The question that will reveal the truth of Arsène Wenger’s resignation, to be asked by some bold journalist between now and the season’s end is this…
So Arsène. You said, “I have been here for 21 years and I always respected my contract”. Why the change of heart?
The reality is there hasn’t been one. Arsène Wenger would be here next season and beyond if he had his way. But he no longer controls the club as he has done for many years. He was informed he was going at the end of this season and then it came down to how to manage it. Winning the Europa League was not going to save him. Even if the club made their Champions League money next season, under Wenger, what were the chances of them being in the 2019/20 competition? Going on the last two campaigns, it was a real gamble to see if he would avoid finishing outside the top four for a third season running.
Arsène will get a season’s salary as pay-off. Part of the agreement that has seen him go along with the resignation narrative will see him paid up to the end of his deal, unless there is a clause in the deal signed last May that avoids this. I doubt Wenger would have agreed to that myself. And yet reputedly there are JustGiving pages being set up to help him out in his retirement. I find this difficult to believe, but just in case it is true, here’s a heads up guys. Arsène is paid north of £160,000 a week. With add-ons we can only speculate, probably £1,000 per hour for every hour he breathes, including sleep. £2,000 per hour if you want to simply pay him for working time on the basis he does a 12 hour day – assuming he works until 8pm every evening. He does not need charity. If you want to fund something in his honour set up a page to benefit someone who your money would actually make a difference to and do it in tribute to Arsène.
I knew Arsène was toast when Ivan Gazidis told the recent fans’ forum meeting “It would be disrespectful to discuss the manager’s position” or words to that effect. The hiring of Messrs Sanllehi and Mislintat were obvious clues that change was afoot, that Arsène wasn’t going to have anything to do with the 2018 summer transfer window, and indeed, had minimal influence in the January one, in spite of Sanllehi not yet being involved as the club’s director of football (or whatever title he has been given to spare Arsène’s blushes). Arsène stated quite firmly that he runs the footballing side of the club, and yet, two individuals were brought in to take over a lot of the fundamental stuff he and his lackeys have not been doing very well and both report to the CEO, not the first team coach. Arsène’s pride was being severely dented.
It was interesting to read Gazidis’ words at the press conference yesterday evening. Here is a man who has got sick of lying to justify the decisions of the club’s majority owner Stan Kronke. Asked whether it was a mutual decision and what had changed in a year?, Gazidis responded, “I don’t want to go into the details of private conversations around the decision. Today is not for that.” And when asked if he wanted Wenger to stay, he said, “I don’t want to get into all the discussions that went on. The decision is made”.
I also noted with interest Gazidis’ statement that Arsène, “wanted to, when the day came to leave the club, leave it in a stronger position than he found it, and I think that he leaves in a very strong position to move forward.” When Arsène arrived, Arsenal were in third place behind Newcastle and Liverpool. The previous season they had finished fifth under Bruce Rioch. Are the club in a stronger position in 2018? Not according to the League table.
Yesterday, with the quality of the tributes to the manager, it was as if he had died. One doesn’t speak ill of the dead. And Arsène’s career at Arsenal is now dead. The remainder of the season an opportunity for fans to place metaphorical flowers on his grave. There’s no point in the outpouring of any further vitriol now, no reason for fans to fight one another in the stands over their difference of opinion. The reason this announcement was made now was because the alternative was Arsène slinking off in mid-May like a thief in the night. In a sense, fair play to him. I am certain he could have negotiated that style of departure if he wanted to, but he realises that to have any chance against Atletico, he needs a united fanbase all backing the team, 100%. We can do that now.
That there was a sizeable contingent of Arsenal fans that did not want their own club to win the Europa League for the simple reason it risked at least another season with Wenger at the helm. When you reach the stage of fans positively wanting their team to lose matches simply to effect change, you are in deep, deep trouble.
The announcement now also avoids the further ignominy of a half empty stadium for the matches against West Ham and Burnley. Arsène will not want his reign to end with him looking at swathes of empty (paid for) seats. That, as much as anything, was a key factor in the decision to call time on him. I have a heavy suspicion that number of club level and corporate box non-renewals recently were also heavily influential. Arsenal had to do something before too many people who had paid not to turn up simply chose not to pay either.
But more than anything, it is the fact that the club will be posting an operating loss for the current financial year that would have made Stan Kroenke actually take notice of the decline. The disappointment on the playing front will have meant diddly squat to a man that doesn’t give two hoots for the sport. However, balance books are something he has genuine passion for. The shareholders’ rebellion at last October’s Annual General Meeting would have not have hindered the decision to move on and it was around this time that the club started talks with Carlo Ancelotti who, as I understand it, will be the manager next season. Ancelotti is seen as the steadying hand that can guide the club through the transitional post-Wenger period and start the re-building job. The first team squad will be largely unrecognisable in two years’ time with at most half a dozen of the current 23 listed on the official website still at the club. The January departures of Walcott, Coquelin and Giroud were just the start. And there won’t now be a year’s extension for poor old Santi Cazorla, unless the Spaniard will accept a pay as you play deal.
Arsène Wenger did some great things in his first decade at the club, and oversaw the move to the new stadium. But his team self-imploded in 2008 with the chance of winning either or both of the Premier League and the Champions League a distinct possibility. In 2009, he treated the FA Cup semi-final with disdain by using it as a warm up for the Champions League semi-final, which he lost in humiliating fashion to Manchester United. His teams would then go on to habitually concede four goals or more too often for it to be a co-incidence. Spurs, Newcastle, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. And in Europe, Bayern and Barcelona. And when the other top four teams had a fallow season, leaving the path open to the first long-awaited Premier League title since 2004, his side fell ten points short of Leicester City. Every other top four team called time on their managers for that.
Wenger though, was saved, ironically given his treatment of Andrey Arshavin in 2009, by the FA Cup, twice winning the competition to keep his job. The reality though, is that he should have gone six months after Gazidis arrived at the club in 2009. In the cold hard light of day, when the dust has settled, history will tell of a club that stopped contending after they moved from Highbury, that kept faith with a manager for several seasons too long when it was obvious he had lost his mojo. The profits the club generated kept him in post as long as he was qualifying for the Champions League.
The over-riding emotion is relief for many Gooners. A case of: Thank God it’s finally over, this tortuous descent into mediocrity. The football this season has been patchy to say the least. A few good memories, but a hell of a lot of tripe, especially away from home. It will be very interesting to see how the players react. Will they raise their game as they did in the FA Cup semi and final last season? That they can play with such conviction was ultimately a condemnation of Wenger, given that they chose not to the vast majority of the time.
No doubt the Arsenal fans will celebrate him now. We’ll hear the ‘There’s only one Arsène Wenger” chant at games again for the first time in eons and he’ll be wished a fond farewell. Arsène – Thanks for the memories, but it was time to say goodbye years ago. You just lacked the self-awareness or generosity to do what was best for the club you professed to love. In the end, Stan was persuaded, probably by a combination of son Josh and the financials, to stick the knife in. So your final contract ends a year early. You were not able to honour it. You have left a royal mess for your successor, but at least there is now a team at the club able to repair the damage more quickly than if you’d been given the bullet last May. So in spite of everything, the future is bright, there is cause for optimism. It will take two seasons before the club can credibly challenge again for the title, but there is every chance it will be moving in the right direction. Because people, it is very unlikely to be worse than the season we have just endured.
The reason the resignation narrative is the one that suits all parties is simple. The Emirates is a shrine to Wenger. As the stadium was built in the early 2000s they were largely able to erase mention of George Graham, a man who won six trophies in eight seasons. In terms of fixtures and fittings, it became a giant vanity project to the incumbent manager, which would always leave the club in an awkward position if it all went the shape of a pear. So the official version of events means they will not be forced into an embarrassing interior decorating overhaul and the bust in the directors’ entrance can remain.
Au revoir Arsène. We’ll never see your like again. Thanks for the Highbury years. As for the rest, what exactly was the point in moving from our beloved old home again?
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