A week on the training ground for the players, licking their wounds from consecutive defeats. The excuses wheeled out repeated those from yesteryear; same opposition on Saturday, same result, same reasons. We’ve debated them ad nauseam, so there’s no need to go into them again.
The Arsenal squad is permanently in a state of flux; we’re always on the right path, only to be holding the same inquests as Spring comes into view. This year, I’d offer the view there are other reasons than the norm.
Two key players are holding out on new deals while Arsène won’t decide his future until it suits him. There are others whose deals enter the final year this summer: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs; three players whose place in the XI is far from assured, to varying degrees.
But let’s be honest, the most destabilising of any of those talks is Wenger’s. Not through the loyalty imposed on the players by his acolytes but for various reasons. The latter trio are fringe players; they are the ones a new manager will look at and hold no truck with selling, to make room for his own choices.
Mesut Özil’s refusal to sign a new deal until he knows what is happening with Arsène. It was a statement which lent itself to both sides of the argument and was a masterclass in PR.
The only losers were the board as attention turned to them and questions asked whether they can make the decision to find the best replacement for Wenger. Businessmen, one and all; the only director with any knowledge of a change of manager is Ken Friar.
That’s football; this is business
For the likes of Kroenke Sr. and Jr., it’s a business decision and football is not at its’ heart; they want someone who shares the same philosophy as Arsène. Not in the style of play but the development of the squad using minimal funds overall.
Success doesn’t matter; they don’t have the risk-takers mentality of ambition. They are scared to fail, and as a result, Arsenal remains the most conservative of clubs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the over-riding view of the board is that fear of change paralyses them.
The right to decide his future rightly remains with Wenger; we’re all the masters of our destiny in that respect, so why not him? However, there’s a difference.
Having been at the helm for so long, his can’t be a snap decision. The last renewal he freely admitted was an emotional decision made off the back of the Hull triumph.
This time, departing seems almost inevitable for a man who has the best interests of the club at heart. And it has to be a clean break.
A season-long procession around the Premier League was felt to be too disruptive to a squad focussed on winning the title. A crowning glory which can’t happen now. Far from being disruptive, the fare of the past two seasons offers the view that it might be the last motivational avenue he has.
Any who claim we’ve still got two cups to play for need to lower their sights. As Arjen Robben sneered, reaching the last sixteen is a good season in Europe for us. In truth, it always has been; we’re a top eight club financially, we should be on the pitch as well.
The question is whether Arsène is brave enough to take that decision now? I’d argue not; he’s hoping beyond hope that circumstances converge which make renewal a universally popular decision. That’s unlikely; 2006 and 2009 remain anomalies.
No-one can achieve the impossible, let alone Arsène
Hopes and dreams always underpinned football; no matter the level, no matter the circumstance. The consistency of achieving top four finishes is a businessman’s dream not those of a fan.
For a football man, that’s not ambition either.
There is a wider aspect to consider on this. The planning for next season has to begin soon if it’s not already underway. If Arsène has yet to commit to the club, should he be involved? He’s going to set the squad out according to his philosophy, one which has been proven to be unsustainable in the Premier League.
Are we, in waiting for his decision, holding the club’s fortunes hostage?