My piece for the Boot Room on the one and only Arsene Wenger
Arsenal fans may not want to accept it but Arsene Wenger will stay at the club next season.
To paraphrase Commissioner Gordon’s speech from the Dark Knight slightly, he may not be the manager they need, or want, but he is the one they are stuck with.
The Gunners are in the midst of an all too familiar season of disappointment. Dumped out of the EFL cup early by eventual finalists, Southampton, out of the title race and certainly out of the Champions League, Arsenal’s only chance of silverware is the FA Cup. Having won the competition in two of the last three years, the Arsenal faithful won’t be too impressed with dominating a competition no longer high on the list of the elite.
Another year of tactical and mental failures has increased the calls for Wenger to leave the club and recent results haven’t helped. The 2-1 loss at home to Watford was followed by the somewhat expected 3-1 loss to Chelsea, though it’s the 5-1 hammering at the hands of Bayern that still sticks in the mind. Despite these issues, it seems likely that Wenger will stay at the club. The BBC recently reported that the Arsenal manager will make a decision on his future at the end of the season knowing that new deal has been offered.
And there lies one of the reasons why it is a certainty that Wenger will stay on beyond this season.
The decision makers at Arsenal are quite okay with the status quo and are seemingly in awe of the Professor. Consistent Champions League football and meekly attempted title challenges are good enough for Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis, and co. No one on the board has the football knowledge to challenge Wenger, or at the very least help him improve their fortunes on the field. That also makes the possibility of finding a capable successor even more daunting. Wenger is the Director of Football, manager, and coach all rolled into one. There’s really no other manager, especially at a top club, that has such power. To expect a new manager to come in and fill all those roles is an almost certain recipe for failure. That could be negated by hiring someone to fill the role of Director Football, with the alternative being promoting Wenger to that position. Whether Wenger will want to relinquish everyday control of his team, or the new manager willing to have Wenger breathing down his neck, is another matter.
The names that have been mentioned as possible successors, Thomas Tuchel, Diego Simeone and Massimiliano Allegri favorite among them, are all exciting. Each would have his own reason for not wanting to join. Tuchel has an exciting project already underway at Borussia Dortmund, Simeone has much more ambition than yearly 4th place trophies, plus his style doesn’t fit the Arsenal way, and Allegri is doing well at Juventus where winning the domestic title is a given and actually winning the Champions League is the main concern.
There is the possibility of a lesser known manager taking the reins but that would surely require Wenger staying in an executive role or hiring from the outside. The best bet would be on Silent Stan wanting to keep Wenger around. He doesn’t seem to be the only one either.
The Guardian reports that both Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin would be more inclined to stick around if Wenger stays. The fans will have mixed feelings in this regard but will surely not want to return to the days of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie departing. Ozil’s form this season, and the continued doubts about his performance on the biggest stage means fans may not miss him too much should he go. Bellerin, as reported by ESPNFC, recently sign a new long-term contract so a departure is unlikely.
If the overwhelming majority of the team would like Wenger to stay then that makes the decision easy for the board. On the flipside, Alexis Sanchez, the one player Arsenal can’t lose, seems likely to leave if Wenger retains his place as manager. The Chilean has shown his frustration on numerous occasions this season and may feel his energy is better spent elsewhere. Should a new manager come in he might be tempted to stay.
Wenger is unlikely to want to leave on a sour note and has been in this position before. As far as his employers are concerned, he is meeting the requirements they have for him. One could argue that failure to qualify for the Champions League next season should prompt some response but, again, the likely action will be to trust Wenger to guide the club to a quick return to the competition. The board have given Wenger the utmost trust and confidence and their silence during the recent poor run does nothing to suggest a change will come.
The possibility of life at Arsenal without Arsenal is surely one that keeps “Silent Stan” screaming at night. The recent botched succession of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United is suggested as a major reason the board at Arsenal would be hesitant. That’s understandable but the club then risks falling behind by standing still. Regardless, the board have already made their decision.
A contract has been offered to Wenger in lieu of real success or progress, or silverware as the fans call it. The board is smart enough to know they lack the football knowledge to fill the gap the Frenchman’s departure would create and they probably feel he can’t be adequately replaced. While Arsenal is a club rich in history and full of talent, the elite managers may look at the lack of ambition shown from the top and be drawn elsewhere. The possibility of key players departing, however minute in some cases, also factors in.
Wenger has made himself indispensable to the current leadership at Arsenal. If they are happy with what he provides then a departure will only ever come on his terms. One can only hope Arsenal won’t be too far behind when that occurs.