Arsenal’s relegation from the Champions League has brought to the fore many club-related conundrums that ought to have been sorted earlier regardless. Even if Middlesbrough had gifted us a last-day miracle by holding Liverpool to a point or none, it was strikingly obvious that the losses at West Brom, Crystal Palace and Tottenham were pointing to a deeper, more structural problem.
Arsenal have a problem – one that could be foreshadowed at the end of last season. It wasn’t a problem that emerged in the past few weeks, but in that time, you could certainly make the case that it compounded.
Exclusion from the Champions League has worsened what was still going to be an average season by Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s standards. The FA Cup used to be a prestigious trophy, but that was in a time when touchscreen phones were pipe dreams. Today, even the Europa League has arguably overtaken it in stature, rewards and overall difficulty.
The 90 minutes against Chelsea at Wembley will not be escapist enough to change the fact that there are many issues Arsenal need to tackle in the summer. The future of the manager, the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, the situation with Wojciech Szczesny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain… the sheer number is so much, it can overwhelm. With that, I’ve put a list of things Arsenal need to do in the summer, with a prediction on what they will do instead.
The situation with the manager
What Arsenal should do: Get him out. The footballing reasons for this argument are so obvious and so pronounced that it feels like a broken record bothering to mention them again. In addition, it is also becoming scarily clear that Wenger wants his hold on Arsenal to be absolute. He doesn’t want to work beside a Director of Football (a statement he somewhat redacted, but don’t let that fool you), he doesn’t want to fire his yes-men staff of Tony Colbert and co., and if recent years have proven anything, it’s that he will never change his ways for the betterment of the club.
Arsene wants to stay – that I have no doubt of – but what he wants should not fall into the picture, after wasting close to £100m and not even achieving fourth (which, lest we forget, would still have been abject failure). Wenger ought not to drag the club down for another two years just so that he wait for his swansong that will never arrive. The board need to act quickly, swiftly and decisively to repair the power dynamics of the club.
What Arsenal will do: Ah. The million-dollar question on everyone’s mind. You may not like my guess.
There have been ambiguities and there have been grey areas, so I tried to steer clear of them and look at what we know. And what we know does not reflect well on what will probably happen.
The actions of Arsenal FC’s board have been of a bunch of scared businessmen looking for any excuse possible to keep their scapegoat Wenger in the job. Say what you want to about Arsene – and I’ll happily listen to your two cents on the subject – but the owners and the boardroom have sat by watching this Fidel Castro of a manager destroy himself without stepping in, which says something. Granted, they lack footballing experience, but protests on the streets and increasing empty seats are logical things you don’t need to watch football to understand.
I’d be amazed if the board think Arsene is the man to win them footballing success in the future. They must know he’s incompetent, but they must also know that they are incompetent. They know that should the post-Wenger world be a terrible one, the focus will well and truly shift from Wenger to them.
The fact that Arsenal are not seriously linked to any manager as of this moment is telling. It shows that the board are simply not looking for a replacement, period. Why would they? Wenger is the dream scapegoat. They can use his thirst for power and need to stay at this club to their own advantage.
However (and bear in mind this is wishful thinking more than a calculated guess), for a board so desperate to not look like the real villains, the only way Wenger can leave the club is if the focus shifts to them quick enough. Anti-Kroenke chants against Everton were a good way to begin, but Stan has faced worse, and he’s unlikely to be fazed. The Venky’s didn’t care about fan protests when they dragged a club like Blackburn Rovers down to irrelevance.
My feel about this situation is that unless things get really, really bad in the next week (a spanking against Chelsea coupled with an actual whiff of rioting among Arsenal Londoners, which is very unlikely to happen), the board will choose to extend Wenger’s contract on May 31.
The situation with Ivan Gazidis
What Arsenal should do: With Arsene set to stay, I’d like it if his new contract has clauses that snatch his autonomy and hand it to Arsenal’s CEO. Gazidis is not the biggest footballing geek in the universe, but he has proven himself to be shrewd at putting pressure on Wenger to get things done.
Gazidis made it crystal clear in 2013 that Arsenal had money to buy a £25m player on £200K per week to put pressure on Wenger to sign Ozil. He bandied around the “catalyst for change” mantra and probably was the one who leaked the DoF stories to get a reaction from Wenger and paint him more as the villain. Strokes of luck maybe, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We’ve never seen how Gazidis has worked with a manger whom he can control. As of this moment Wenger is out of Ivan’s control, but if the clauses in the new contract give Ivan the edge, there is a chance he could be Wenger’s David Dein 2.0.
What Arsenal will do: Back to earth. There is no way in hell Gazidis will get any foothold over Wenger. The board will make sure Arsene’s contract extension will suit him so that he can continue taking the fall for their failures (not that Wenger is blameless anyway). Sorry Ivan, but you’ve walked into the footballing manifestation of a shit sandwich.
The situation with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil
What Arsenal should do: There is a small chance that both Alexis and Ozil can stay at the club if they’re offered salaries touching £300K. If that’s the case, I’d say do it. For Alexis this isn’t a Wayne Rooney situation – Sanchez is in the prime of his career, and I can almost picture an increased salary pack spurring him on more.
As for Ozil, I don’t know. His technique is unquestionable, but he seems like the kind of player who, after getting money under his belt, would fall victim to Wenger’s comfort-zone culture. Yet, my feeling on this is that the reputational damage on Arsenal will be massive if Ozil leaves.
What the club should obviously do is keep them, but if they want to leave regardless of the salaries offered to them, then I feel Arsenal will have little to no say in the matter.
What Arsenal will do: Alexis will probably not get the wages he deserves for carrying the team this season and will leave, hopefully not to a Premier League club. I have a sneaky feeling that Ozil might just stay, but then again, if he wanted to, he probably would have extended his contract by now. Verdict? Both to leave. No hard feeling, guys. It was a privilege to watch you play for Arsenal
The situation with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
What Arsenal should do: This is more like what Arsenal ‘should have done’; extend his contract some 5-6 months ago. Well, now they can’t, and now their best play is to drop their shorts and offer him a fairly good deal, but not too much. Make it clear that he should either accept it or leave the club in the summer.
What Arsenal will do: Oxlade-Chamberlain has really endeared himself to the fans in the past month or so and is in a superb negotiation position. Considering the Gunners are likely going to lose Alexis or Ozil (or both), I fear this could turn into a nasty Theo Walcott 2012/13 situation. Scared not to make Arsenal look like the dull party from where everyone leaves, I fear the club will end up paying him mega wages that he doesn’t deserve and make him one of those overpriced underachievers who hangs around the club like a bad smell and refuses to leave, much like Wenger himself.
The situation with Wojciech Szczesny and Jack Wilshere
What Arsenal should do: Take them back and extend their contracts. I know they are not everyone’s favourite guys and I still have my doubts with them, but Szczesny in particular has done everything you could ask for from a loanee, and it may be a mistake to let him go, considering the likely exodus that may happen this summer . Besides, Szczesny and Jack are two of few guys whom the fanbase will get behind right now, and God knows we need more of that.
What Arsenal will do: Probably take them back, and sell David Ospina to some Turkish club. Good to know the club will do some things right.
The situation with next season
What Arsenal should do: If he must stay, then get Wenger in control. Get him to work with scouters, coaches, injury coaches, directors of footballs, what have you. Spend the next season on rebuilding the backroom of the club. Focus on finishing in the top four because God knows we’ll be in no state to challenge for the Premier League. I wouldn’t mind if the 2017/18 season were written off if it meant a new system were set in place.
What Arsenal will do: If Wenger stays? The usual. May not even be around to blog on it. Pfft.
P.S. Apologies if the grammar or writing is iffy. Didn’t have the time but really wanted to blog, so written it in a bit of a hurry. Thanks for understanding. Comments appreciated. Will be back after the FA Cup Final.
-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]