In my column last week, I wrote that something substantial had to occur in order for Arsenal to decide whether Arsene Wenger should be offered a new contract at the club.
If the news regarding players’ contract negotiations over the last few days are anything to go by, then it would seem like the board disagrees and has already decided to keep Wenger on.
How do we know this?
Well, there’s a very interesting little snippet of information in this report by John Cross in the Mirror, detailing the contract extensions announced for Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin.
Whilst the main story is that Arsenal keeping three long-term squad members until 2020, there is one crucial line that shows that there is more to this than just keeping the core of a squad together.
“Giroud has also committed himself to a new contract after assurances from Arsene Wenger that he will get regular games,” Cross wrote.
Now, whilst the debate in regards to how many games Giroud deserves to start every season will rage on until the end of time, the far more important issue regards the person promising Giroud those starts.
We’ve already heard Mesut Özil make public his desire to wait until he knows who’s going to be his manager before deciding if he wants to stay at Arsenal, it would not be a huge leap if we were to assume that other players would also like to know who their boss was going to be before signing an extension.
So if Giroud is staying because the manager told him he would get regular playing time, then it must be a tacit admission from Wenger that he intends to remain at the club, otherwise why would he be making promises to players that he knew he wasn’t going to keep?
Imagine how mad a player would get if a manager told him he was staying for three years, only to retire after one? (Hi, Robin. *waves*)
We hear the word ‘loyalty’ being used by Wenger again and again over the years, and it is a trait that has helped him as much as it has hindered him over the years. Loyalty has kept his best players from leaving for greener pastures for over a decade, but loyalty has also kept him from selling players that aren’t quite good enough.
It would be unfathomable for a man to preach so much about loyalty, only to leave after convincing others to stay with him in the first place.
So if Wenger is staying on for the short-to-medium term, he needs to say so, and quickly.
There is so much indecision and speculation around the club at the moment, what with the futures of Özil and Alexis Sanchez still up in the air, and having a manager with only five months left on his contract doesn’t help matters at all. You can’t expect a squad to be totally focused on footballing matters when so much upheaval is a possibility.
For those of you who believe that Wenger’s performance over the last three years doesn’t warrant a contract extension, I can sympathise with you. But it will always be Wenger’s decision as to whether he stays on or not. If the board were willing to give him an extension after the previous three year period to this one, then he’ll get another one based on being better than that.
The only two people who can tell Wenger that they don’t want him to stay are Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis.
Kroenke just woke up this morning to the news that his shiny new $3billion stadium in Los Angeles will have a second NFL team playing in it as well as his own, meaning that any loan he has to take out to pay for said stadium is now halved in size. But he now has competition for a fan base that didn’t exactly enjoy the sight of his hapless Rams this season, so any chance of him focusing more time than usual on his side project in London has disappeared faster than the Chargers left San Diego.
As for Gazidis……………..lol.
So if Wenger is staying, then it is imperative that he makes this perfectly clear for two reasons.
Firstly, he has to tell his dressing room that he’s staying, if only to help clear up the doubts of those who are thinking of leaving if Wenger leaves.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Arsenal should already be planning their strategy for the summer transfer window. Remember what happened to David Moyes when he joined Manchester United, and they spent all of that summer humming and hah-ing over targets before spending £28million on Marouane Fellaini?
If Arsenal know that Wenger is staying, then they can plan ahead with bringing in players that he wants to bring in.
If they know that he’s leaving, then they can plan ahead with finding his successor.
If Wenger was unsure himself, then it would be understandable that the club would put any of these plans on hold until he made up his mind.
But if players are signing contract extensions on the back of promises only the long-term manager of a club can make, and star players are making it clear that the current manager’s job status is a key factor into their own futures at the club, then Arsene Wenger needs to make it perfectly clear to everyone that he’s staying, and get on with the job in hand.