Arsene Wenger put rumours of ending an Arsenal career which has spanned two decades to bed by signing a two-year contract last week.
The cries of ‘Wenger Out’ and engines of a few planes fell on deaf ears as the Frenchman decided to extend his stay despite finishing outside of the top four, albeit for the first time since he took the Gunners’ reins in 1996.
It is easy to understand where some of the vitriol has come from, with a particularly trying period from the end of January to mid-April where the Arsenal won just two out of eight league games (including losses to Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace) and were unceremoniously dumped out of Europe by Bayern Munich with a 10-2 aggregate score.
There have been signs of improvement however, with an upturn in form at the end of the season culminating in a 2-1 FA Cup win and seemingly doing enough to convince the Arsenal hierarchy (and, more likely, Wenger himself) that the have the right man for the job.
The ‘Wenger In, Wenger Out’ hokey-cokey that has taken place over the last six months or so is – for now at least – a moot point. It is time instead to focus on what the Frenchman should be looking to achieve going forward from here and how the decision could benefit Arsenal apart from potential silverware.
As mentioned above, there are some reasons for Arsenal fans to feel optimistic that Wenger can still produce results. After a particularly abject performance in their 3-0 loss at Selhurst Park, the Frenchman shook things up and employed a three-at-the-back formation against Middlesbrough to address his defensive woes.
The change proved a qualified success, with nine wins out of the final ten league games and, while four clean sheets in that time hardly screams title-winners, they squad looked more and more confident in the system the more they played in it.
Results aside, it showed that the infamously stubborn Wenger was willing to admit where his team was failing and address the flaws. While it came too late to salvage Champions League football this campaign, it bodes well for a side ready to kick on that their manager may finally be willing to adapt with the times.
For a side that have had to become used to “settling” for top four football each season, the fans should be pleased to hear that Wenger is talking about winning the title once more. While this could be seen as empty words, it is at least a departure from the rhetoric suggesting the top four is the Gunners’ main aim and inspires some hope the Frenchman intends to go all out for one more title.
Finally, and perhaps something to placate the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade, is that two years gives the club the perfect chance to build for the Post-Wenger era. We’ve seen what has happened to Manchester United when they had to act fast to replace Sir Alex Ferguson, and they were arguably the best-placed club to go through with it. Just imagine how Arsenal could fare if they did the same with less money to throw around – particularly with no guarantees a more esteemed custodian would take Wenger’s place.
At least with Wenger at the helm, Arsenal can begin looking at other viable replacements and plan ahead while the club is still in safe – if not always spectacular – hands, rather than trying to blindly lay the track as they go as we have seen from United and Liverpool before.
Without that opportunity, who knows what the cries of fans or banners on aeroplanes would be proclaiming two years for now.