5 urgent changes needed in order to fix Arsenal

James McNicholas

1. Replace Arsene Wenger

There can surely no longer be any doubt: Arsene Wenger’s time is up. The rot has set in and Arsenal’s manager seems incapable of finding a remedy. If a two-year deal really is on the table, owner Stan Kroenke must withdraw it now.

Wenger signing an extension would not only be damaging to  Arsenal’s sporting aspirations - it would also widen the rift that is developing between the disgruntled supporters and a seemingly impassive board. 

The quicker an announcement is made the better. Replacing Wenger is a huge task, and one that probably requires more than one appointment. Arsenal are already looking someone to head up their academy - they may well also require a Sporting Director to fill the void Wenger will leave. 

As for who should take over, this is certainly not a job for the faint-hearted. Arsenal will hopefully learn from Manchester United’s ill-fated David Moyes experiment, and plump for someone with the experience and gravitas to survive the scrutiny. The success of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte at Chelsea makes the Turin outfit’s incumbent manager, Max Allegri, an obvious choice.

Diego Simeone would be a fantastic appointment, even if his abrasive qualities are unlikely to sit well with the Arsenal board. Alternatively, perhaps Arsenal might opt for Argentine Jorge Sampaoli - it would certainly improve their chances of keeping his former Chile charge, Alexis Sanchez.

2. Let Ivan Gazidis do his job

Arsenal’s chief executive is a frequently maligned figure among the fans. It was back in 2013 that the chant “Ivan Gazidis, what do you do?” was popularised at the Emirates Stadium, and in truth we’ve never really had a definitive answer.

However, Arsenal fans need to give Gazidis a chance. After all, he has briefed fan groups about the importance of change at Arsenal this summer, and it’s possible that he has a more progressive vision for the club than he’s been able to execute thus far.

Arsene Wenger’s control over football matters at Arsenal is almost absolute. It’s been almost impossible for Gazidis to push through anything without the manager’s consent, creating a perverse power structure that has brought about the current mess.

Wenger was infamously on the panel that interviewed Gazidis—the manager effectively appointed his own boss. In a post-Wenger era, Gazidis would finally be granted the authority to run the club as he sees fit. That will be the first true test of his ability as CEO. 

3. Revamp the coaching staff

Whether Arsene Wenger stays or goes, Arsenal need sweeping changes among the coaching staff. Wenger has retained his assistants whenever possible, only making changes when forced to by staff leaving or retiring.

Even when granted the opportunity to freshen things up, he has preferred to appoint from within, as with the promotion of Steve Bould and Neil Banfield to the first-team.

The Arsenal side look like a team who need to hear a new voice. The current staff seem incapable of getting their message through. Perhaps it’s simply become too familiar a refrain, or perhaps the players can’t motivate themselves to perform for a regime they sense is doomed. A new manager would likely bring his own team, and that could spark some life into a talented but listless squad.

4. Reintroduce Arsenal values

Arsenal are losing their identity. The club used to stand for a clear set of values on and off the field. On the pitch it was about swashbuckling attacking play, while their business matters were conducted with unparalleled class. 

That sheen is fading. The qualities that made Arsenal ‘The Arsenal’ are slowly dissipating. The club is becoming nothing more than a business and the team no less than a staid mess. 

Re-establishing the principles that made Arsenal great will take time, but one way of accelerating the process might be reintroducing some of the personalities who know what the club is really about. Arsene Wenger has been curiously reluctant to work with his former players, but the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires have all expressed an interest in lending their wisdom to the club.

With appointments needed in the boardroom and the training ground, there’s surely room for some of these iconic figures to return. 

Arsenal should follow the example of Ajax. Back in September 2010, the legendary Johan Cruyff wrote in his Telegraaf column: 'This isn’t Ajax anymore'. Shortly afterwards, Cruyff resumed an active role with his beloved club and oversaw the ‘Velvet Revolution’, bringing Wim Jonk, Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp back to the club to lead a technical revamp. More have since followed, with Ronald de Boer, Jaap Stam and Edwin van der Sar all returning to Ajax in different roles. 

In north London, supporters claim they want their Arsenal back. Cruyff has offered a template for how to rebuild a club.

5. Play the super-agent game

If Arsenal are really serious about competing with the biggest teams in the world, they need to rethink their recruitment policy. 

The transfer market has changed. Elite transfers are now controlled by a cabal of super-agents. Arsene Wenger has, somewhat admirably, largely elected to remain above the fray. However, Arsenal must now take an attitude of: 'If you can’t beat them, join them'.

At one stage, Wenger’s scouting ability afforded the club the chance to go a different route in the transfer market. However, the rest of the Premier League has caught up. Arsenal no longer have a monopoly on young European talent. They need to find a different approach.

If the club intend to make good on their stated ambition to win the game’s biggest prizes, they need to go toe to toe with the likes of the Manchester clubs in their search for talent. That means dealing with the big agents - and paying the big fees.

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