Alan Smith: Arsenal are in no mans land – I can’t remember a situation like it

Chris Flanagan FFT

Arsenal legend Alan Smith has called for the club to bring in a director of football if Arsene Wenger decides to extend his stay at the Emirates.

Wenger’s contract expires at the end of the season and the Frenchman has yet to confirm whether he will remain at the club. Reports have suggested that he could put pen to paper on a new two-year deal, something that would prove controversial among a large section of Arsenal fans who have grown frustrated with the club's failure to challenge for the Premier League title.

Smith has told FourFourFourTwo that the Gunners must make changes behind the scenes if Wenger stays – with a director of football a priority to prevent more frustrations in the transfer market, another of the supporters’ biggest complaints in recent years.

Wenger in control

“We’re in no man’s land at the moment, I can’t remember a situation quite like it,” says Sky Sports pundit Smith, who twice won the title at Arsenal. “Everyone just wants some certainty as to what’s going to happen in the future, whether Arsene Wenger is going to stay or go. If I had to say, I’d say he’s going to stay and the club will insist on certain changes in the structure and the set-up.

“Maybe they should take a bit of weight off the manager with a director of football. Getting the right man in would be vital; people often talk about David Dein and he was sort of a director of football in the way he handled transfers. Arsene Wenger does love to be in control of everything and that has been a strength, but I think it’s been a weakness as well. Whether he would go along with it is another matter.

“It’s not so much about spending money. Arsenal have got the money to spend and they spent £95m in the summer - it’s getting the right types of players into the club, the right characters, I’ve said it for a number of years now.

“I think there’s been a lot of indecision from Arsene Wenger. He’s got to have the final call or certainly be involved in it, but you’ve got to be decisive. Sometimes Arsenal haven’t signed players they were interested in, and that player has gone elsewhere.”

Proven winners required

Fellow former Arsenal forward Niall Quinn also believes that a change of approach is necessary.

“The board needs to come out and clarify where the club is headed for the next couple of seasons,” he said. “If it’s with Arsene and they back him, that’s fine. But it needs the addition of the will to go further, and to have different ambitions than they’ve had for the last number of years.

“I hope Arsene stays, and I hope he is given a different brief, to not be as reluctant as they’ve been previously in the transfer market. Bringing in proven winners, and getting some leadership in the dressing room is the key. That’s been missing for a good while.

“The line that they’re getting into the top four every year is getting tired. Arsenal fans can just about put up with Man City having all that investment and getting ahead of them. Even Chelsea having all that investment and passing them is just about understandable. But when Spurs start to do it, that’s a different matter. And now Liverpool are edging ahead too.

“The stadium is paid off, it’s done, and Arsene has done an incredible job doing that. But they have to be better, stronger. They need to challenge for the title, and that means three or four top-of-the-drawer players.”

Sanchez speculation

Wenger has said that whether he remains at Arsenal or not, he will not retire as a manager.

“He said the other day that retiring means death, or something along those lines, but he’s got to think what’s good for the club as much as what’s good for himself,” Alan Smith adds. “Arsenal is his life and maybe there is a little bit of fear of what lies on the other side once he does step away. But I don’t think that’s the basis on which you can make a decision. He’s got to ask himself whether he’s the right man to take the club forward. Can he head in a different direction and achieve success in a way that he hasn’t in recent years? We’ll see what he decides.”

Speculation continues over the future of Alexis Sanchez, whose contract expires next summer. The Chilean has been linked with Chelsea, among others.

“It would be really damaging if Sanchez left,” Smith says. “You’re going back to the days of Van Persie and Fabregas leaving because they wanted to win things. If Sanchez doesn’t feel that he can challenge for the title at Arsenal and for instance he goes across the town to Chelsea, that would be a bitter pill to swallow and it would set Arsenal back.

“I don’t think it’s about the money so much – I think they can afford to offer him something approaching what he wants. It’s that ambition and ability to compete for the top honours.

“If he left, it would give the club a reputation they don’t want. Arsenal should be able to attract the best talent in the world with the setup they’ve got, and being a London club is a huge advantage. The club aren’t as big a catch for players as they should be.”

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