Arsenal boss Wenger faces toughest three months of his career
Embattled Arsenal boss faces toughest three months of his career
The biggest test of Arsene Wenger's glittering career looks like his last.
He was once the miracle man with the magic touch, a manager ahead of his time.
Now, he is struggling to clean up his own mess.
In Wenger, the Emirates faithful used to trust.
But, the 68-year-old Frenchman increasingly wears the look of a man making his last stand.
At Wembley on Saturday, the footballing world will see if the Arsenal manager has one more trick up his sleeve.
Up against fellow top-four rivals and bitter enemies Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal have very little room left for error in their quest to return to the Champions League.
Sixth in the English Premier League table and one place behind Spurs, the Gunners are five points away from a top-four spot.
The consequences of a defeat will be dire.
Missing out on a spot among Europe's elite for the second year in a row will surely sound the death knell of Wenger's reign.
The short distance separating him from Tottenham's dugout on Saturday will be the time machine that delivers the Wenger from the pomp of his past - except that the face belongs to an Argentinian.
Mauricio Pochettino is forward-thinking, and a manager Spurs fully back to return to them past glories.
Arsenal fans, meanwhile, are convinced Wenger is stopping the club from getting back to where they belong.
The malaise at Arsenal started a long way back.
Wenger's honeymoon period at Arsenal ended when the goodwill from the Unbeatables' 2003/04 EPL title triumph - the club's last league crown - ran out. And that was a long time ago.
Supporters have already grown weary of 14 years of false dawns.
AN UGLY DIVORCE
The pessimists among them can already see the proceedings of an ugly divorce in full swing, as rumblings of discontent among the Emirates stands escalated into cries for help.
After years of financial prudence that coincided with the team's stagnation on the pitch, Wenger attempted to inject life back into his squad via the recruitment of star names, a practice abhorred by Wenger until he either realised the error of his ways or he ran out of ideas.
In any case, that was how Alexis Sanchez (£35 million, S$64.5m) and Mesut Oezil (£42.5m), then a club-record signing came about.
But, even that bubble burst in his face last month, when Sanchez engineered his move away from the club to Manchester United, as Oezil openly mulled over his future.
As Old Trafford sang the signing of Sanchez, the music abruptly stopped at the Emirates.
Oezil remains, but only because he was handed a contract extension that made him the highest-paid player (£350,000 a week) in the history of the club.
But, the damage was done.
A club once revered by the footballing world as one of the purest and most entertaining teams has lost its lustre.
Not only do they struggle to compete for the top players in the transfer market, they are also grappling with the problem of holding on to their stars.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the by-product of Sanchez's transfer, provides a sliver of hope amidst an eerie silence.
And the arrival of £56m striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on transfer-deadline day, a club-record capture, represents Wenger's last throw of the dice.
The duo wasted no time in making their marks.
Both shone in their first starts, the 29-year-old Mkhitaryan sizzling with a hat-trick of assists, including one for the 28-year-old Aubameyang to score on his debut.
Arsenal thumped Everton 5-1 in that match last Saturday. The gloom hovering above the Emirates lifted slightly.
But, it can return with a vengeance on Saturday if Spurs, fresh from picking up four points from matches against Manchester United and Liverpool, show them just how far they have fallen.
Wenger has been backed into a corner, as he attempts to negotiate the toughest season of his career.It may be one that defines his Arsenal legacy.