ONCE AGAIN, the knife grinder has been to the Emirates and the Sabatiers are out for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. And Le Professeur has clearly had enough of the media and the constant probing of journalists – his latest press conference saw him get rather rattled by the questions being asked about his contract and whether he was likely to fulfil it.
No wonder the man is getting irate, though. His contract is personal, his job is personal, but every time Arsenal have a setback – and they’re getting more frequent – he goes through this same process. As far as he’s concerned, nothing has changed.
Even Arsenal’s over-patient board of directors must be getting tired of the great Wenger debate that takes place every few weeks. They gave him a two-year deal, which many people felt was foolhardy, and they seem to be the last people on planet Arsenal that realised it wouldn’t really work.
The fact is, the plan is unravelling. Arsenal signed Alexandre Lacazette for a huge fee, but a few months later, they sign another trophy striker. In today’s football world, you don’t generally have two alpha strikers competing for that one place, so the likelihood is that Lacazette will have to move on. Apparently, Wenger has said the Frenchman is lacking confidence since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived, and who can blame him? He was seen as the solution to a problem, but his position has already been undermined.
Arsenal claim to be relative paupers compared to the Citys and Chelseas, but they’ve spent around £100m on two strikers. It doesn’t sound like the best use of resources. Certainly, their team was incredibly poor at Wembley for the Football League Cup final, prompting pundit Gary Neville to use the language of the terrace to describe their attitude – but was that because Arsenal were capitulating against City, hated rivals of Neville’s former employer? If nothing else, the performance underlined the incredible gulf between Manchester City and the rest more than it did about the current Arsenal condition.
Even before they kicked off, the press were noting that Arsene Wenger’s future was in the balance if they were beaten. But it was City they were up against. It is not inconceivable that the headlines were already being written before the teams even got to Wembley.
Which does make you wonder if Wenger may eventually get hounded-out by the media more than any action taken by his board. Only his stubbornness and arrogance would prevent him from throwing-in the towel because of a few tenacious journalists.
Gradually, the sentiment has shifted against Wenger, even among those that championed “Arsene knows best” for so long. Most clubs who have a diminished force as a manager would listen to the supporters and make a decision. Then majority of clubs with Arsenal’s wealth and prestige would not allow a manager whose stock has been falling to spend as much money as he has over the past year, and most would not have given that manager a two-year contract when the past five years have been as tortuous for a man whose best days have, sadly, passed.
You can give Arsenal great credit for not being knee-jerk about Wenger, but you have to question their strategy when the club’s position has been eroded significantly over the past two years. Wenger cannot be blamed for accepting a new deal, he loves Arsenal and he loves his job. In 2016-17, Wenger was reported as earning £8.3m per year, making him the fourth highest paid manager in world football. Why would you willingly give that up at the club that remains among the best on the planet?
The way Arsenal have started 2018 suggests that, to quote Arsenal fan Jeremy Corbyn, “change is coming”. It is likely that Arsenal will find a comfortable and dignified way to end Wenger’s reign in the dugout. When the malaise that seems to have set-in at the Emirates starts to compromise the franchise from a financial perspective, you can expect the suits to act decisively. But you sense the behaviour of the media, fans and pundits is unlikely to influence that decision. Leave Wenger alone and the right decisions will be made. Keep pushing and the nature of the beast will be to stubbornly resist.