One of the complaints you hear about Arsenal is that the seasons we have are similar. Look good for a while in the league, form takes a tumble, we drop out of contention for the title, then do enough to get into the top four. Sometimes we do that easily, other times it’s as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm. This season is one of the camely ones.
Then in Europe we look quite good at times in the group stages, but regardless of whether we finish top of our group or second, we contrive to go out at the Round of 16, usually to Barcelona or Bayern Munich. And on that basis, we can say that this campaign has followed that path once more.
Before I started writing this morning, I had a quick check back to what was going on in the final week of last season, before all that final day hilarity with the 5-1 at Newcastle helped us gloss over what had been a glorious chance to win the league.
Anyway, that week there were reports that Arsene Wenger was set to be offered a new two year deal by the club, with one line in the report saying that Stan Kroenke wanted an answer by October because that would give the club time to source a replacement if Wenger was going to leave.
A couple of days later Wenger angrily denied the substance of that report, saying:
That’s completely wrong and I don’t know where this information comes from. You can treat that as just an invention. Another one. It’s absolutely false. And I would like this press to check the information before they give it out because they could have checked with the club or with myself and we’d both have denied it.
At this press conference that week, ahead of our final game of the season, he had this exchange with James Olley of the Evening Standard:
Have you decided what you will do, privately, beyond next season?
What will determine that?
What I focus [on] is to respect my contract and after [I’ll] envisage what I do after. I can understand that people are interested in that but that’s not the most important. I think I’ve extended my contract at a period when it was vital for the club and after that I will see where I am personally and where the club stands at the end of my contract.
So, to rephrase that slightly…what happens next season will determine whether you stay or not?
Of course, yeah. You sum it up very well.
That week I wrote about Wenger’s future, and said:
I don’t think there’s any way to justify a new deal for the manager based on his footballing performance – which is what should be the main driver. This season, even if we do somehow manage to finish second, has been a failure. I know there will be people who’ll say ‘Aston Villa, now that’s a failure, they’d love to swap places with Arsenal’, and of course that’s true. It’s true of many other Premier League clubs. Yet, it ignores context. However remarkable Leicester have been this season, this was a fantastic opportunity for Arsenal to win the league for the first time since 2004, and we blew it.
Can we say there’s been anything in this season’s overall performance that justifies a new deal? Some might argue that having more points than last season is a measure of improvement, but going from second to fifth (potentially), makes a lie of that.
Basically though, we’re still wondering about the same things. The manager’s future, whether or not the club is prepared to stand by their man or go in a different direction, and there were questions about Stan Kroenke too. I wrote:
Final note: I do think that as much as Wenger is frustrating, he’s insulating us from Kroenke to an extent. As much as I would like to see a new manager, I think there are dangers as yet unseen from his ownership. I guess time will tell on that though.
Tim Stillman wrote in his column that week:
I think the jury is just about out on KSE’s tenure until a new manager is appointed and overseen. At the moment, an uneasy adhesive seems to have formed between a laissez-faire owner and an autocratic coach. The handling of Arsene’s departure and replacement will tell us a lot more about the quality of KSE’s custodianship and their’ interest in our affairs’. At the moment, willingness to invest does not seem to be an issue. For me, the conviction of Kroenke’s leadership remains open to question until Wenger the benevolent dictator departs.
Are we any the wiser about Stan or KSE? No. He, and they, have shown themselves to be utterly inept and lacking the decisiveness and leadership a football club of this stature requires. Josh Kroenke leaking to the press about the Director of Football stuff? Give me strength, it’s ham-fisted self-preservation from people who do not have a clue about what a modern football club requires to make genuine progress.
And we go into our final league game of the season on Sunday looking for the planets to align for us once more. Would it actually surprise anyone if Liverpool blew it and we scraped into the top four by the skin of our teeth? I’m not optimistic, but it wouldn’t shock me if that happened because that’s the way things go for us.
Yet we’ve had 12 months of wondering what Wenger is going to do, what the club is going to do, and I know players should be professional and blah blah blah but you will never convince me that all the background stuff hasn’t had an effect on what’s happened on the pitch this season. Sores have been allowed to fester, authorities have been undermined, we hit a kind of rock bottom and have bounced back, but as much as I’ve enjoyed winning games again, let’s not forget what an unfettered clusterfck the end of January to the end of April was either.
Arsenal, empty seats, empty rhetoric, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Probably. Because nothing has changed. And if you had to put money on it, would you bet on them changing this summer?
No, me neither.
Yesterday’s Arsecast Extra gave us a good chance to discuss Alexis Sanchez, his future and whether we could keep him; as well as tickets, Europa League, goalkeepers, summer signings and lots more. Listen below, and I’ll be back with the last Arsecast of this regular season tomorrow! Until then, have a good one.