In Depth

Arsene Wenger under fire from Usmanov as discontent grows

Tycoon and top Arsenal shareholder Alsiher Usmanov says Arsene Wenger needs to 'strengthen every position'

The knives may not be out for Arsene Wenger just yet but there are fingers on handles, and defeat to Borussia Dortmund tomorrow in the Champions League may leave the Arsenal manager in fear for his managerial life.

Earlier this month Paul Merson drew a sharp rebuke from the Frenchman when the former Arsenal midfielder derided the Gunners as "tactically clueless" in letting slip a 3-0 lead against Anderlecht. Wenger called Merson a joke but no one at the Emirates is laughing these days with Arsenal enduring their worst start to a league season since 1982.Ian Wright, a former team-mate of Merson's in 1990s, added his voice to the growing criticism of Wenger's regime during a discussion on the BBC Radio 5 Live he co-presents. Wright claimed that without the goals of Alexis Sanchez – the only Gunner to emerge with any credit from the first third of the season – Arsenal would be "mid-table". In fact Arsenal are practically already in that position, lying eighth with just 17 points from 12 matches. The relegation zone is only seven points beneath them. Chelsea, at the other end of the table, are out of sight on 32 points.In 'Wrighty's' opinion Arsenal aren't only out of contention for the title, but if there aren't drastic improvements in the coming six months they might fail to qualify for next season's Champions League for the first time in 18 years. "I can't see Arsenal getting in the top four at the moment," said Wright. As for whether it's time for the 65-year-old Wenger to step aside, the former Arsenal striker said: "It's very frustrating. It's getting to that time now."Meanwhile the club's second largest shareholder, Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, was unusually candid in his assessment of Wenger's performance this season. In recent years the Arsenal board haven't dared criticise their manager – despite the fact that Wenger's only trophy in the last ten seasons was last year's FA Cup – but Usmanov yesterday stuck his head above the parapet during an interview with broadcaster CNBC. "My opinion, and I tell it openly, we need to strengthen every position to play on the level of such teams in the UK as Chelsea and Manchester City or in Europe like Real, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and other clubs," said Usmanov, who owns 30 per cent of shares in the north London club. "The potential of the team is there, but there is no critical evaluation of mistakes and their admittance."Usmanov has no place on the Arsenal board – despite his shares in the club – and according to the Daily Telegraph he has "never spoken to majority owner Stan Kroenke since losing a battle for control of the club". Nonetheless there's no doubt Usmanov's words will hit home, perhaps emboldening some of the Arsenal board who must be aware of the growing discontent among supporters.Usmanov articulated that unhappiness during the interview, saying: "We just repeat the same results year by year. Quite high to secure the place in the Champions League but we regularly lose in the first circles of play-offs. As an investor I am not happy with that."

It's the mantra of the fans, that Wenger never learns from his mistakes and continues to send out sides with the same attacking game plan, ignoring the fact that opponents have long since worked out how to beat Arsenal by hitting them on the counter-attack and exploiting the space on the flanks. "Everybody makes mistakes," said Usmanov. "He can make mistakes and I know as you age that it is more difficult, more challenging to accept ones mistakes. Maybe it's a problem today."

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