Commentary

Arsenal need to move on from a runner-up mentality; let Arsene go

Even the thought of Arsenal offering Arsene Wenger a two-year extension to a contract expiring in the summer of 2017 is as preposterous as it is presumptuous. It is inappropriate. It is insane. He has not earned it. Arsenal are drifting under Wenger, not driving towards glory.

This season, he has been outfoxed by Leicester City's Claudio Ranieri and his 5,000-1 outsiders. He has been overtaken, barring a last-day slip, by a vibrant, well-organised young Tottenham side and Mauricio Pochettino, their inspirational head coach. "Arsene Wenger - we want you to stay," Spurs fans chant gleefully.

Under Wenger, and a compliant board, Arsenal continue to slide, not dangerously enough to slip out of the Champions League spots but still away from the silverware zone.

This should have been the season when Arsenal seized their first title since 2004 with their traditional Premier League rivals, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, temporarily struggling.

Two of those, probably all three, will return next season with strong new managers, with new ambition, and new signings.

Dear old Arsenal have begun to resemble one of those upper-class spinsters in the background of a Jane Austen novel, turning increasingly bitter as the years pass, being pushed farther back from the dance floor.

Wenger was once the leading pioneer in the dugout, the trophy-gathering perfectionist admired throughout the world. Now he's not even the most forward-looking manager in north London.

Wenger was once the leading pioneer in the dugout, the trophy-gathering perfectionist admired throughout the world. Now he's not even the most forward-looking manager in north London.

He has nobody to challenge him, to question why he believes Olivier Giroud is a world-class centre forward, even when he himself admits Arsenal have not been "clinical enough" this season.

Why doesn't he have a Plan B? Why don't his players shoot from outside the box? Why does he let his team overelaborate in build-ups, allowing opponents to organise the barricades?

Wenger has nobody to take him properly to task about recruitment. Where are the real midfield enforcers, especially elegant ones such as Patrick Vieira who could create as well as destroy? Where are the tough defensive leaders such as Tony Adams?

It is sad really. There is much to admire about Wenger. There is the dignity (although he is a terrible loser), the willingness to give youth a chance (being rewarded in the excellence of Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi) and his refusal to duck a question at press conferences.

His commitment to attacking football should be cherished. But he has forgotten that the game is about trophies. Back-to-back FA Cups in 2014 and 2015 were memorable occasions, but the leading honours, the Premier League and the Champions League, remain increasingly distant visions.

Arsenal lack the ruthlessness, leadership and tactics to last the course in those.

Wenger doesn't deserve a new contract, but the board is passive. Arsenal's structure and philosophy are flawed.

Wenger helped appoint his supposed boss, the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis. Under Stan Kroenke, the owner, the club's business model appears focused simply on Champions League football.

Arsenal do not need to be at the front of the Champions League gravy train as long as they are on it. The essence of sport, winning, has become secondary. A runner-up culture pervades.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Arsenal need to move on from a runner-up mentality; let Arsene go'. Print Edition | Subscribe