ARSENE Wenger is facing the deepest crisis of his 16 years at Arsenal, with fan groups demanding the club’s chiefs act swiftly to stop the rot.
The humiliating exit from the Capital One Cup at the hands of npower League Two side Bradford on Tuesday night may become a critical moment in Wenger’s reign, especially with the Gunners also misfiring in the Barclays Premier League.
Wenger insisted that part of his job is to help the team “recover and focus on the next game”, but the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) was set to demand immediate changes at a meeting last night with chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
The AST has long supported the Gunners’ prudent financial approach, but believes the lack of spending has now gone too far and that the defeat by Bradford was a symbolic moment.
The Trust wants changes at board level, for Wenger to delegate his duties and for the manager to spend some of the many millions available to him.
AST spokesman Tim Payton said: “This is the most difficult time in Arsene’s 16 years and both the club and himself need to change direction quickly.
“The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust cannot fathom why £70million was left untouched this summer. Arsene needs to get over his distaste for spending and use the resources that, after all, are provided by the hard-pressed fans who watch the team.
“The AST believe a shake-up is needed. We would like to see younger blood added to the board, and they also need to exercise more control and direction over Arsene’s strategy.
“One man cannot direct all transfer targets, wages, coaching methods and manage the team. It’s too much for one man.”
Even if results do not pick up, Wenger’s position should be safe at least until the end of the season but an increasing worry for club executives is that significant numbers of fans are not turning up to matches despite having bought tickets.
There is also growing frustration that players brought in since the departures of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie have failed to deliver.
Even Arsenal’s honorary vice-president. Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. expressed that frustration on Tuesday evening, saying on Twitter – though deleting it soon afterwards – that: “Gervinho is a FLOP player”.
There is also a fear that Theo Walcott may also leave the club, especially with Manchester United now linked with him.
Arsenal do not play now until Monday, when they face Reading away, and Wenger has to try to raise the players’ spirits, though he insists the team suffered some misfortune at Valley Parade.
“It’s extremely disappointing because in the second half and extra-time it was one-way traffic,” said the 63-year-old.
“We created a lot of chances but the final ball was missing.”
Asked how Arsenal could recover, he added: “I believe that it is part of our job to recover and to focus on the next game.”
A YEAR OF WOES FOR WENGER
San Siro nightmare
The Gunners had been confident of progressing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League when they headed out to the San Siro in February, but former Manchester City striker Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ran their defence ragged as AC Milan romped to a 4-0 victory. “It was one of those nights you never forget, our worst in Europe,” said Wenger. Arsenal produced a spirited comeback in the second leg, but went out 4-3 on aggregate – with Wenger handed another Uefa touchline ban for remonstrating with the referee at full-time.
Van Persie sold to United
Despite Wenger’s best efforts, he could not persuade captain Robin van Persie to extend his contract. Their talismanic striker, who had smashed a total of 37 goals last season, moved to Manchester United in a £24million deal and struck up an instant partnership with Wayne Rooney – scoring against his old club when they met in November.
Shareholders revolt at agm
Wenger defended the achievements of his team following a stormy agm in October, when chief executive Ivan Gazidis, chairman Peter Hill-Wood and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke were all heckled over the club’s financial strategy and failure to win a trophy since 2005. Wenger had opened his speech with an apology for the recent defeats by Norwich and Schalke the night before. He said: “For me, there are five ‘trophies’. The first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup. I say that because, if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask ‘did you win the League Cup?’ They ask ‘do you play in the Champions League?’ ”
Gunners slump to tenth
Domestic form remains inconsistent. In another flat home performance this month, Swansea deservedly won 2-0 and Wenger’s side were booed off the pitch, ending the day in tenth place.
Penalty despair at Bradford
A near full-strength team was on the end of a giantkilling in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup quarter-final, as the Bantams progressed 3-2 after a penalty shoot-out, ending another chance for Arsenal to end their seven-year trophy drought. A defiant Wenger said: “Where does it leave our season? To focus on the next game. Sport is about that.”