ARSENE Wenger will still be Arsenal manager at the end of the season, but the next six months will tell us everything about his remaining ambitions and will determine whether he sticks around beyond May.
Supporters have had enough of watching their team decline while the club makes money and directors are handsomely paid. They should have wiped the floor with Bradford on Tuesday evening; instead they suffered a shock cup defeat to a team three divisions beneath them.
Earlier in the season there was optimism. They won well at Liverpool, Wenger had bought established talent in Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud; there seemed to be a plan. All of a sudden they had to start delivering and they have been shabby.
Arsenal have lost belief in themselves. They keep the ball but have no cutting edge. There is fouling but no aggression. Of course they want to win but they don’t desire it enough.
They should be embarrassed to come off the field without winning. As a club they have forgotten how to win and become a kind of football school instead. They lack courage and leadership, the difference between an OK team and a good one.
Defender Thomas Vermaelen is the strongest character but has been below par since becoming skipper. Centre-back partner Per Mertesacker doesn’t rally them as much as he should. Young midfielder Jack Wilshere is bold but it’s too soon to expect him to bear the burden of driving the side.
Giroud is a good player, but hasn’t settled enough yet to carry the fight himself. Cazorla started brilliantly but has been disappointing in the last couple of months.
The players must take the bulk of the blame; Wenger can only do his best with what he’s got. But the deterioration has gone on so long now that the Frenchman deserves to be criticised too.
Abou Diaby looked like being the player they need: a strong and dynamic midfield presence; an heir to former skipper Patrick Vieira.
If he’s not going to be fit they need to sign a replacement in January – someone with vigour, nastiness even. A Roy Keane or Scott Parker of two years ago.
Wenger only needs to buy one player, but they must be someone with the confidence to go straight into the team and be a leader. Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have the right spirit but are too young. If Arsenal aren’t careful, however, they will lose the players who should be their future.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two European Championships and two World Cups. He now works as a media commentator.