With the ink drying on Arsene Wenger’s new two year deal, it matters little which side of the fence you were. Whether you were a staunch ‘Wenger Out’ brigadier, paying for planes armed with messages or perhaps you simply felt that time for the manager had run its natural course and a change was required, it now seems almost irrelevant.
Wenger is staying at Arsenal, for at least two years, with no mention so far of this being his ‘final contract’ with the club. In fact, regular and reliable source David Orstein, a BBC journalist, hints that the Frenchman may even extend beyond this contract, much to the fury of some.
As stated, it doesn’t matter how you felt about Wenger pre-yesterday, the fact is he is staying for the foreseeable future and the sooner peace is made with that, the better for everyone associated with the club. It’s time to move on, get behind the team and attempt to make the stadium a positive place again.
So, now this saga is cleaned up, and rather quickly following the season ending, it has to be said, the club need to move forward with a strategy for not just the summer, but for the season ahead and next year too.
In a throwback to five or six years ago, the biggest worry of the fans this pre season is the future of the current crop, as opposed to who might arrive at the Emirates Stadium. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are of course the most regularly spoken of, but a decision will need to be made on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well. Making sweeping predictions about who may or may not stay is ultimately pointless, it’s how the club deals with each case which will be most interesting.
Allowing each saga to drag on well into August would be both unhelpful and a sign that little is really changing. If any or all of these players want to go, it is best that the club acts in its own best interests and sells them to a club of their choice. With Sanchez, you’d hope that would be Bayern Munich or PSG – almost anywhere where he can’t inflict direct damage to the team’s efforts over the next 12 months. A similar position should be taken with Ozil, although Oxlade-Chamberlain’s case may be different, with him being the type to likely want to stay on these shores.
It may be a difficult task, recruiting what is needed, until the futures of at least the aforementioned trio become clear. That is the reason why their contracts or transfers must be sorted quickly, so Wenger and his squad can move on, with or without them.
Deals for Sead Kolasinac and Henry Onyekuru look to be in place already, which, given the fact it isn’t yet June, can only be seen as good things. The Onyekuru transfer in particular seems to be under some scrutiny, but you cannot complain about Wenger not finding Kylian Mbappe all year and then scoff when Arsenal move for a youngster with potential. What is key is that Onyekuru is allowed time to mature in the team. Bringing him in and expecting him to replace Sanchez, should he go, would help nobody at all.
Anyone Wenger wants should be targeted long before the Community Shield, with a settled squad in place before the transfer window slams shut at the end of August.
It has been said recently, even by Wenger himself, that moving to a formation that uses three defenders proves his capability for change. In part, that is true. More interesting however, would be whether changes to his staffing team are made. Rumours are abound that fitness coach Tony Colbert and goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton are to be dismissed, and despite the service of both men, perhaps changes here wouldn’t be a bad thing. Both men are seen as quite ‘old school’ and dated in their approach, with some sources even suggesting Wojciech Szczesny is reluctant to return to the club if Peyton remains in his role.
This is certainly an area where Wenger needs to embrace more change. His management team has largely remained the same throughout his tenure, meaning movements here could be the shot in the arm that is so desperately needed. Surrounding himself with new thinkers and fresh ideas can only help him, with only his stubbornness likely to get in the way.
Though it hasn’t been announced that this is Wenger’s final deal, the club should act as if it is. There should be no guarantees for him that he is staying past 2019, with genuine title challenges the minimum requirement if he wants to remain. Targets must be set and met, otherwise the whole ‘contract renewal’ process is almost a moot point as long as Wenger breathes and Stan Kreonke owns the club.
A plan for life after Wenger must be set in motion, and beginning that process now would allow for two years of fine tuning. Someone on the board needs to decide the direction. Do we want to look at potential Director of Football candidates? Who is likely to be available to become the next manager? Would they work well with any DOF that is appointed? These are things that should be in the minds of everyone in the boardroom, who in turn should make it known to Wenger that his stay in N5 after the two year period is not a simple formality.
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The problem with everything above is that it’s written from a fan’s point of view. Of course contract and transfer business should be settled quickly, and of course the squad needs to be ready – for a change – for when the season comes around. These are just things you want and expect as a fan.
As for changes upstairs, some evidence of action – anything, almost – would be seen as a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, giving Wenger a new two year deal but changing absolutely nothing about how things are run or who is going to be doing what will achieve nothing. The staleness that seems to have set into the club needs to be lifted, so productivity and signs of moving forward must be evident.
Watching Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak give an in-house interview about the direction of the club in all contexts was intriguing, for this appears to be a man who is very involved in the day-to-day actions of the club. This is the opposite of Kroenke’s approach of course, and fans of the Gunners can only look on in envy at owners who really care about the team’s affairs when they take to the field.
On the pitch, the monotonous cycle will alter slightly next season without Champions League football, but competing in the Europa League comes with more expectancy. This is a competition Arsenal can and should be able to win, so dismal failure here will be just another stick to beat Arsene with.
It’s tempting to sign off by concluding ‘it’s going to be an interesting season’, but certain dominoes must fall in order for it to not just simply be more of the same.
Two years of action from both Wenger and Arsenal would be far more enthralling then anything that can be simply said.