LONDON • Arsene Wenger has one last chance to salvage the worst year of his Arsenal reign and potentially save his job when the beleaguered manager faces AC Milan in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie today at the San Siro.
For Wenger, it never rains but it pours after an explosive report in The Times yesterday revealed a dressing room split, with the growing pay divide being the root cause.
Arsenal have traditionally operated on a relatively equitable pay structure among their first-team squad. But that was shattered by their dealings in the January transfer window, with the arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the award of a new £350,000-a-week (S$640,000) deal to Mesut Ozil.
According to The Times, there is growing resentment in some quarters towards the big earners, who have yet to justify salaries that dwarf those of their team-mates.
It has been noted in the dressing room that Wenger's side have won only two of eight matches since the trio's contracts were signed.
To compound matters, Arsenal are negotiating new contracts with several other first-team players who will not enter that pay bracket.
Jack Wilshere has been told that he will have to accept a pay cut if he wants a new deal, despite being free to move in the summer.
The club have not made any headway in negotiations with Petr Cech, David Ospina, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Nacho Monreal, whose contracts expire at the end of next season.
Although criticism of Wenger is nothing new, the opprobrium has risen to unprecedented levels this term as Arsenal's decline has become ever more apparent.
Support for the Frenchman has waned so dramatically that 88 per cent of the Arsenal Supporters' Trust's (AST) 1,000 members on Monday voted in favour of his contract being terminated after this season.
"Our message to the club is that they must be proactive and take the decision sooner rather than later," said an AST spokesman.
That would be a bitter conclusion for Wenger, who for so long was heralded as the club's greatest manager but is now in danger of leaving with a severely tarnished legacy.
He has presided over a miserable campaign that threatens to bring a painful end to his near 22-year spell in charge, following a wretched run of eight defeats in 13 games, with the 1-2 loss at Brighton on Sunday their fourth successive defeat in all competitions.
The only remaining hope for silverware, and a return to the Champions League, is to win the Europa League but first they must get past Milan, who are on a 13-game unbeaten run and have not conceded in six games after Gennaro Gattuso took over in December.
Given Wenger's failures in Europe - he has never won a continental competition with Arsenal - don't count on the Gunners getting into the Champions League via the back door.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON
AC MILAN V ARSENAL
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