Same old owner, same old manager, same old players, and same old results? Is that what Arsenal supporters can expect for the next two seasons as their club prepares to announce today that Arsene Wenger has agreed a new two-year contract?
It will be reassuring news to many, who share Wenger’s view that he remains the best man for the job and, with the right financial backing, can take Arsenal not only back into the top four, but to challenge for the Premier League title he won three times in his first nine years at the club.
In some respects, ‘Wenger Stays’ was the worst kept secret in football with the French coach hinting in the New Year that he had been offered a contract that will effectively make it 23 years in charge when it expires in 2019. As my wife said ahead of our wedding anniversary today, some people get less time for murder! But she is not a fan of Arsenal, football, nor me by the sound of it.
And, as Wenger was painfully aware, there were numerous calls for him to be lynched, in a footballing sense, for much of last season. For the last few seasons, in fact.
That is why there was an air of doubt over Wenger’s future.
Would he really want to sign up for two more years of possible abuse — even for £16m in wages?
In the end, as it always had been, it came down to the wit and wisdom of just two men; Le Boss himself and Arsenal’s much-maligned American owner Stan.
With the rest of the Arsenal board seemingly in favour of trying a new man at the helm, but also not knowing who to turn to, Silent Stan let his voice be heard loudest and backed the man he knew best.
The fear, for Arsenal fans, is that Kroenke and his cohorts simply do not know who else to get in.
But by the end of last season, the frustration among supporters was being aimed more at the boardroom than the dugout.
Wenger had largely turned round things on the pitch, with his new look side based on a three-man defence delivering a winning end to the season and a record 13th FA Cup Final win.
The erudite 67-year-old spoke of the criticisms ahead of Saturday’s remarkable Wembley triumph over Chelsea, describing the protests against him, in the media, from pundits and former players and on the terraces, as ‘a disgrace’ and something he will never forget.
But should he be steeling himself for even more hostilities if the club endures a poor summer transfer window and turns into the next New Year running out of ideas in the title race as they did this season?
Opinion among the Arsenal fans seems, as ever, to be split. The vocal minority will see Kroenke and Wenger’s decision as a negative one — unless the billionaire puts his hand in his pocket for once and allows his coach to compete with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in the transfer market.
That will soon become evident if omnipresent star player Alexis Sanchez stays or leaves, as money is the motivation in football. The same can be said of the occasional star player Mesut Ozil, as both of their contracts have been debated almost as much as the manager’s.
Wenger’s weakness has been to indulge the petulant pair this season, when perhaps a more confrontational manager would have packed them off due to their lack of commitment to the cause.
Loyalty to a club is something he holds desperately dear, but he seems to be forgiving of his players when he does not get it in return.
What Wenger needs to do now, as there is no way he will either want to or be allowed to compete with the petrol dollars of Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and City’s Qatari owners — not to mention the money-printing machine that is Manchester United — is to get back to what he does best.
And that is to get players to perform to their maximum ability and beyond.
One only has to look at the Chelsea final and the outstanding performances from players such as young defender Rob Holding, erratic midfielder Aaron Ramsey and the supposedly past it centre back Per Mertesacker to see Wenger has still got it in him.
But one match does not make a season and it only took six wins to claim that trophy. What Arsenal supporters want, and the manager too for that matter, is to compete for the title again.
With the added complication of Thursday night football in the Europa League and taking last season’s inconsistencies as a whole, it would seem winning the league next year is a step too far. Even to compete again would be a surprise, but would that really change if Wenger would have walked this summer?
Only time will tell. At least this way Arsenal will have stability and a chance to get their recruitment right should Wenger go in the next couple of years.
Possible replacements, such as Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, and Pep Guardiola have passed them by. But maybe Massimo Allegri will be keen to try something new after Juventus by 2019. Maybe Wenger will be vindicated and Arsenal will be challenging at the top again.
History tells us that both scenarios are not impossible, but unlikely.
For Wenger has been a victim of his own success. For many clubs and managers this season would be regarded as a triumph as he became the first coach in the history of the English game to win the FA Cup seven times.
He rates it up their with his Invincibles trophy in 2004. But therein lies the problem. That unbeaten season marked Wenger’s third and final title to date.
The fans raised on a diet of undiluted glory are no longer sated by three FA Cups in four seasons. Whether or not they are right to feel so entitled or spoiled is another question, but their best way to enjoy the next two seasons is to get behind their manager and players as they did at Wembley at the weekend and enjoy the ride.
For the chant that rang out around so many stadia last season has been enacted by Arsenal, who will today confirm ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay.’
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