So, it’s official.
After months of indecisiveness, speculation, and at one point hope, Arsene Wenger chose to stay at Arsenal for two more years. Perhaps the result of the FA Cup Final sealed it, perhaps the uncertain prospect for the board of life after Wenger did it, or perhaps the contract was signed ages ago and they only wanted to announce it as late as possible. It doesn’t matter. It’s official, it’s set in stone, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And at the end of the day, maybe that is what hurts the most. That, despite banners and protests and boycotting games and trying to get the message through in any way possible, the fans could not do anything about preventing Wenger from staying on. It shows how, in the grand scheme of things, the fans were always going to be ignored.
And please let’s be crystal clear that the opinion that Wenger should move on was not even a minority anymore. You don’t need me to tell you this; surf on social media, chat with the average London Gooner, talk to Arsenal people you know and hang out with daily, and chances are you’ll find there are a lot of people who are apathetic with the club, fed up of the manager and to an extent, what he represents. Even the ones who love and respect Wenger a huge deal are, while understandably calling for a bit more respect, acknowledging that he has bitten off more than he can chew. The glory of a sensational FA Cup Final performance against Chelsea could not plaster over that, which really says something.
Credit to local fans for the most unified protests this club has ever seen, for the fact that it has amounted to nothing confirms beyond reasonable doubt how indifferent the administration is to the spine of the club – the supporters. I know voices of the majority should not necessarily be followed, democracy is overrated and all that, but these displays of dissatisfaction were hardly a knee-jerk one. They were simmering over years, and they manifested themselves on a global scale in the most direct of ways that were possible. What more, they were backed by some very real, very troubling facts.
The injury record, the machinations behind transfer dealings, the scouting system, not to mention the lack of motivation that the players cannot shake off year after year – they are all things that need to improve drastically, yet things likely to stay the same as long as Wenger calls the shots. Wenger never innovates himself until desperate times come calling – and even those innovations remain temporary.
You could make a slim case that the next couple of years could see progress – and by ‘progress’, I mean a sustained challenge on the title, a creditable run in the Champions League, an improvement in the club’s academy and scouting system – if certain clauses in the new contract allow for accountability. That, there is a David Dein-esque figure in the board Arsene must answer to, or that his backroom team must undergo a massive shake-up.
However, we all know that there is little to no chance of that happening. Psychology states that personalities tend to stop being malleable once a person crosses the dreaded 25 age-mark, and Wenger is 67. Do you think he would accept those terms? Do you think he will look at his managerial philosophy – and the success it got him in the early 2000s – and believe he needs to reinvent himself? He won’t. He’s too stubborn for that.
Wenger will never want himself to be accountable to anyone. His “I built the club” lines are proof that he thinks he is bigger than the club. The only way he’s going to leave this club, aside from his own terms, is if the fans make it untenable for him to even breathe.
They tried, but they failed.
In some ways, one could argue Wenger deserves what’s coming. History suggests that unless there are miraculous clauses that make Arsene answer to anyone apart from himself, the next years for Arsenal are not going to be pretty. Life is going to be hard for Wenger, hard for the board and hard for the fans. The manager will only get found out more often in the Premier League and the Europa League. His backers will considerably lessen. Fans will only get more and more disenfranchised, and will jump between focusing on the manager to focusing on the board.
Wenger has checkmated himself. His thirst for power and desire to sustain his legacy has become his ultimate Achilles heel. The man will keep signing newer and newer contracts because Arsenal is his life, his routine. He cannot bear to get away from that, no matter how far off his best he knows he is.
A good friend of mine once compared Wenger to Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar who, despite being past his best in the twilight of his career, was regularly selected for his team so that he could win the Cricket World Cup and complete personal accomplishments to cement his legacy.
I see no comparison. Dennis Bergkamp is Sachin Tendulkar, who was not sold in the summer of 2005 and allowed to retire in Arsenal colours. Arsene Wenger has more power and influence than either one of them will ever have. Arsenal are a massive, massive club that cannot afford to pander to one man’s desires, especially when he is not capable to fulfill them.
The club are laced in stasis, unwilling to reach higher for fear they will fall further below. To me, that really defies the point of football. Football is not about playing it safe, taking no risks, sticking with a “good but not great” philosophy. Football is Sunderland facing the best Bayern Munich side of all time at Allianz Arena and still believing they can win. Football is Juventus looking to secure a treble with a shoestring budget. Football is taking risks, football is aiming for the stars, football is doing whatever you can to touch the most prestigious of silverware.
The loveless marriage Arsenal refuse to divorce is not football, it’s elite purgatory.
There will doubtless be fans who will watch Arsenal next season in the hope they can turn it around. There will be fans who will watch Arsenal because they feel it’s their duty to. There will be few who will watch Arsenal to witness the inexorable deterioration of Arsene’s legacy and derive sadistic pleasure in being right. I have honestly no clue which category I fall under.
I don’t know if I can be “up for it” next season. Thank goodness I chose not to seriously monetize this blog, because I certainly don’t have the stamina to keep posting as regularly as I used to. I once toyed with the idea of boycotting the club until the Wenger years come to an unpleasant end. Heavens know if I will make good on that promise.
Of course, my fictional season awards for 2016/17 will come tomorrow and the season blogged should follow the next day.
But after that? Your guess is as good as mine.
-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]