Arsene Wenger has now been manager at Arsenal for more than 20 years. During that time he has overseen a decade of unparalleled success, followed by the transition to the new stadium, and the re-building of the club behind the scenes, from the the training facilities to the Academy set-up, from corporate hospitality to the Marketing function.
Arsenal now rank amongst the 10 richest football clubs in the world, with an annual turnover of £350m, swollen by the recent lucrative UK and overseas’ television deals.
Yet, it is now more than 10 years since the club successfully challenged for the Premier League, our Champion’s League participation again this year ended in predictable, and, ultimately, humiliating failure at the hands of Bayern Munich, the league form is dismal and the fan base is riven with disharmony and frustration.
The root cause of much of the current malaise – Arsenal have only won three of their last 10 matches, two of those against non-League opposition in the FA Cup – is the uncertainty about the manager’s future. The club have allegedly offered Arsene Wenger a new two-year deal – some rumours would have it that this contract has already been signed – but no announcements have been made, and the lack of clarity is driving many fans mad with frustration.
For many, giving Wenger a new contract is not an acceptable solution. They want to see Arsenal compete for the Premier League on a consistent basis, and to become a credible force in European football. Yet the impression given is of a club content to tread water, or even float backwards.
Whilst there has been a vocal minority opposed to Wenger over the past few years, what is different now is that this minority has now become a majority amongst fans – not only those who follow the club regularly, but the thousands more who support the team from afar. Many moderate fans have now, sadly, come to the realisation that the man has had his time and it is the moment for both him, and the club, to go their separate ways.
For the first time, there is a very real prospect that Arsenal, this season, will fail to qualify, not only for the Champion’s League, but for European football at all. They stand to lose their two best players in the summer – neither Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil look likely to sign the new contracts on offer – and the future of a group of other first teamers also looks uncertain. Given Arsenal cannot keep hold of their existing world-class players, what hope do they have of attracting new ones?
A lot of blame for the current situation lie with the Board. With a wealthy absentee owner in Stan Kroenke – who clearly only regards Arsenal as an investment – it is beholden on the other Board members to hold the manager to account, and to act as custodians of the club, on behalf of its real stakeholders – the millions of fans worldwide. Yet, they have uniformly failed in their duty, slavishly allowing the manager to dictate if, and when, he is allowed to sign his new contract, and failing to hold him accountable for the team’s poor performance. Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis, has completely abrogated his responsibilities by failing to communicate, in any way, with the fan base during the recent crisis, whilst the rest of the board have shown not one iota of leadership or willingness to engage with the supporters.
Piers Morgan has long been ridiculed by moderate Arsenal supporters because of his persistent and vocal attacks on Wenger. Unfortunately many who would have hated to side with him even six months ago, now find themselves in the same camp. Arsene – it’s been fun and a great ride but now, sadly, it’s time to go!