In Depth

Arsenal must catch Spurs and Leicester, or Wenger must go

How can the Frenchman convince Gunners fans he is the right man for the job if they blow their title chance again?

Paul Merson became the latest Arsenal legend to lay into his former club after Sunday's demoralising defeat to an inexperienced Manchester United.

Merson, who's carved out something of a reputation for straight-talking since moving into sports punditry, told Sky Sports that change must come if the Gunners end the season without the title.

"If Man City don't win the league and Tottenham or Leicester do then Arsene Wenger has to go," declared Merson, who made nearly 300 appearances for the north London club between 1985 and 1997. "If you're sitting there telling those fans - loyal Arsenal fans - that they don't need any new players at the start of the season and then you don't win the league in front of Leicester or Tottenham then I don't see how you can justify it."

It's not the first time that Merson had criticised Wenger, in particular his obstinate refusal to reinforce his squad, and though the Frenchman has shrugged off the attacks in the past, this latest verbal broadside is sure to inflict some damage.

Losing to such a callow, injured-ravaged United side has left Gooners in despair and most will agree with Merson's damning assessment that Wenger bears ultimate responsibility.

"They went out on Sunday with an attitude of 'it's only Man United and they've got loads of injuries and kids playing, so we'll breeze through this game'," he told Sky Sports. "People point to the players, but the manager has to get the players up for these games. Man United might be fifth and not having a good season, but it's still Man United in front of 75,000 people."

Wenger, who has guided Arsenal to a top-four finish in each of his 19 seasons at the helm, will find it harder to shake off Merson's savage attack because it follows criticism from another couple of the club's former stars in Ian Wright and Thierry Henry.

"That wasn't the performance of a team who wants to be champions," declared Henry on Sunday afternoon. "They were second-best in everything. It was a really poor performance... I wanted Arsenal to come here and win well to send a message. You need to learn how to win games when you're not at the top of your game."

Henry was a member of the last Arsenal side to win the Premier League title in 2003-04, while Wright's goals helped Wenger to a league and cup double in 1997-98. He shares the despair of the Frenchman.

"Arsenal's defeat at Manchester United was especially disappointing because it showed they do not have the mental strength to deal with being where they are at in the title race," he told BBC Sport. "Gunners fans know they have a fantastic opportunity to win the Premier League this season, but the team does not seem to understand the enormity of their situation, and what it requires. There are still 11 games to go but, as things stand, I do not watch them and see a team that has what it takes to win the title."

Though Henry and Wright refrained from mentioning Wenger by name, Merson was only too ready to call for his head if Arsenal don't come good between now and May.

"People may say there's nobody better than him, but there's a thousand managers who could come in and get Arsenal in the top four," he blasted, ahead of tomorrow's league clash at home to Swansea. "If Leicester or Tottenham win the title then I just don't see how he can keep his job."

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