The game of football is not prone to making pragmatic decisions, largely due to finance and to the opium of success. Arsenal have ended a barren spell with the FA Cup in arguably the most exciting final of the modern age. The celebrations will tell you that it meant something, that the FA Cup can still raise the blood pressure and deliver memorable moments that will be etched in folklore for years to come. Arsenal’s comeback and eventual victory will be one of those moments – not since 1966 has a two-goal deficit been turned around in such a manner.
Wenger, too, was a happy man, although being hoisted above his players, at the age of 64, may have made the professorial Frenchman realise that time is getting on. Never mind, it was a special day for Arsenal.
But is this not the right time for Wenger to call it a day? To take that big pay cheque in France or Germany? I think it is. I have no gripe with Wenger. He has been a model manager down the years, he had good values (although he could do with a trip to Specsavers given he fails to see so much) and he stubbornly refuses to put his employers under financial pressure. In a perfect world, the Arsenal model is one we should all replicate.
But cast your mind back to August 2013 and the opening day of the season. Were there not calls for Wenger to go? Were there not placards urging him to “spend some money”? Did the critics not re-emerge when Arsenal hit a mid-season blip? And what happened to Arsenal? They finished fourth in a season where the title was up for grabs.
Wenger did spend some money, and initially, Mesut Ozil looked like a capture. But he faded like a pavement artist’s best work and suddenly, £40m seemed an indulgence. He had a disappointing final, but will surely come again, but Arsenal’s team does need reinforcements. Wenger has denied that he needs to buy big, which means Arsenal fans can expect more of the same next season. The very criticism aimed at the venerable Wenger at times in 2013-14 will return. City, Chelsea, Liverpool and United will all be active in the transfer market in the close season, so there is every reason to suspect that Arsenal may be looking at a struggle for fourth once more.
There are dozens of top clubs desperately seeking Arsene. There will be no shortage of marquee managers wanting one of the blue riband (sorry, red riband) jobs in English football in arguably the best stadium in the country. The time may be right to make a change at Arsenal, although Wenger sees the cup win as a different kind of “turning point”.
What will happen? Wenger has hinted he is about to sign his contract, so it looks as if it’s “Carry On Regardless”, but if I sat on the board at the Emirates, I would be uncomfortably tempted to suggest Wenger should stand aside now with a trophy in his hand. That would be a great epitaph. The question is, has a man of his time got the vigour to rebuild and revitalise a team that may have only limited upside?