Hello everyone, there’s only one place to start this morning and that’s the news that Arsene Wenger is set to be handed a two year contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2019. The manager met the owner on Monday, they in turn met the rest of the board yesterday, and the deal should be formally announced today.
It is one, I have to admit, that leaves me with mixed feelings. I’ve thought for a while that Arsenal need a new manager, and last season’s Premier League campaign did nothing to change my mind on that. The FA Cup win last weekend was wonderful, but there’s part of me that thinks he has missed a brilliant opportunity to go out on a real high, before passing the reins onto someone else.
Yet at the same time, I’m aware that as a football club we have done almost nothing to prepare ourselves for life after Wenger. There is no succession plan to replace a manager who, everyone knows, does more than just turn up and coach the team. Replacing him means making more than one appointment, and I don’t believe we’ve given that any serious consideration.
There’s been no contingency put in place to deal with the departure of a man whose power and responsibility is so wide-reaching. My trust in this board to make the right decisions in that regard is almost minimal. After what we’ve seen from them, or more pertinently not seen or heard, over the course of the season and the troubling months we had, I don’t know how anyone could have any faith in them to manage an event of this magnitude properly.
So, I can understand why a club that is fairly risk averse at the best of times has decided that two more years with a man who produces a relatively consistent amount of league points each season and who just won the FA Cup for the third time in four years is a safer option than trying to find someone new.
The key to all of this is though is what comes with this two year deal. Is it two more years of exactly the same, with ongoing issues over recruitment and scouting? Two more years of poor preparation, coaches that need to be replaced, players that consistently underperform and are never properly held accountable? Two more years of the manager doing more than he should be doing without the support structures being put in place that he needs and that the club needs to future proof itself?
Is it two more years of Arsene Wenger with a view to two more years after that, or two years during which we can properly manage the transition to life the post-Arsene era?
Right now, we don’t know. You’d like to think that after everything that’s happened this season, on the pitch and off it, in the grounds and out of the grounds, that people realise things need to change. That our inability to mount a title challenge is a fundamental issue that has to be addressed. That communication with fans is important. That people weren’t protesting just for the laugh, or that the sentiments expressed by some of the protests – even if you disagreed with the delivery method – were not simply that of a small minority.
Then you remember that this is Arsenal, this is Wenger, and you feel like we’ve been here before. That we’ve had summers in the past where it appears blindingly obvious what it is we need to do to make ourselves truly competitive and we’ve flat-out failed to do that. For no apparent reason other than we don’t do our work as well or efficiently as we should.
So when the news drops later on that the manager is staying, I hope he is ready and willing to do things differently. Leopards, spots etc, I know, but some of the reports say that some manner of football executive will be appointed. That’s a start. If not the infamous Director of Football, someone whose job it is to to help and support Wenger, and take some of the workload off him.
Someone who can check on loan players and their progress; someone who can consult with him and deal with player contracts, renewals, departures, purchases etc. Let Wenger have the final say, I don’t think there’s much wrong with that, but someone who can press him to make the decisions rather than leave things on the long-finger or change his mind from one day to the next.
Whoever that person is can transition into the full Director of Football role in the future. Having established themselves they’ll be ready to take on more authority in a new post-Wenger system. As a club we have to start putting in place the structures that will be needed in years to come. Adding football knowledge to a board that has very little is a crucial part of this.
Addressing issues we have had for years with our scouting system is another. Wenger admitted as much himself a couple of months ago. Chief transfer fixer Dick Law is staying for now, but Arsenal’s failures when it comes to recruitment aren’t simply stories made up to amuse people or excuse the way we’ve let deals slip away. One or two might have grown arms and legs down the years, but in general they’re based on fact, not fiction.
And then there’s what we do with this squad in the summer. To say we’ve got our work cut out for us is an understatement. The first thing we have to do is sort out Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. I don’t think you can keep one without keeping the other. I don’t think Sanchez will stay unless Ozil does and vice versa. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the Chilean wants to sign a new deal anyway, but the club have to make every effort to tempt them both to sign up.
If not, big decisions need to be made, and need to be made quickly. We cannot have another summer of sagas, like so many in the past. I realise it’s not completely and utterly in our hands, and there’s a good reason why the agents and players have let it get to this point. It strengthens their hand in negotiations and with both players 28 they’re looking at the last big deals of their careers (unless they go somewhere like China or the Qatar in their 30s).
If we have no alternative but to sell (a distinct possibility), do it quickly and have replacements lined up. We cannot under any circumstances sell Ozil or, in particular, Sanchez to another Premier League club. It’s out of the question. If we have to sell, it’s got to be abroad.
Then there are all the other players whose situations need to be dealt with. I suspect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be off. He wants to play centrally, the manager says he wants to keep him but hasn’t offered him a new deal, and the Ox camp have been quite clear that they’re looking at pastures new. What a shame that would be if we let him go after a season when he took genuine steps forward.
What of Jack Wilshere? Is it time to call quits on a player who no longer even mentions Arsenal in his social media biography? Probably so. Kieran Gibbs has 12 months left on his deal, and we’re bringing in a new left-side player. Wojciech Szczesny is also heading into the final 12 months of his deal and could return from Italy a better, more mature player but will probably end up somewhere else.
Mathieu Debuchy. Carl Jenkinson. Lucas Perez. Yaya Sanogo. Guys who rarely play but who add tens of thousands each to the wage bill every week. There’s a lot to sort out, and that’s before we even think about who we’re going to bring in. It’s also worth pointing out that we won’t have real clarity on that until we sort out Alexis and Ozil.
The manager thinks we can win the league next season with one or two good players, and if it’s a case that those two players are Ozil and Sanchez quality, he may have a point. But that’s predicated on keeping almost everyone else together, and that’s not going to be easy. If we can do that though, they will certainly start to convince people that things might well be different.
It’s not as if there aren’t positives. The FA Cup win and performance shows there’s potential in this group, and criticism over Wenger never changing his ways has been put to one side after a successful move to a back three played a part in that. There are good players and we’ve won something again. It’s about building on those positives, but also being aware of how much work we have to do to correct the negatives like the mid-season slump and the disastrous Champions League exit.
In many ways this is as busy and difficult a summer as Arsene Wenger has ever faced. He’s got all this to deal with, he’s got to build a squad that can cope with the Europa League next season and get itself back where it belongs. And let’s be clear about this: I’ve heard people say that the aim next season is to get back into the Champions League and the top four.
It’s not: it’s about putting together a squad that can challenge properly for the title. It seems a tall order right now, even with the ‘stability’ that Wenger’s extension provides, but that has to be the goal for 2017-18.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get the full story of what went on this season, but let’s not overlook the part the board played in this too. If Wenger has to change, then so do they. Leadership, decisiveness, ambition, some measure of ruthlessness are required, as well as the profile of the people on it. Football clubs need people who understand football.
It might sound obvious, or even a cliche, but it’s true. People who get the intricacies of the game, of player management, contracts, dealing with sneaky agents, understanding the way things work, and how achieving success on the pitch must be the primary concern because that helps all the other stuff like marketing, sponsorships, commercial revenue and all the rest.
This current board have been a shambles over the last few months in particular. They’ve shown themselves to be utterly craven and you have to question whether some put their own self-interest ahead of the club. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me to see one or two of them go, so it’s hugely important we find the right people to replace them as and when that happens.
Ultimately, it’s down to Arsene Wenger and the board to acknowledge the issues we have that have seen us underperform in the league. Arsenal have trumpeted their resources and potential for years. We all know the stuff about being as big as Bayern Munich or doing things in the transfer market that ‘would surprise you’.
We talk a good game, in fairness, but that’s as far as it goes. The club must know how a Wenger extension would be received, and they can’t write off fan sentiment based by dismissing it as the work of some vocal cranks. They can change people’s minds by showing ambition, by being up-front and direct with people instead of hiding in the boardroom, and by putting our money where our mouth is in the transfer market.
I’d like to say I’m cautiously optimistic, but that’s not where I am. It’d be fairer to say I’m vaguely hopeful of being pleasantly surprised. And isn’t that as much as anyone wants from their football club?!
If all that was a bit heavy this morning, why not enjoy our FA Cup run again? I wrote a piece about our journey to making cup history this season, there were plenty of memorable moments along the way, so have fun with that.
We’ll have all the news throughout the day, as well as reaction to the contract stuff, over on Arseblog News.
Have a good one.