So, Arsenal lost again at the weekend, they’ve lost four league games out of five for the first time under Arsene Wenger, they’re six points behind fourth place, and the manager is about to sign a two-year extension that pretty much only he and the board want him to sign.
It is quite remarkable that Arsenal find themselves in a position that sees the fans demanding something be done regarding the manager’s position, and the board are responding by not responding.
They’re not acting on it, or despite it. Or anything in between, for that matter.
From the outside, it appears as if the board are just waiting for all the ‘noise’ to die down before announcing their intentions.
Of course, when you have to wait for an appropriate time to say something, that’s usually a pretty good indicator as to how poorly that news is going to be received. Arsenal have a potential 13 games remaining in their season and even if they won all 13, whilst securing a 3rd FA Cup in four years and yet another Champions League qualification in the process, an announcement regarding a contract extension for Wenger could be made on the open-top bus outside the Emirates and it would still be met with protests and criticism from a large portion of the fan base.
THAT’S how bad the situation has become.
The board have made it quite clear that they want Wenger himself to make the decision as to whether he stays or not. Whether that is out of respect for his previous achievements or out of fear of having to deal with any uncertainty in regards to the future is still up for debate, but asking Wenger to decide on his own future is akin to asking a turkey to vote for Christmas.
There’s only ever going to be one outcome.
It’s not like there hasn’t been a precedent of club legends being unable to put pride and ego aside when making decisions regarding the club’s future. Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement in 2002, only to change his mind once he found out that his successor was to be Sven Goran Eriksson. Kenny Dalglish was asked in 2010 to lead the search for a new Liverpool manager, and after Roy Hodgson was sacked in January 2011, he was asked again to choose a successor.
His choice? Himself.
It is a similar problem that Arsenal face, but with far more complications.
If Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League next season, and the board ask Wenger if he thinks he can turn fortunes around, he’s going to say yes. Because why wouldn’t he? It’ll have been the first time in two decades that he’ll have failed to meet the minimum requirements set by the board for him. Why wouldn’t he think it was just a one-off and that with some small tweaks Arsenal will return to challenging for a title?
Will he be right in thinking this? No.
Arsenal haven’t been title challengers this deep into the season since 2013-14, and even then they finished 4th.
Arsenal have played the same tactics and formation, barring the odd minor tweak for big away games, since moving to a 4-2-3-1 system in 2009. As their rivals have tried to adapt both three and five at the back formations into their game plans, Arsenal have played exactly the same way for seven years and have ended up almost exactly in the same place every season; close, but not close enough.
What would make Wenger decide to leave then?
If Arsenal do indeed win the FA Cup this season, and end up 4th in the league or higher, he’s hardly going to view that as a ‘high’ to go out on. A man who has spent 20+ years trying to build a team that can challenge for the European Cup is not going to settle for a third place rosette.
It is a popular misconception that Sir Alex Ferguson ‘left on a high’ when Manchester United won the league in 2013. He didn’t.
He didn’t leave because United won the league, he only cared about trying to match Liverpool’s five European Cup triumphs. He didn’t leave because he thought the team was in good health, it was filled with veterans like Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes still making significant contributions. It was the best team in the league, but it was going to need rebuilding, and soon.
Ferguson’s job at Manchester United was unfinished, but life got in the way. His wife’s best friend and companion passed away, and subsequently left her heartbroken. Ferguson couldn’t bear leaving her at home every day any more, so he retired. United could have finished 2nd or 12th that season, he was still going to go home.
He had to.
We all know how Arsenal has become Wenger’s life by now.
Unless he wins the Champions League, he will always consider his work to be unfinished. He has put so much of his life into this, giving up now would be tantamount to giving up on life. He’s not going to walk away from Arsenal unless it’s painfully obvious that he’s failing the club, and right now it’s clear he thinks that this is only the first time that he’s failed.
Add all of that to an owner who has shown with how he operates his other sporting interests that he will only instigate change when it is either obvious that the team is performing miserably or it’s about to cost him money if the team doesn’t improve quickly. He sacked Jeff Fisher as head coach the Los Angeles Rams, not because of repeated seasons of finishing with a 7 win and 9 loss record, but because he needed to create a buzz for his team that had just moved from St. Louis to L.A, and Fisher had blown almost all of the Rams’ tradeable assets on a young quarterback who looks totally unequipped to lead an NFL team to success.
With all of the ‘war chest’ reports that have been circulating over the last couple of days, it appears as if Kroenke is going to do with Wenger what he did with Fisher; give him a two year extension after a disappointing season, and let him use all of the team’s resources to figure out what to do from there.
The Rams lost eight out of nine games before Kroenke finally acted. It’s going to take something similar at Arsenal to convince him that Wenger needs to go. It might take even more than that to convince Wenger himself.
It’s never good to want to see your team lose, but right now, the only thing that can help Arsenal sort this mess out is to lose, and repeatedly. It’ll prove to Wenger that his efforts are admirable yet insufficient, and it’ll show the board that change is needed.
It’ll also mean that we’ll benefit from the extra rest that Liverpool and Chelsea have used to their advantage in recent seasons.
Wanting Arsenal to lose won’t stop me from supporting the team when they play, but right now, Arsenal are putting me in the wonderful paradox of being just as happy at seeing them lose as it is to see them win.
I hate football.