The febrile atmosphere around Arsenal at the moment, lends itself to all manner of mischief. Arsène’s comment on Saturday that his future was decided played out as expected. Claim and counter-claim, wild stories and baffling leaps of, well, logic isn’t the right word.
Summing up the situation at Arsenal, none of them are easy to dismiss as folly and invention. It began with the pilot of the plane flying the pro-Arsène banner claiming his clients wanted the world to know they were from Hong Kong. No-one knows why but it fed the conspiracy.
If I remember this correctly, Sir Chips’ family firm has offices in a Hong Kong backstreet and because of that, the chairman’s family were behind it all. It’s a more complex plot than a Jack Reacher film. My initial thought was just because the family which owns my local Chinese takeaway is from the same country as the head of the Ministry of State Security in Beijing doesn’t mean they are communist spies.
Team Wenger then spun a yarn about a one-year contract being signed. Why anyone would believe a one-year deal is on the table is beyond me, although to be fair, why I disbelieve it is almost beyond me as well. Anything is possible.
And the topping off the madness, German newspaper Bild got bored of lambasting Donald Trump and reported that Arsenal had approached Thomas Tuchel about replacing Wenger.
Something Better Change
And you thought the international break was going to bring some relief from the madness.
In truth it should end it. There’s no reason for Arsène’s future to be shrouded in secrecy any longer particularly since he taunted the press after Saturday’s defeat.
There’s no good time to announce he is staying. Holding on until after the FA Cup final is a risky business, not least as there’s (a) no guarantee we’ll make it to the final, and, (b) even if we beat City, losing in the final isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. It’s too high risk a strategy for the board to pursue. Or at least, you’d think so!
But they won’t have to. Arsène, according to the Daily Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson, is staying. The boardroom is expected to resemble a US presidential husting with chants from Chips and co, of “TWO MORE YEARS! TWO MORE YEARS!”
Wenger, it’s claimed, will tell them he believes that he can drag the club out of the worst run of form since Stewart Houston found himself able to delegate cone duty.
Just as Sir Alex Ferguson deferred his retirement out of vanity, Arsène in those circumstances, would be doing the same. Form, as we all know, is transient. A run of defeats is less easily turned than the other way round, but the public image of the squad is one divided. Not among itself, although there’s an element of that, but one which is not responding to the manager.
Burning Up Time
The question for Kroenke to deal with is whether Arsène remaining in charge will damage his investment. Financially, the club will take a hit next season by playing in the Europa League. Missing out on the Champions League was always something which was deemed temporary in budgetary terms; now it looks like being a reality, even if we suddenly find a rich vein of form.
Too many stars need to align for us to finish in the top four. The results this season suggest we’ll struggle to win the big games and we need others to hit a dip in form, and we’re running out of games for that to happen.
While to many the Europa League is an anathema, it could easily prove to be Wenger’s redemption in some minds. Winning the competition brings a return to the Champions League, and ends his unenviable record being the only manager to lose finals in all three European competitions and not win any of them.
Again, I see that as a vanity project. It’s not about what’s good for the club, it’s rehabilitating Arsène.
However, it’s about money and Kroenke’s view of his investment. Don’t kid yourself that there is any sense of loyalty from Stan. Wenger delivers the financial results he wants through ‘Player Trading’; nothing more, nothing less. If Arsène spent £200m each summer, the American would be a lot less forgiving, I’m sure.
No More Heroes
Retaining the Frenchman as manager is a huge risk. The protests aren’t going to disappear overnight and it’s this aspect I find hardest to reconcile in terms of Wenger’s future.
The arguments won’t change but the intensity will. Every defeat is seized on at the moment but we took until the autumn to get here, or even see where it was really heading. If Arsène renews, I’d expect an unforgiving atmosphere from Day One.
A new season wouldn’t bring new hope and the board know it; rocket science, it most definitely isn’t. Nor is it so crass as simply getting behind the team and accepting nothing will change. I think that argument misjudges the mood. Many supporters will see that as the gauntlet being thrown down and will rise to the bait. It’s going to get a lot worse with Wenger before it gets better. That’s if it ever does.
These are strange times at Arsenal right now and everything is guesswork. How the club has got itself into this mess is poor leadership. And sadly, that’s the only way we’re going to get out of it.