Arsene Wenger’s future looks set to be sorted out this week but we still don’t know what way it will go. What we do know if that the FA Cup win now gives him an out with dignity.
What a fantastic day Saturday was!
For me, it was even better, because it was the first cup final I’ve been to in person, and the atmosphere was fantastic. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an Arsenal game with a crowd unified, vocal, supportive and determined to lift the team when things got tense.
I’m also feeling very smug having called an FA Cup final win in February and having called the score line correctly and the fact that the winner would be set up by a sub on last week’s podcast.
What’s that line about blind squirrels and nuts…?
In all seriousness, Arsenal, against the odds, put in the kind of performance that it is impossible to not feel proud, excited, buoyed and altogether fuzzy about. The kind of performance that makes you sure that for whatever problems there were destroying the morale in February and March, the team really has found its unity and collective focus and will again.
We saw signs in recent league games, but it’s one thing being comfortable against relegation fodder or opposition with one eye on the beach; quite another to totally dominate the best team in the country seeking a double, with a fully fit and fully rested squad.
And make no mistake, for all their somewhat legitimate complaints (though subsequently dismissed by ex match officials) about the opening goal, Chelsea were lucky to not get a thrashing.
Quite apart from hitting the woodwork three times and seeing Cahill clear off the line twice, Courtois had the more difficult saves to make, and Chelsea’s equaliser was, despite the small deflection, a further illustration of why the departing Ospina is not seen by anyone as a real loss.
Apart from a short breather at the end of the first half and brief uncertainty as to whether to stick or twist at the start of the second, this was 94 minutes of focus, intensity, desire and skill.
In many ways it was the ideal ‘big-game’ performance, from a team oft labelled as lacking in that capacity. Arsene Wenger’s astonishing FA Cup record is certainly proof that such concerns do not apply as much in the oldest big game of them all.
Of course the temptation is to ask the obvious and trite question; “Where was that in February and March, and why can’t we play like that all the time?”
While it’s certainly true that the level of performance during that time was unacceptable (and as Wenger has finally admitted – was partly a product of that the uncertainty about his future), equally the level we saw at the weekend is not possible to replicate on a weekly basis – even with the relentlessness of a Mourinho, Conte, Klopp or Pep.
Likewise, to have almost an entire first 11 play so close to their optimum level on a regular basis is unrealistic. Under normal circumstances the apt question would would be whether the new formation (and the possibility to alternate with the previous set up) would counter-balance the fluctuations in form that have undermined us in recent seasons?
However, at the very least until the aftermath of the impending board meeting, there are a whole slew of rather more fundamental questions.
Will the manager still be here in August? If so, what compromise about structural changes will be reached? If not, who will come in, and what will they favour tactically?
What players will depart?
Who will come in?
So many are interdependent that it is still impossible to analyse the future.
Indeed Arsene Wenger’s comments prior to and immediately following the final suggested that not only is the behind-the-scenes power struggle still very much a factor, but also that he is very much contemplating the possibility of being elsewhere by the summer’s end.
Certainly, a new manager seems to much more plausible than a week ago, which somewhat gives lie to the idea that wanting the team to lose in order to facilitate ‘regime change’ has been a valid stance.
Whether the victory and the back-to-front excellence of the performance significantly strengthens the likelihood of him still being in charge is unclear, particularly as it gives him the chance to depart from a potentially toxic situation with his head held high.
What is certain, however, is that he has cemented his legacy with a second feat unlikely to be repeated.
Unless medical science takes inconceivable leaps forward, none of us will see another manager go a whole English top flight season undefeated or win seven FA Cups. It is even less likely that both will happen with the same team for a century or more.
While he has undoubtedly had his loyalty rewarded with more patience then would be afforded at any other club of Arsenal’s size, it is undeniable that whatever happens this summer, his legacy is forever preserved as an enduring managerial genius, if perhaps one with almost equally enduring flaws.
Of course the debate as to whether he is the right man looking forward will continue long after a decision regarding his future is made and made public, regardless of which way the chips fall.
But hot on the heels of our trophy winning weekend, we can expect an announcement in the next week.
Let the behind the scenes power games commence in earnest.