So, the last few days have been pretty quiet on the Arsenal front, huh?
The scale of emotions that a football club can put someone through over the course of a few days is just remarkable.
From blind panic over the possibility of a hammering in a cup final by the league champions, to sheer euphoria at the sight of those same league champions being swept aside by a red wave, followed by both cautious optimism and optimistic caution to the news that Arsene Wenger was given a new two year contract.
I’ll state here what I stated on the radio last Sunday; I don’t think Arsenal’s performance this season warranted the manager being kept on.
It’s not that I think he doesn’t deserve credit for changing tactics mid–season which helped to add another trophy to the cabinet, because of course he does. But Wenger’s job isn’t to win the FA Cup. As great as basking in the glory of watching your team win silverware is, the FA Cup is very much a consolation prize – albeit the biggest one available.
Arsenal fans have been pilloried for years on their opinion that finishing third or fourth in the league whilst having to sell your best player every season was an incredible achievement. So much so, that the phrase “fourth–place trophy” was coined just to mock us with.
But now, that same ‘trophy’ is being held aloft by Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool fans, not in jest, but in relief.
They know just how important being in the Champions League is towards the short and medium-term goals all of them want to accomplish. And while one season outside of the competition isn’t a death knell to a club with the financial resources Arsenal have, any longer than that will make it significantly harder to attract the quality of player needed to get back into the top-four.
That’s why I was deeply disheartened by the events after the cup win, not for what transpired but by how. Again, I don’t think Wenger deserved a new contract, but the argument that there isn’t an outstanding candidate available is not without merit.
So if the board had spent hours debating over the issue with Wenger in the room, going over every way the club could improve the way things are run, making sure that they had a firm commitment from Wenger that he wouldn’t revert back to type after the summer, then I’d be content. Not overjoyed, but at least we’d know that something was being done to try to get Arsenal back on track.
But that didn’t happen.
What happened was that Wenger met Stan Kroenke by himself the night before and sorted everything out with the one man he knew wouldn’t question what he does. It felt like watching a big brother give you a dig in the ribs, then sprint towards your father to tell him that you were faking it before he even saw what was going on so the narrative has already been agreed upon.
It felt cheap. Sneaky. Manipulative. All of these are words that I thought I’d never write to describe something that Arsene Wenger did. But it seems obvious instead of making his case to the whole board, he chose to do it before they had a chance to make a counter argument.
If this board meeting wasn’t such a big deal, then why were Ivan Gazidis and others making declarations about there being a “catalyst for change” needed and that the decision to keep Wenger would be made by “mutual consent?”
Clearly they thought that this was going be something that they had input in. I do wonder how this week has shaped the views of those in the boardroom whose surname isn’t Kroenke, because if there was any doubt Arsenal are the fiefdom of one man, those have surely gone now.
Is it commonplace that an owner makes decisions independent of the board? Of course. But it seems like Arsenal’s board had been focused for some time on how they were going to change things up, and they have been completely neutered.
I would not be surprised if Gazidis left in the near future. I am far from his biggest fan, but he’s been well and truly stitched up by this.
As for the future? Well, now we have to see how Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez react to seeing Wenger stay put. They have such a strong negotiating position to work from, Arsenal might as well have a snooker ball in their mouth.
Purely in financial terms, it makes too much sense for them to run out their contracts and become free agents. It’s World Cup year next year, and transfer spending always rises on the back of international tournaments. If Chile or Germany do really well, the figures that get offered to either of them would be mind–blowing.
Yes, getting injured beforehand is always a risk, but for two players who are about to sign the last big–money contract of their careers, it’d be worth it.
Arsenal need to make a big statement, either by paying their megastars and spending the money necessary to build around them, or by selling them and shrewdly reinvesting.
To make this decision, we have entrusted a manager who, until only very recently, has displayed a stubbornness towards his own methods that have left Arsenal where they find themselves right now.
Can Wenger change? Can he sort this mess out? Can he get Arsenal back into the Champions League and title contention?
The answer to all of these is ‘Yes’, as long as he maintains his recent display of changing tactics to keep up with the rest of the league.
Do I think he will? Honestly, no. But I’m going to spend the next few months desperately hoping I’m wrong.