Arsene Wenger's to-do list: What the Arsenal manager must address to turn things around if he chooses to stay

Miguel Delaney
The Independent
Arsene Wenger is weighing up whether to stay at Arsenal beyond this season: Getty
Arsene Wenger is weighing up whether to stay at Arsenal beyond this season: Getty

If Arsene Wenger does continue on as Arsenal manager, one thing is obvious: he just cannot continue on in the same way.

The 67-year-old is someone who completely trusts his vision of the game, and has been so determined to be vindicated, but surely the current situation must convince even in him that something is fundamentally broken with that vision.

The gradual decline of the team proves it. And, if he has indeed spotted ways to fix it, there will never be a better time than now.

For one, it seems that Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez - the two star signings that were supposed to complete this side - could be leaving, buckling Wenger’s grand plan anyway.

It would evidently not be enough to just try and replace those two, especially given the difficulty of doing so directly. That should give cause for thought about restructuring the side, as well as a lot else around it, including the manager’s ideas.

So, what does he need to do?

1. Use this window to start reshaping the profile of the team

The summer move for Granit Xhaka hasn't worked out (Getty)
The summer move for Granit Xhaka hasn't worked out (Getty)

Over the past half decade, as Wenger has seemingly settled on an idea of a sleek side that can generally move between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, it is often as if he only buys players that can fit into specific roles in that system. It helps explain why Arsenal persistently seem to have an excess of certain types of player, but are lacking in other areas.

And, when Wenger goes outside the template - like with Granit Xhaka - things look just even more out of shape. That should not be call to just bring in more of the same, though, since the approach only ever takes Arsenal so far.

They need to break the ceiling they have been hitting, and that involves breaking up this squad and thinking about a new formation. Wenger should seek a different profile of player, for a different style of teams. That seems most obvious in central defence and midfield. It also involves tough decisions elsewhere.

2. Make hard decisions on players

Wenger has a decision to make over Walcott and others (Getty)
Wenger has a decision to make over Walcott and others (Getty)

A fatal flaw with Arsenal has been the inherent softness to the side, and it’s difficult not to think that partly comes from a series of players that have just been indulged by the manager.

It again comes down to Wenger’s unwavering faith, but how that creates a wavering squad. Rather than drumming under-performing players out in a way that might constantly illustrate a certain standard is expected at the club, it is as if he always feels their big breakthrough is just around the corner.

There are a number of players this applies to: Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey.

Walcott in particular seems to go through the same annual “re-assessment” of where his career is going, as emphasised in the last week with how he was left out of the English squad despite his omission from Euro 2016 supposedly being the spur to change direction. Wenger has to think about the direction of his squad.

3. Get an alternative voice in

Sir Alex Ferguson was helped by Carlos Queiroz's presence (Getty)
Sir Alex Ferguson was helped by Carlos Queiroz's presence (Getty)

This may be the toughest of all, given how single-minded Wenger can be, but he only has to look at the example of one of his most single-minded rivals.

If Sir Alex Ferguson is brought up a lot in relation to the Arsenal manager right now, it is because he is really the only instructive example of hugely influential figure staying so long at a club with his departure involving such a seismic moment in their history.

The huge difference was that Ferguson was relentlessly successful right up to the end. That, however, was not from relentlessly following the same idea. It was because Ferguson was so conscious of changes and evolutions in the game that he constantly sought to challenge himself, constantly looked to see what required updating… and repeatedly brought in alternative voices. That is illustrated in how he had seven assistants in 27 years at Manchester United.

That also became a role much more proactive than the description implies. By the time Carlos Quieroz took over his second stint as assistant in 2006, he was almost being described as “co-manager” because of how extensively he worked on the squad’s tactics, especially in defence.

It gave the repeat Champions League finalists of 2006-09 a tactical intelligence and acuteness not always associated with Ferguson. Wenger could badly do with an influence like this.

4. Guidance in looking beyond his reign

If Wenger stays, he has a lot of work to do (Getty )
If Wenger stays, he has a lot of work to do (Getty )

One example not to follow from Ferguson is how much of United - from the administration to scouting - was structured according to his specific preferences, meaning a lot of the club still needs to be unstitched to then form something more suited to a modern super-club.

If Wenger does stay, he could help prevent an even more pronounced upheaval for Arsenal by advising on similar now.

Given how all-encompassing his role is - and how the club are going to have to bring in a few people to cover all the different aspects of it - it would surely be beneficial to start appointing figures of a mindset that fits Wenger’s and can learn the modern Arsenal ideals, but also evolve them.

The right technical director could be key here.

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