Arsenal: Wenger flirts with oblivion as Sanogo flounders
Should the Gunners' coach stand down even if his struggling side do win the FA Cup?
ARSENAL may be in the FA Cup final, but there is little doubt that Arsene Wenger came within nine minutes of footballing oblivion at Wembley on Saturday.
The sight of the Gunners trailing Wigan of the Championship and seemingly unable to break down their supposedly inferior rivals as Wenger's latest experiment, Yaya Sanogo, flailed and floundered up front was too much for many fans.
Per Mertesacker's late equaliser and the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski in the penalty shootout kept Arsenal on course for their first piece of silverware for nine years. They also prevented a full-scale revolt and earned Wenger breathing space.
"If Mertesacker had not equalised, had Wenger's players not kept their cool from the spot, then they would be waking up in a very different world," says Rory Smith in The Times. "It would be a world where Arsenal would be about to go ten years without a trophy. It would be a world where the pressure for Wenger to stand down at season's end would be almost irresistible. It would be a world where that, logically, would be the right decision."
But even if the Gunners do go on to win the FA Cup and somehow overhaul Everton to claim an unlikely top four finish, a growing number of fans believe it is time for Wenger to leave. Winning the cup would at least allow him to bow out on something of a high.
Even the FT thinks his time might be up. "At 64, with a contract that expires in the summer, many question whether Wenger should sign the extension on offer. His limp demeanour during his team’s recent maulings suggests he might be among them," it wrote last week.
The reason that many fans think it is time for Wenger to leave is simple. He has created what Andy Dunn in the Daily Mirror calls "a team that is very slowly sinking into the quicksands of mediocrity".
He must face up to the reality of the situation at the Emirates. "Lukas Podolski, Nacho Monreal, Yaya Sanogo, even Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and a tiring Mikel Arteta... they are not the future of a club with aspirations to compete with the best of the Champions League and Premier League," says Dunn.
Sanogo is a case in point. At the end of last season Wenger had two recognised centre forwards at his disposal, Olivier Giroud and Nickas Bendtner, and one or two others, like Podolski and Theo Walcott, who could fill in.
Wenger tried and failed to sign a big money striker, but instead ended up with an unproven youngster from France. This season Sanogo has made ten appearances for the Gunners and has yet to score after 435 minutes on the pitch.
The effort he puts in is unquestionable, but he is blighted by the quality Wenger seems to prize above all others – "potential". That is no longer enough for Arsenal fans, who have seen "potential" evaporate on so many occasions that they have run out of faith in it.
Website Here is the City points out that a day after Arsenal scraped past Wigan and saw Everton climb above them into the top four of the Premier League, Gonzalo Higuain, a player Arsenal baulked at paying £35m for in the summer, scored his 20th, 21st and 22nd goals of the season as he bagged a hat-trick for Napoli in Serie A.
How different would Arsenal's fortunes have been this season if it was Higuain rather than Sanogo providing the competition for Olivier Giroud?