The fear of the unknown has been heightened by the idea that the unknown could unmask itself to be the situation Manchester United currently find themselves in.
Arsenal will eventually have to face the fear that grips a large number of its support, because quite simply Arsene Wenger cannot go on forever.
If we’re looking for hints as to what Wenger’s immediate future holds as he delays the signing of a new contract, it may be right in front of us. Arsenal are said to have reduced Wenger’s new contract offer from three years down to two. If the club are as behind the manager as they make themselves out to be, why would they not to try maximise how much more out of Wenger they get? A two-year extension does seem a little odd when three years was initially on the table.
The reasoning could be that Arsenal, from top to bottom, are not currently prepared for Wenger’s departure; a testament to how good he is as a leading figure, but also how weak the foundations at the club are once you chip away the shiny outer coating.
Can the current board, headed by Ivan Gazidis, replace Wenger with a manager who will not only appease supporters in name but also make good use of the legacy left by his predecessor? It’s a long shot; not impossible but rather improbable. The reported two-year deal for Wenger makes sense as a means to strengthen the fortifications, not just in seeking out a new manager but also in adding new personnel in various positions of the club.
It’s not really news that the club’s coaching and fitness staff need upgrading or at the very least freshening up. Unlike Alex Ferguson, Wenger opposes the idea of change. He’s generally happy with what he has, even if it isn’t working to 100 per cent for the benefit of him and his team. Would it be out of hand to say Wenger himself fears change and the unknown? His reluctance to let go of Pat Rice when the former Arsenal captain wanted to call time on his career as Wenger’s assistant is telling.
In addition, the club’s scouting network has also taken its fair share of stick in recent years.
Wenger decides on most of these departments. Based on what we know of Arsenal, who are, it needs to be said, quite a private club, taking Wenger out of the equation would be akin to sending a ship out onto unchartered waters without a compass and without a sense of direction.
It wouldn’t just be dangerous to replace Wenger during the summer, it could be completely reckless. It’s not to say Wenger must stay because regardless of on-field performances he retains stability within the club, it’s simply an examination of how ill-prepared, seemingly, the club are at this time. History in the transfer market tells us that this is a club who play it by ear, rather than going into such decisive periods with a plan.
That’s why a two-year deal makes sense. That’s why, despite many fans being fed up of seeing the same thing play out each season, it’s incredibly unlikely Wenger will depart the club this summer. Of course, he may choose to do so if the FA Cup and Champions League qualification don’t fall in his favour. But there’ll be plenty of persuasion from those at boardroom level for him to stay on and map out the years immediately following his decision to move on.
A new manager may be able to come in and pick up where Wenger left off with the club as it currently is, but the likelihood is that there will be a learning curve and possibly that dreaded transitional period.
Two years allows for far greater preparation than the space of a few weeks would this summer. The season hadn’t finished last year when we knew David Moyes would succeed Alex Ferguson. As for clubs like Barcelona, who left it late, Real Madrid and now certainly Manchester City, they have individuals in place who afford their managers time to coach, rather than worrying about the day-to-day running of the club.
Arsenal need a similar model, as with Ferguson now retired and Wenger coming to the end of his tenure, the time of the omnipresent manager looks to be over.