I’m glad to hear that a shareholder who suggested Arsene Wenger’s time is up was roundly booed at the recent Arsenal Shareholders’ Trust meeting. Ivan Gazidis, chief executive, is certain Wenger will sign a new contract and that the board firmly believes he is the right man to lead Arsenal. Though I completely understand every Arsenal fan’s frustration and the need to question policy in an attempt to progress, what I cannot understand is even the most jaded supporter demanding Wenger’s dismissal. What would such action cause, besides an exodus of the squad’s most talented players? Is there a better alternative to the Frenchman?
Gazidis said that the issue of Wenger’s contract is not something that is ‘giving [him] sleepless nights’. He did however resoundingly stand by the increasingly scrutinised manager:
“The board is behind Arsene Wenger 100 per cent. We believe Arsene is the right man for the job to take us forward and that’s not based on sentimentality.”
The simple fact that Gazidis had to add the final few words to that statement is indicative of the fact that public criticisms levelled at Wenger have been registered by the club’s board. Five years without a trophy for a top team like Arsenal raises many voices, mainly of frustration, and some are demanding answers. Gazidis further defended the accusation that Wenger is reluctant to make big money signings in the transfer window:
“Arsene has a genuine sense of responsibility for this club and we have seen what happens to clubs when they spend beyond their means. We are fortunate to have a manager to do the best job he can with the resources at his disposal. The board support him and does not demand a return with capital. Arsene is not reluctant to spend what the club generates but he is reluctant to spend beyond our means.”
The problem lies in fettering transfer dealings for greater growth – a very long term goal – yet still competing at the highest level and maintaining Arsenal’s reputation as a top English team – a very short term imperative. Gazidis does state above that Wenger has done the best he can with the resources available but there have also been mixed signals in recent seasons as to the size of the budget available. Regardless of this issue, Wenger’s critics are not without cause. This season has seen Arsenal lose to Chelsea and Manchester United both home and away and a tactical naivety so clinically exposed by Barcelona. And fans argue that no one cares how sound the business model is if the club isn’t winning. Granted, very understandable. But is the club in such a bad situation as to suggest Arsene Wenger should step down?
This period was always going to be difficult. The financial strain of a new stadium is a burden that takes years to reap its most valuable rewards from. Yet finishing in the top four on every occasion and spending less than practically every club in the league is something Wenger has achieved. Standing by his youth is something he is now castigated for as Diaby, Denilson, and Walcott are branded ‘not good enough’ for the team. These players have represented the team for a few years now in the league and in Europe, on the biggest stage. They have been found wanting on occasion – against the very best for example – but surely they have also delivered on more occasions than they have failed when wearing an Arsenal shirt. How good were Vieira, Gilberto, and Henry at 24, 22, and 21?
I am not blindly asserting that Wenger is always right. But I do think he is right more often than he is wrong. He has admitted the shortcoming of his youth-only policy, after the Barcelona defeat especially, and this transfer window is a perfect opportunity to gauge his reaction. Let him at least finish his dealings before he is crucified.
I know that finishing third isn’t good enough for Arsenal fans and that elite sport is about trophies and prestige, not profit margins and turnover, but the benefits of what Arsene Wenger has implemented will be felt. If his failing is to have faith in his young players than it is a failing I wish more managers shared. When forced between keeping Vieira at the centre of midfield and nurturing through a 16-year-old Fabregas, he chose the latter. When Alex Song last year, at only 21, was a misfit, Wenger stood by him. Look at this season’s progression. He remains a manager of the highest calibre and most definitely Arsenal’s best option. The trouble is we can only measure the value of these words in years to come because at the moment, when it matters most, Arsenal supporters are forgiven for not seeing that bright a light at the end of the tunnel.
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