x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Wenger's Gunners are at crossroads

He might have been an unknown quantity to many, but there was always something fresh and special about Arsene Wenger when he first arrived in English football back in 1996.

He might have been an unknown quantity to many, but there was always something fresh and special about Arsene Wenger when he first arrived in English football back in 1996. If you wanted a model for the perfect manager, the "Professor" would be at the top of the list for most. Suave, smart and sophisticated, he oozed confidence in his ability and that of his team, relishing the sparring sessions with rivals Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho over the years, refusing to back down in the mind games.

His methods, from the food players ate to his footballing philosophy, has brought him praise, respect and much success - the most in Arsenal's recent history. But if he is not careful he is in danger of damaging his legacy and souring the affection football-lovers, not just the club's fans, hold for him. The signs are he could be losing his grip at the Emirates Stadium. The former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon says they look "rudderless" at the moment.

Ricky Hatton would have been proud of the way the Frenchman ducked and dived to avoid the flurry of questions that came his way after the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City. It is quite rare for Wenger not to outline his decisions to the media. His honesty and openness has been one of his endearing qualities - and he has usually remained polite with it, despite having to deal with the press's rottweilers.

He was not the target, but has made himself one and adopted a siege mentality. Maybe it is the fact that he has made another mistake that hurts deeply and made him so stubborn. He appointed William Gallas as captain when the player had a track record of sulking when things were not going right. He denied that yesterday, but Cesc Fabregas should have been the choice in the summer. The Spaniard is the future of the club, the heartbeat and forget he is only 21, he has had more experience at the top than many 30-year-olds.

And for those who think Fabregas would have been too young: Tony Adams captained Arsenal at 21. Wenger is hoping the matter can now be laid to rest, after recalling Gallas to face Dynamo Kiev tonight, but this week is going to be one of the most important of his career and the two games could define it. The Champions League remains their best hope of a big trophy and, with their faltering form in the Premier League, they might well need to win it if they are to retain a place among Europe's elite next season.

Arsenal must clinically dispose of Dynamo Kiev tonight to make the next phase. Then come Chelsea in the league on Sunday - and victory at Stamford Bridge would show why the Gunners supporters have adopted the moniker, "In Arsene We Trust". There has been speculation about his future with Spanish, Italian and national teams coveting him and maybe a fresh start is what he needs. He has remained faithful to Arsenal, believing he has unfinished business, a crop of youngsters who he wanted to turn into world beaters.

Wenger is trying to build an empire, but it now looks to be crumbling. The Roman empire fell because their own people supposedly became weak and unable to fight like they once did - the main point Gallas raised in his public rant against his own teammates. Wenger came out fighting for his team yesterday, backing them to prove everyone wrong. His players must now battle for him to avoid history repeating.

If they do not, then perhaps - and it would be a sad occasion - Wenger should allow someone else to finish the job. akhan@thenational.ae