Neil Humphreys: Should Wenger stay or go?
After masterminding a fantastic FA Cup win, Arsene Wenger now faces the biggest meeting of his Arsenal career. Tomorrow, the Gunners board will sit to decide his fate. To help them out, our writer builds cases for and against the Frenchman
WHY WENGER SHOULD STAY
Final flickers of Wenger's joie de vivre
Somehow, against all sensible odds, Wenger got the DeLorean up to 88 miles an hour.
Wembley witnessed time travel. Arsenal's back three evoked fuzzy memories of Wenger the pioneer, instead of Wenger the pensioner.
Aaron Ramsey roamed central midfield like the feisty Welsh dragon at Euro 2016. Mesut Oezil actually tackled back.
Alexis Sanchez dragged David Luiz so many times, he should've turned the Brazilian upside down and used him as a mop.
And a rusty Per Mertesacker was halfway between a rickety giraffe and Tony Adams in his prime, an unexpected colossus in a makeshift defence.
At the final whistle, they all sought out Wenger, like students hugging the coolest professor in college.
On occasions like this, when Wenger gets the tactics and temperament right, when Arsenal fizz and the football flows, it's hard to justify the Frenchman's departure.
A proud, principled man, Wenger thoroughly deserved his seventh FA Cup win - a record - and silenced his long-standing media critic Piers Morgan. For that reason alone, he deserves an honorary knighthood.
Forget sentiment, focus on facts
A cold, dispassionate analysis of Wenger's recent seasons builds a cast-iron case for a new contract.
A third FA Cup in four years tells only part of the story.
In terms of English Premier League finishes and silverware, the Gunners rank second behind Manchester City in the last four seasons.
They both have three trophies, along with Chelsea and Manchester United, but the Gunners boast an average EPL finish of 3.5.
City top the list with 2.5, but Chelsea (3.8), Tottenham (4), Liverpool (5) and United (5.5) can only look up and acknowledge the Gunners' consistency. And the Scousers and Spurs don't have a trophy between them in the last four seasons.
Arsenal have missed out on Champions League qualification, but their jittery board and supporters should be careful what they wish for…
The detail is in the Devils
The symbolism of the street name cannot be lost on United supporters.
To reach Old Trafford, United fans must wander through Sir Alex Ferguson Way.
“... when Arsenal fizz and the football flows, it’s hard to justify the Frenchman’s departure.”
Since Ferguson retired, United's average EPL finish has plummeted to 5.5. And he bequeathed reigning champions to the club.
Wenger would turn his back on sputtering, fifth-placed finishers, a mixed mag of midfield mediocrity and striking inconsistency.
The Arsenal board must take note. United remain a cautionary tale when it comes to succession planning. There's no guarantee that a phoenix rises from the ashes of empire.
WHY WENGER SHOULD GO
One swallow does not a summer make
Basking in the glow of victory, Wenger unwittingly presented the strongest case to sack him.
After 21 years at the club, he pointed out, it would be ridiculous to decide his future based on a single game.
In effect, he reminded the board not to judge him on an outstanding FA Cup triumph, but on much of the domestic drudgery that went before.
Arsenal's fifth-placed finish was not dumb luck, but the inevitable consequence of years of neglect.
Poor signings added to the mental fragility that Wenger has failed to address for years.
Sanchez dominated at Wembley due to an inherent fearlessness that marks him out as an Arsenal oddity.
But it was the tendency to hibernate through much of the winter against the likes of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Watford and Bournemouth that cost them a place in the Champions League.
Arsenal's artists were never supported with enough artisans across 38 league games.
“Arsenal’s fifth-placed finish was not dumb luck, but the inevitable consequence of years of neglect.”
Indecisive and out of touch
Wenger once led. Now he follows.
By the end of the season, 17 out of 20 EPL sides had followed Chelsea and experimented with a back three.
Wenger held out until spring, almost reluctantly going with the formation like an uncle grudgingly swapping his CDs for Spotify. And even then, an injury crisis largely influenced the decision.
Arsenal won 10 of their last 12 games, but the tactical switch was too little, too late.
Similarly, his sentimental decision to pick David Ospina for the FA Cup final hinted at a lack of ruthlessness. Petr Cech is twice the goalkeeper, an obvious point underlined when Ospina's weak right hand flapped at Diego Costa's shot like a fly swat missing its target.
And in interviews, Wenger has struggled to even comprehend why fans forking out for the most expensive tickets in British football might expect to challenge for the top four. In all aspects, he looks a step out of time.
Legends leave on a high
After the final, Wenger spoke of the unfair terrace abuse. And the Frenchman can't forget.
The most poignant images at Wembley were his post-match interactions with fans. There was a cautious restraint and a wry smile.
He must be struggling with the barefaced hypocrisy. Four months ago, the same fans were screaming for his head. Four months from now, they may do so again.
His legacy deserves better. In sport, the greats recognise weakness in their opponents. But the greatest recognise weakness in themselves. They know when to quit.
When Wenger waved to the faithful at Wembley, one could almost sense the curtains closing after a glorious, final, standing ovation.