Arsenal are in terminal decline. Their moribund performance against Bayern Munich this week wasn’t a minor health scare. It was the symptom of an illness that reaches back eight years into a traumatic and desolate past.
It’s time for a surgical solution: Arsene Wenger must be removed.
It’s absolutely true that the Frenchman has chalked up an incredible list of achievements as Arsenal manager and, as Gordon Strachan asserted on ITV last night, the English game has benefited hugely since his arrival 16 years ago.
But those facts are historical and completely irrelevant to Arsenal’s current plight. Wenger has patently lost the ability to turn promising youngsters into a collection of winners, and without the resources of his peers this makes him a liability, not an asset, in the modern game.
Wenger is very fond of referencing his team’s ‘mentality’ as a way out of yet another crisis. He’s the only man in the world who can’t see that ‘mentality’ as part of the problem.
Asked in a recent Football Focus interview what would happen if he went three seasons without a trophy, Sir Alex Ferguson could barely hide his disgust. It simply wouldn’t happen, he insisted.
Players see this authority from Ferguson every day on the training ground. It nurtures a ferocious determination which can take an unremarkable team to three Champions League finals in four years.
By the same token it’s fair to assume the tetchiness, insecurity and lack of control Wenger displayed in his press conference meltdown on Monday has infected proceedings at London Colney.
When that happens, the lost confidence of a dressing room is more often than not irretrievable.
Of course the manner of his departure will have to be managed carefully. In a game short on sentiment and decency, Wenger’s achievements still deserve a dignified exit strategy. Perhaps an ambassadorial role similar to the one Bobby Charlton holds at United, or indeed Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern.
But a warring board must unite and make the decision quickly. There is a quick-fix solution to Arsenal’s problem which requires bold and imaginative leadership. That solution is Jose Mourinho.
Widely accepted to be in his last season at Real Madrid, Mourinho is the one coach in world football capable of affecting the turnabout in self-belief this Arsenal squad so desperately needs. He’s done something similar at every club he’s ever coached.
Chelsea had gone 50 years without a title, Inter were a Champions League laughing stock and Real’s gigantic ego had taken a rat-a-tat battering at the hands of Barcelona’s tiki-taka.
He spun all of those narratives into a success story, with himself as the hero. There’s little doubt he could do the same at Arsenal.
Abrasive, direct and dirty – but perfect.
Those that say he’s a bad fit are wrong. Mourinho is abrasive, direct and dirty, they’ll say. Yes, quite. But who would dispute that those are qualities this Arsenal squad lacks in abundance, and desperately need to rediscover to challenge for major honours?
After all, how many supporters called for Patrick Vieira to be jettisoned in 2000 when he was sent off twice – once for spitting – in the first two games of the season?
And how many wanted Martin Keown booted out after his boorish and infamous taunting of Ruud Van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford in 2003?
The answer, of course, is none. The pair have gone down in the folklore of the club as heroes; men who were prepared to do anything to win.
Arsenal have lacked a meanness and intimidating aura for far too long. Mourinho could restore it at a stroke.
The patient is ailing badly. Do those in charge dare prescribe the medicine that could revive it
Ed Bearryman is features editor at Match of the Day magazine