You would have been forgiven for thinking that Saturday’s 3-1 defeat away at West Bromwich Albion had all but confirmed Arsene Wenger’s departure from the Emirates Stadium at the end of the season, yet with reports emerging on Sunday that the Frenchman has communicated his decision to stay beyond June, the Arsenal board are playing a rather dangerous game allowing him to continue given the current circumstances.
It would be unfair to suggest the players have simply stopped playing for the veteran coach but there is a fundamental disconnect between what Wenger suggests has gone on throughout the preparation period before a match and then what we see out on the pitch.
Appalling defensive performance
Arsenal’s defending of set-pieces at the Hawthorns on Saturday was appalling and it isn’t like they couldn’t have worked on it beforehand.
Tony Pulis’ side are renowned for their excellence on attacking set-pieces and it provides them with a lot of opportunities.
Now of course it is borderline impossible to stop every single delivery into the penalty area when they are of such a consistently high quality, but to appear so staggeringly out of their depth for two of Albion’s goals has to be a concern moving forward.
Usually the Gunners’ failings on the pitch can be intrinsically linked to their coach’s style with the innate desire to go forward and attack irrespective of the game situation costing the club on numerous occasions.
However, Saturday felt different. It was a complete dereliction of duty from players in a defensive sense.
The club’s main man
It is no secret that the one man who dictates the policies of Arsenal Football Club in almost every aspect is Arsene Wenger.
The Frenchman has the luxury of deciding when he can leave the club and he has always maintained he would do so when he felt he was no longer the best person for the job.
It is clear that time is now but he appears somewhat unwilling to depart the club.
Now there are several things we need to understand about Wenger to fully appreciate the scale of this decision.
Firstly he lives for football, there was an interesting anecdote told by Amy Lawrence on the popular ‘Tuesday Club’ Podcast which fully detailed the extent of his focus on the game as he was likely unable to give directions around London to somebody besides the route from his house to London Colney despite having managed in the capital for over two decades.
When you look at this from a simply human point of view, it must be an incredibly frightening thought for the 67-year-old to have to walk away from Arsenal and simply not longer be involved with what now can be considered as his life’s work in the sport.
This is only one side of the coin though and it could be easily argued that the club are not going to improve or move forward with Wenger at the helm, in fact there is even empirical evidence from his last contract renewal in 2014 which suggests that to be the case.
Arsenal are in a worse position now than they were before Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were brought to the club.
The Gunners are in serious danger of not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in the Frenchman’s reign at the club whilst it is also expected that the team’s two ‘stars’ will depart for greener pastures this summer.
Now the problem arises with how the club can recruit.
Gone are the days when Wenger had a reputation for making any player better, the sort of reputation that persuaded a teenage Aaron Ramsey to choose Arsenal over Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.
Now players will look at the North London club and wonder if they are actually limiting their progress by moving to the Emirates.
This is particularly relevant when you consider the upcoming bidding war for the services of one Kylian Mbappe.
Listening to the fans
Finally, there is the small matter of the fans.
It was clear from the weekend’s air-show that there is significant unrest amongst supporters who have become increasingly frustrated by the repetitive cycle of perceived failure over the past five years.
The relationship between the veteran manager and a large section of supporters is now broken beyond repair. Every defeat from this point will be seen as a disaster even once the contract renewal is signed.
It is interesting to look back to 2004 when Liverpool dismissed Gerard Houllier after supporters turned on the Frenchman despite the club clinching the fourth and final Champions League spot.
In the club’s statement following the dismissal the then chief-executive, Rick Parry made clear that such was the level of unrest amongst fans; keeping Houllier in place simply wasn’t an option:
“If we had lost the first two matches of next season then the pressure would have been intolerable.”
The same is true for Wenger and you worry that given the vast belief the club’s board has in him yet another contract extension will see things go from bad to worse at the club next season.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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