For those who are fans of the Premier League, you are likely aware of one particular trope that often finds its way into banter among fans. That is, of course, the inevitability of Arsenal crashing out of the Champions League in the round of 16 elimination stage, followed by a heroic late-season effort in the domestic league to finish in the top four, only to qualify for the Champions League again. For Arsenal fans, it seems that this seemingly preordained pattern has no end in sight.
Arsenal’s almost surgical deconstruction at the hands (feet?) of Bayern Munich over two legs in the most recent round of 16 (two repeat 5-1 losses, resulting in a 10-2 aggregate score, the largest in the history of any English club in European competition), brought many fans to a point where they could no longer tolerate such horrendous results. Having simmered with anger for years after witnessing the same humiliating results, without winning almost any competitions to at least makeup for these disappointments, the Arsenal faithful have boiled over with anger.
Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal, has been the target of fan’s wrath. At one of Arsenal’s domestic league games, a small airplane was flown over the stadium, displaying a banner in tow with the message “No Contract #WengerOut.” This banner is in reference to Wenger’s upcoming contract expiration, and the encouragement of fans to search for a new club manager.
For some footy enthusiasts, Arsenal has fallen short of what it could achieve under Wenger’s guidance. And they are certainly correct. This Arsenal squad is incredibly talented, possessing players of top quality, and it certainly has all the capability to advance further in the Champions League, as well as to win a Premier League title. And yet, it does not. Is this Wenger’s fault?
The furor directed at Wenger, while largely overzealous, is no doubt justified. But I would argue that Wenger is being targeted unfairly by the Arsenal crowds, and that the current situation is a reflection of a complete lack of continuity of expectations between the fans and the executive board. As a fan, you want your club to reach the highest of highs and dream of that glory and the pride of achievement.
But Arsenal fans suffer under an overpowering craving for silverware, and a grave dissatisfaction occurs when that glory slips beyond reach. But for the executive board at Arsenal, they are content with Wenger’s performances every year. The stability that Wenger provides–he has never not qualified for the Champions League–is on its own a remarkable feat. His second accomplishment is his significant revenue generation.
In the eyes of the executive board members, a Premier League title, or advancing past the round of 16 in the Champions League, is only an afterthought. Additional glory that the fans desire is only seen as a cherry on top of what Wenger delivers. In this lies the explanation for why Wenger has continued his term at Arsenal.
There is no sign that this year will be any different for Arsenal, despite record embarrassments and the current threat of not finishing in the top four. Wenger has not yet displayed any concern that his contract will not be renewed at the end of the season. He has yet to fail to deliver the complete package he has so frequently and regularly delivered. And even if he fails to do so, he still may be offered a new contract anyways.
But if Wenger were to be let go, who would replace him? Currently, there is a lack of worldclass managers who are free agents. It would also require a vast sum of capital to coax in a manager who is currently working for another club.
Wenger, for all his flaws, provides a solution to this problem for Arsenal. But his performances are inexcusable, and the executive board needs to stay poised to jump at an opportunity to replace him.