If Arsenal Football Club was a democracy belonging to the supporters, Wenger wouldn’t have a contract extension on the table. In a recent survey by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, 78% didn’t want the French manager to sign a new contract. That’s quite a contrast with the 2015 survey in which 84% wanted Wenger to stay at the club.
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The situation has significantly changed in less than two years. At the end of the 2014-15 season, the Gunners lifted the FA Cup and finished third in the Premier League, 5 points ahead of Manchester United, 11 clear of Spurs and 13 clear of Liverpool. Arsenal can still win the FA Cup but a quick look at the Premier League standings tells you what’s wrong. The Gunners sit in sixth place, 9 points behind Liverpool and 12 behind Spurs. They still have a couple of games in hand but there’s no guarantee that they’ll win them.
Here are five reasons why the board shouldn’t extend Wenger’s contract when it expires at the end of this season:
- The timing is perfect for the team. The squad needs a massive overhaul. Wenger has been too loyal to his players. Only a new manager could be ruthless enough to clear the dead wood.
- The board has a justification. Wenger has built his reputation on his consistency in finishing in the Top 4. By finishing outside the Top 4 this season, he would fail to meet that target. See what happened to Van Gaal last season.
- Wenger has lost his golden touch in the transfer market. He is therefore unlikely to improve the squad. Arsenal spent more than Liverpool and Tottenham last summer, yet the Gunners are trailing both clubs. That’s called regression, not improvement.
- The club desperately needs new ideas. Only a new manager could find the answer to deep-rooted problems, whether it’s our tactical approach, squad management or transfer policy.
- Wenger might have lost the dressing room. The Gunners have lost 4 of their last 5 Premier League games. The manager took most of the blame for the club’s worst run under his tenure while very few players acknowledged their poor performances on the pitch. The last time Wenger lost the dressing room was in the summer of 2011 when Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy left the club. Half the dressing room wanted to leave, according to the manager. That crisis led to a poor start to the season in the Premier League with 1 draw and 2 losses, including the humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, and to the mad trolley dash in the last days of the transfer window. The Gunners are safe from relegation with 50 points this season, but the last two months of competition will speak volumes about the mood in the dressing room.
A lot of Arsenal fans can see that Wenger’s powers are waning. Yet, the board might decide to keep him as the club’s manager for one more year or two.
Here are five reasons why a contract extension would not be in the club’s interests and could backfire:
- It would antagonize the fanbase. That could jeopardize the club’s results next season. A hostile atmosphere would instill fear and anxiety in the players and impact their performances on the pitch.
- The board would take the risk of firing Wenger in the middle of the season. It would make me sick to see Wenger treated like Ranieri at Leicester. The most successful manager in the club’s history doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. Firing Wenger in the middle of the season would be much more disrespectful than not renewing his contract. The big difference between the U.S. and Europe is that U.S. clubs are safe from relegation while European clubs have no such security. Aston Villa, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Blackburn don’t even play in the Premier League although they won the league in the past. A relegation battle would give the board no choice. Even Chelsea owner Abramovich couldn’t save Mourinho from the ax last season.
- It would make the task of rebuilding more difficult for the next manager. Players like Koscielny, Monreal and Giroud will have lost a step in a year or two and stars like Sanchez and Ozil will probably be gone. Arsenal could be left two years behind in its development because of the board’s passivity.
- Wenger is past his prime. The manager has claimed that he can reinvent himself and last as long as Ferguson at Manchester United. But Ferguson is an exception and the big difference is that Ferguson kept winning titles in the last years of his career. In fact, there’s no guarantee that managers age well in their 60’s. Del Bosque is a year younger than Wenger and led Real Madrid to Champions League glory twice. He also won the 2010 World Cup and the Euro 2012 as the Spain manager. But then Spain got knocked out in the first round of the 2014 World Cup and in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 because of Del Bosque’s tactical rigidity and conservative team selection. Those upsets led Del Bosque to retire last year.
- Maybe Wenger needs a change of scenery. If his powers are not waning, then the only plausible explanation for Arsenal’s poor performances is that Wenger needs a new environment and a new challenge.
I hope the Arsenal board can convince Wenger that he still has a role to play at the club not as a manager but as a sporting director. Most big European clubs have a sporting director to help the manager. Creating such a position is crucial for the club’s future because there is no football expert on the Arsenal board. No manager can seriously keep an eye on the squad, the transfers, the scouting network, the academy and development issues like the training ground. There’s just too much work for one person.