Arsene Wenger has won nine major trophies in his 21 years with Arsenal, building some memorable teams whilst consistently delivering Champions League football. Not everyone agrees with his running of the club in more recent times but it would be sad if the two parties should separate in a manner that is anything other than warm and amicable. Here are six ways Wenger can ensure he leaves the club on a high.
Keep Sanchez firing
In 24 games in which Alexis Sanchez has started as the lone striker, he has scored 17 goals. That alone shows him to be an important player, but he offers more than just goals.
The ex-Barca forward presses from the front and makes life hell for opposing centre-backs in possession. Roberto Firmino is the Premier League’s only central forward to have made more tackles per game than Sanchez (1.4). None of them make as many dribbles (2.9) while only Diego Costa and Ashley Barnes are fouled more often (1.8). Sanchez’s pace made him a constant threat in Arsenal’s best performance of the season, a 5-1 victory at West Ham, where he scored a hat-trick. He inspired the North Londoners to September’s 3-0 win over Chelsea, since which their rivals have only lost twice. Even in games in which the team does not play so well, he is the one man single-handedly engineering attacks. We saw that in Boxing Day’s 1-0 win over West Brom, who defended stoutly throughout, or in last month’s 2-0 win over Hull, who created chances but were undone by the Chilean’s brace. Sanchez is the only player in this Arsenal squad who could get into a title-winning side and it is vital that his form continues.
Continue to nurture Holding
Arsenal have won the last eight games Rob Holding has started. While it may be premature to conclude that he is the next Tony Adams, he has an exciting future. Initially, he was not the most exciting signing having joined from Bolton Wanderers, a side that had just finished bottom of the Championship. After a bright start at Arsenal, Holding may get more opportunities following recent developments.
Laurent Koscielny is the team’s most accomplished defender but has suffered from a hamstring strain lately while Per Mertesacker has been out all year with a knee problem. Gabriel Paulista and Shkodran Mustafi have been the other centre-backs signed in the last three years but the former looks error-prone while the latter is suspect in the air.
Bar one misplaced pass against Manchester United, Holding does not make many errors. He has a sound positional sense and uses the ball with a silky calmness that is often required against defensive opposition. With continued development, Holding could become a key player for the Gunners.
Stick with three-at-the-back
Another factor that has favoured Holding is the introduction of a wing-back system with three central defenders. The signing of a natural left-back in Sead Kolanisac implies that the 3-4-3 may not be a long-term plan, but it should be persisted with while players look confident. Mesut Ozil has benefited from having two goalscorers in front of him, with Olivier Giroud coming in to score three goals in three appearances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has thrived in his new left wing-back role while Hector Bellerin has enjoyed more freedom on the right. The attacking efficiency of the wide duo has stretched the pitch to create more space for Ozil and Sanchez, thus Granit Xhaka has benefited from more passing options. This change in system has worked for a lot of players and Wenger should be given some credit for the switch.
Snatch top four
Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League for a 20th consecutive season under Wenger hang by a thread. On the final day, they must hope Liverpool fail to beat already relegated Middlesbrough whilst winning a seemingly trickier encounter against an in-form Everton side. Competing for Champions League football might not seem glamourous, but it is the only way they have been able to sign the likes of Ozil, Sanchez and Petr Cech in previous summers. Top four finishes remain their best chance of attracting top quality players to the club.
Win the FA Cup
Wembley glory would be merely the icing on Chelsea’s cake, whereas if Arsenal miss out on the top four, they will need it to take even a slice of theirs. They have a chance to salvage something from this season when they take on Antonio Conte’s side in the FA Cup final on the 27th May. The latest odds from May 16th have the Gunners at 3/1 to win the tie. Their current form of six wins in seven games is the joint-best in England so perhaps there is hope for them against the division’s champions.
Leave in the summer
An acceptable season can be salvaged for Arsenal with a top four finish and/or an FA Cup win. However, it would be wrong to ignore the discontent among supporters that has been expressed more strongly than ever this season. The reaction to Wenger after heavy Premier League defeats at West Brom and Crystal Palace felt like the beginning of the end, even though form subsequently picked up. By staying on, the Frenchman risks letting those feeling of contempt resurface, potentially leading to an acrimonious parting. If he departs this summer on a positive note, his legacy can at least be respected in the right way.