“I’m here for 21 years. I’ve turned down the whole world to honour my contracts,” said Arsene Wenger ahead of Thursday’s clash against Manchester City in the Premier League.
Flailing after an embarrassing defeat to the same team a few days ago, Wenger was typically bullish in front of the cameras. Two decades might have passed but he is adamant he is still the best person to arrest a decline that sees his team sit 27 points off the top of the Premier League.
Increasingly though, he’s the only one convinced. The narrative surrounding his future has shifted; it’s no longer ‘if’ he’ll go but ‘how’.
Some think he should be able to dictate the terms of his exit. They point to his legacy in the English game – the nutritional and physiological advances, the style of football, the trophies and the teams.
They believe those achievements should grant him the licence to choreograph his own withdrawal. With a year left on his contract, they say, there’s plenty of time to do things with ‘class’.
Such an approach, however, assumes that Wenger is cognisant of the team’s failings; that he believes the situation is unsalvageable.
Anybody who has borne witness to the past ten years will know, however, that Wenger will not come to this realisation.
The Frenchman will always consider himself the person best-placed to right the ship; it’s an iron-clad self-regard that is at least partly responsible for the trophy-laden successes of his early years.
Arsenal cannot, however, confuse loyalty with nostalgia. Fidelity to a manager that has brought the club success is admirable, but the sad fact is that they have been in precipitous decline for the last decade.
The arrogance in his own abilities might have been an asset ten years ago but it looks like a destructive trait now.
The landscape has changed
It’s not all Wenger’s fault, of course. Nobody should expect Arsenal to compete with teams backed by gargantuan commercial interests or, in some cases, entire nations. The landscape has changed irrevocably.
It’s also worth pondering, too, the impact that a more competitive chairman could have had on the club’s achievements.
Stan Kroenke has no interest in sporting ambitions so long as Arsenal tread water; any new manager will have to function within the same choking stagnation in the boardroom.
The most damning failures, however, have been on the football pitch.
Wenger’s involvement with matters as varied as stadium development and player recruitment suggest an organisation that has been in thrall to one man for too long. His tactics and decisions have been uncontested for too long.
Risk and reward
“Careful what you wish for,” warn the sages in response to the calls for Wenger’s departure. Getting rid of him, they say, doesn’t automatically mean a manager of similar quality will arrive in his stead.
Except that this year, it isn’t true. Jogi Low, Leonardo Jardim, Julian Nagelsmann and Carlo Ancelotti are just four of the top-class managers linked with the job in recent days.
Some have won more than others but all four would represent a genuine shift from the staid regime that the club are suffering under. It might get worse under them but it might get better too; something that seems unlikely in the incumbency.
The question Arsenal’s board should be asking is this: will the club flourish under another year of Wenger rule?
If not, then there’s only one decision to make, ceremony or no ceremony.
What do you think? Should Arsene Wenger go? Let us know by commenting below.