March 9, 2017

It’s time for Arsenal to divorce themselves from Arsène Wenger

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After the club's dismal performance in the Champions League, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are now faced with the daunting task of separating themselves from the tenured manager.

When a football club issues a “vote of confidence” for its manager, these days, its usually a tell-tale sign that manager’s days are numbered — defending Premier League champions Leicester City on Feb. 7 said their manager, Claudio Ranieri, had the club’s “unwavering support,” two weeks later, he was sacked.

But what does a manager do, or think, when the vote of confidence doesn’t sound very confident?

After Arsenal’s embarrassing Tuesday defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in Champions League play, the club issued a statement that lacked even halfhearted words of support for its longtime manager, Arsène Wenger, who joined the team in 1996. Fans have displayed incessant anger with Wenger, whose tenure with the club has been a healthy mixture of consistent excellence and persistent near-misses. That anger reached new heights Tuesday, as the Gunners have fallen out of pace with the Premier League and have been knocked out of Champions League play.

“We are fully aware of the attention currently focused on the club and understand the debate,” Arsenal’s chairman, Chips Keswick, wrote in the statement. “We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions, but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.

“Arsène has a contract until the end of the season. Any decisions will be made by us mutually and communicated at the right time in the right way.”

The 67-year-old Frenchman has undoubtedly carved himself a Premier League legacy as celebrated as any other manager the game has ever seen, Wenger has guided the Gunners to a top-four finish 19 years running and has advanced through the Champions League group stage for 16 consecutive seasons. But Arsenal have not won the league since 2004, and the club has never won the Champions League.

Adding insult to injury is the fact Arsenal have fallen to fifth place in the Premier League table and are in danger of missing out on a lucrative Champions League place next year.

Wenger’s tenure with Arsenal is a rarity among Premier League managers, where most tend to have limited shelf lives. The fact the club has managed to keep the same face around all these years is also a source of pride for Arsenal fans, but has also been a regular point of contention when the club falls short of achieving its goals.

The result? Many fans have turned on Wenger, some have even begun to stage protests.

Ivan Gazidis, the club’s chief executive, said during an interview last summer that he and Wenger have had periodic conversations to discuss the manager’s future with the team, however, at that time, Arsenal had just finished second in the Premier League. He also acknowledged that Arsenal fans have the right to demand more from the club.

“We need to win the major titles, and we feel that pressure every day,” Gazidis said in July. “And so for us, there is a sense of disappointment and frustration that last season we finished in second place. Second place isn’t what we’re aiming for. We’re aiming to win it.”

Information from The New York Times contributed to this report.

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