Stories are emerging about the manager’s desire to stay, along with reports of huge “war chests” and a summer transfer revolution. It’s typically conservative stuff from a club that have become scared by a fear of the unknown.
The board are partly hoping to capitalise on the culture of fear that surrounds replacing the manager. The example of David Moyes succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 is constantly referred to, but in reality it’s not analogous.
When Ferguson retired, he did so as champion of England. Wenger has not won the Premier League title since 2004 — 13 years ago. The idea his departure will prompt a precipitous drop-off in performance is a fallacy. Arsenal are already tumbling down into that decline.
Amid all the warnings of a “Moyes era” at Arsenal, the question people ask all too frequently is: What if we’re already in it?
There is potentially a significant upside here. In some ways, Wenger’s final gift to the club might be that he has sacrificed his own standing with the fans to help the club muddle through a premature period of transition. Had he walked away closer to 2006’s move to the Emirates, he would have left his successor with a hugely difficult task, juggling the financial implications of the ground move with the demands of the fans.
Now, the situation is different. The economic pressure has decreased and Arsenal could spend up to £100 million in this summer’s transfer window without any real worries. The expectations of the fans have also been steadily lowered over the past decade. All a new man has to do is get past the second round of the Champions League and mount a credible title challenge to be regarded as a major upgrade. Wenger’s decision to remain in the hot-seat well beyond his peak has effectively handed the next boss an easier ride.
The next phase of the transition should be an announcement about Wenger’s imminent departure. Stories in the press indicate he wants to stay, but what he wants and what’s appropriate are not necessarily the same thing. If Wenger really is as lucid as he claims he’ll surely sense the mood among the fans. He has called himself a masochist, but if he chose to subject himself to yet more pressure it would be the most damning indictment of his ailing judgement to date.
Some have warned of the dangers of Wenger letting his intentions be publicly known. Again, Ferguson is cited as an example — the former United boss called prematurely announcing his decision to retire in 2002 the biggest regret of his distinguished career. He said: “The biggest mistake I made was announcing it at the start of the [2001-02] season, and I think a lot of them had put their tools away; they thought, ‘Oh, the manager’s leaving'”. The suggestion is that if Wenger were to follow suit, Arsenal’s players might mentally switch.
Well, the players already are mentally switching off, game after game. Look at the way they capitulated — twice, lest you forget — against Bayern Munich. Alternatively, take a glance at the “marking” employed against West Brom. Arsenal’s players are already allowing their concentration to slip. If anything, Wenger handing in his notice might focus their minds a bit more. The squad would know they had just a few weeks to repay the faith of a manager who has protected them for years. As it is, the players are able to hide behind the uncertainty. It’s a convenient excuse for their indolence.
Arguably, there is now more to fear about Wenger staying on than him going. The atmosphere around the club is poisonous, and will only become more toxic if a new contract is announced. The old arguments against change simply will not work anymore and nor, for much longer, should Wenger.