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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger approach critical season with contract expiring

The ESPN FC crew discuss Arsenal's expectations for the upcoming season.

Arsene Wenger's contract expires at the end of the season -- will the Frenchman finally call it a day at Arsenal?

Wenger moved to north London in October 1996 and set about changing Arsenal's fortunes, winning the double in his first full season back in 1997-98 and repeating the feat in the 2001-02 campaign.

His greatest achievement came in 2004, when the "Invincibles" won the Premier League title without losing a single game. But Arsenal have not won the league since then and sections of the club's support want a change of manager. 

Andrew Mangan and Tom Adams discuss whether it's time for Wenger to step down ...

Should Wenger go at the end of 2016-17?

Andrew Mangan: Arsenal could do with new blood -- but only if it's the right person to take the team forward and improve it. The concern is they're not set up to identify or bring in that person.

It depends on what happens this season. If he spends money on the players Arsenal need and they have a good campaign, then unless there's an outstanding candidate to take his place there's a good case to be made for him staying.

Wenger will be 67 in October and time is not on his side. However, the other way to look at it is "Will he go?" and there seems to be no inclination from Arsenal at board level they're even preparing for that scenario.

Tom Adams: Andrew is right to say it depends on what happens this season. Wenger has enough historic credit in the bank that it's hard to make the case that he should leave irrespective of what happens in 2016-17. If Arsenal win the league (stop that sniggering at the back) there is no chance of him leaving -- and nor should there be.

We can't predict what will happen in the future but we can look at what has happened in the past to help us gain an idea -- and of any club in the Premier League, Arsenal have surely established the most regular cycle. The pattern of failing to mount a serious title challenge, finishing second in the Champions League group and then being knocked out of the round of 16 is now a well-established one.

If the same thing happens again then yes, Wenger should go. If he finds it within himself to break out of this cycle then his reign could have another chapter to it.

Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years in the job at Arsenal in October.

What will be his legacy as Arsenal manager?

AM: He transformed the club in many ways, from a new training ground to a new stadium and the fact he managed a team through an unbeaten season -- something nobody else has done -- remains a unique achievement. He's won two doubles, won the FA Cup more than any other manager in the trophy's history and whether people like to admit it or not, never finishing outside the top four in all the years he's spent at a club speaks to a remarkable consistency.

When you look at how many other managers have come and gone at other clubs, for Wenger to be that consistent demonstrates his quality. Obviously, there are frustrations at not being able to finish off some good title challenges since 2004, but overall he's been a huge positive.

TA: Modern Arsenal is his legacy. He appointed almost every member of staff, signed every player, developed the scouting system, devised the style of play, built a training ground and helped design the stadium. The club is completely built in his image -- largely for better and sometimes for worse.

The golden years of 1998-04 saw some of the most brilliant football England has ever seen and arguably the domestic league's best ever team in the Invincibles. You will never be able to take that away from Wenger and the trophies won in the first half of his reign make him a true great.

It is unavoidable that the second half of his tenure has tarnished his standing at the club though and two FA Cups are not sufficient return since 2005-16. He has made some big errors and although a long chunk of that time was spent being frugal while keeping the club competitive as they paid off the stadium -- no small feat -- he is no longer at the cutting edge and hasn't adapted his methods sufficiently.

Some fans have grown frustrated at Arsenal's failure to win a title since 2004.

Who is responsible for Arsenal's failure to win the Premier League since 2004?

AM: The buck always stops with a manager, but only one team can win the league each season. We overlook the vagaries of sport, how competitive it is, how other teams were able to spend big when Arsenal were financially hamstrung. There's no doubt Wenger could have made better decisions at times, in terms of recruitment, in-game management and all the rest, but it's no single thing or no one person to blame.

TA: The man most responsible is arguably Roman Abramovich as his dramatic escalation of Chelsea's transfer activity ushered in a new era of Premier League largesse which Wenger was initially unable to keep pace with due to spending limits and now just seems morally opposed to. Sheikh Mansour did the same at Manchester City and Wenger did not adapt to the new reality.

Being brutally honest, it has to be Wenger. That's the lot of the manager: they take responsibility. And the failure to mount a challenge and win the league last season, when so many other big clubs were failing around them, was a huge disappointment. That said, as Andrew outlined, it's far too complex an issue to reduce down to one man entirely.

Where does he stand among the Premier League's greatest managers?

AM: One of the greatest. Foreign managers were rare when Wenger arrived in 1996, and viewed with deep suspicion. ''What does he know about English football, coming from Japan?" scoffed Alex Ferguson after the Frenchman dared have an opinion shortly after his arrival.

Even the Arsenal players were not convinced at first, but his methods changed their careers. The old back four went on for years because of new ideas in diet, training methods, stretching, yoga, and he improved them as footballers too. He trusted them with the ball, taught them a new way to play and down the years he's brought some of the greatest players the Premier League has ever seen to England.

An Invincible season, brilliant football, unearthing transfer gems, that amazing, visceral rivalry with United in the 90s and early 2000s, and so much more. He is a man who can frustrate but one who is also witty and open, available to journalists to provide an opinion on almost anything.

If there are things that have become caricatured it's because of his longevity. He's into his 21st season at Arsenal, and that in itself speaks to his legacy.

Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson presided over one of the most bitter rivalries in English football.

TA: Right behind Fergie and right next to Jose Mourinho. As Andrew rightly highlights, when Wenger took over he revolutionised England's thinking about preparation and diet, implemented a new model of foreign recruitment and laid a new stylistic template. It says it all about his impact that so many others have aped these approaches and in some instances exceeded them now.

Wenger played a huge role in establishing the Premier League as the cosmopolitan and exciting product that is now hawked around the globe.

Name a potential replacement if Wenger left at the end of the season

AM: It's the million dollar question. What Thomas Tuchel is doing at Borussia Dortmund is really interesting and he could be a very good option if it comes down to it.

TA: The really important question is whether you feel the current ownership have the sufficient knowledge and influence to go about finding and appointing the right person. But I'm with Andrew: Tuchel is just the right kind of exciting young coach to come in and transform the club.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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