Arsene Wenger remains an enigma. Is he still the football mastermind who engineered two Premier League/FA Cup doubles with an unfashionable and unfunded team and signed and turned players like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Nicolas Anelka (among others) into top class talents?
Or have too many years in the cauldron of the English Premier League turned his mind and made him into a stubborn, blinkered and slightly eccentric anachronism?
Jury out on Wenger
I think the jury is probably still out on this. He has managed to keep Arsenal among the top four of English football for the whole period of his reign. Only Sir Alex Ferguson can match that achievement. Additionally, his teams still play football the right way and still have talented players in their ranks.
But the Frenchman seems to lack that instinct for the absolutely outstanding future footballer that brought players like Henry, Fabregas and Van Persie to the club when they were only shadows of the masters they came to be. And now his sides somewhat flatter to deceive.
They are certainly capable of beating anyone on their day, but are also capable of the most horrendous gaffes and defeats that often undermine months of carefully constructed progress. They also seem to lack the character - and perhaps confidence and assurance - to go out and win games and trophies when the pressure is really on.
Critics might point to this as a fault throughout Wenger's career - and not just with Arsenal. He has coached teams to defeat in all three of the major European competitions - the European Cup Winners' Cup Final with Monaco and both the UEFA Cup and Champions' League finals with Arsenal.
And Arsenal have consistently lost competitions when looking certain to succeed, notably the title to Manchester United in 2003, the FA Cup to Liverpool in 2001 and the League Cup to Birmingham in 2011 plus the above mentioned 2000 UEFA Cup Final to Galatasaray.
What does Wenger need to do?
So what would Wenger need to do to put Arsenal back on the road to regular success and silence the critics within the club and elsewhere who believe he is past his prime as a top coach?
A good proportion of Arsenal fans (perhaps even the majority) would cite the need to start spending money more liberally and wisely as one of tenets the Frenchman would need to embrace, however reluctantly. Wenger has always looked for value in players and, often correctly, eschewed transfers because the price was too high.
But success in the modern game is now bought, not coached, managed or nurtured. If you need proof of that, look at the titles that first Chelsea and then Manchester City have bought recently (and going back further Blackburn in 1995 and, arguably, Liverpool in the mid-1980s).
It is scarcely imaginable for a team to win the league without spending literally hundreds of millions on their squad. Even Liverpool's challenge last season, which would be considered by many as a relatively low-budget effort, was fuelled by an outlay of almost £220m on players by Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers in the previous two seasons or so.
The arrival of Mesut Ozil was seen as a relaxing of Wenger's previous tight hold of the transfer purse-strings but no other big signings materialsed and an effort to sign an injured Kim Kallstrom on loan in the January window seemed to suggest a return to the bad old ways.
The non-return of Fabregas will have annoyed and dismayed some supporters and represents a risk for Wenger, especially if Ozil, the player occupying the position Fabregas would have played, performs as he did in the second part rather than beginning of last season.
Two key areas of strife
But Wenger's main problems seem to revolve around two areas - leadership in defence when the team is under pressure and team spirit and the confidence to close out matches and maintain momentum when not playing well or during the critical periods of seasons.
These might well be problems that are as much associated with the psychology of Wenger as a personality and leader as they are with tactics, individual players and playing style.
He has been a great manager and achieved much with limited resources, great flair and single-mindedness. Unfortunately for him none of these things seem to matter that much in the win-at-all costs industry that football has become.
Would he have to sacrifice most of his beliefs and principles in order to be successful? The answer is probably 'yes'. But should he? That is a much more difficult question for him and the game in general to answer.
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