There have been very few coaches in recent memory who have divided opinion quite like Arsene Wenger. Many of the Arsenal faithful admire him for the persistence he has demonstrated in managing his club in such a fiscally responsible manner given the commercialized world of modern football, but there are others that have lost patience with him due to the club’s lengthening Premier League drought.
Last weekend’s trip to Liverpool was another example of Wenger’s problems. The veteran manager put the club’s talisman and leading goal-scorer Alexis Sanchez on the bench with reports claiming Sanchez was punished for agitating to leave. A bust-up with teammates at training in the build-up to the game didn’t do him any favors either. Wenger has never a manager to let player power rule so it was no surprise to see Sanchez start from the bench.
But he was sorely missed in the first half against a revitalized Liverpool outfit. The Reds dominated the game, leading 2-0 at half-time with goals from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. If Philippe Coutinho showed a bit more composure in front of goal, the scoreboard would be even more embarrassing for the visitors.
Wenger had no choice but to send on Sanchez after the interval and the substitution had immediate impact with the Chilean directing a fine pass to Danny Welbeck to score from a tight angle. Although Sanchez’s effect fizzled out later on, he clearly demonstrated his importance to the side.
Wenger must solve his Sanchez problem. The two most talented players in the squad, Sanchez and German mid-fielder Mesut Özil, both have no idea where they will play next year. Sanchez wants to leave because of the fading hope of winning any major trophies with Gunners, while Mesut Özil may have limited suitors given that his physical condition has continually hampered his playing time.
Wenger still won’t accept that he needs more investment in the market, but the truth is that rival clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have been making progress in recent years, while Arsenal is now facing a fierce battle to claim a ticket for the Champions League next season. This year’s Champions League adventure looks certain to come to an end this week given the Gunners are trailing Bayern Munich 1-5 after the first leg – a deficit too big to claw back. Wenger’s future looks dimmer and dimmer every season.