEK - MARK CLATTENBURG
It didn’t take long for criticism and scorn to start flowing his way following the announcement that our best referee was moving to Saudi Arabia.
And, in all likelihood, that criticism and scorn is probably part of the reason he has left for a new adventure.
Clattenburg has refereed every major final, bar the World Cup, and climbed to the top of his profession.
Mark Clattenburg will leave the Premier League and move to Saudi Arabia
The referee's stock rose considerably in 2016 as he took charge of the Champions League final
The constant negativity also surrounded Howard Webb, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final. We should really be proud that we have men who have reached that standard but, instead, they are subjected to relentless negativity.
Clattenburg will be a huge miss to the Premier League but, given he has achieved everything that he has done, he has probably thought that constant sniping is never going to change, so why not go and earn some serious money before retirement. If that is the case, good luck to him.