Arsenal’s Problems Run Deeper Than Wenger
The Frenchman has created a way of life that needs unstitching and tweaking before the Gunners can move forward
After the latest landmark humiliation, the latest murmurings from Arsenal are that Arsene Wenger’s future will now be decided at the end of the season, and that it will be a “mutual” process. If that slight shift in position sounds like a bit of a muddle, it also sums up the entire situation, and a certain lack of clarity.
There are many elements of Wenger’s management that are now a problem for Arsenal in terms of this club actually making progress as a football team and competing, but then his departure will itself probably create another problem — and one they haven’t exactly given themselves the best chance of solving.
Consider this. When you have a situation as historically distinctive as this, and when one manager has held such an all-powerful position for so long, it really requires a lot of planning and reshuffling to give a succession any chance of going someway smoothly. It can never really be a case of a brighter young modern manager coming and just picking up everything where Wenger left it and building on all that for something better.
It’s not that simple, and Arsenal have arguably made it much harder for themselves. There has been no real planning or reshuffling in that sense. That is perfectly illustrated by the fact that, as late as mid-February, no-one has any idea whether he will actually go. There remains the very strong possibility Arsenal could have to suddenly deal with the biggest change in their history - other, that is, than actually appointing Wenger in the first place - at almost a moment’s notice; with very little time between the reality of the announcement and how they actually handle it.
This is not to cast undeserved criticism of Wenger’s overarching work at the club, or his “legacy” in terms of what he leaves. It is absolutely true and so admirable that he has been the primary force in transforming Arsenal and creating a modern super-club, complete with a fine stadium, fine facilities and so much potential.
What a club ‘is’, however, is still a very different issue to how it works inside. The macro can be fine at the same time that the micro needs addressing. How many times, after all, did we hear about the scale and scope of the club that Sir Alex Ferguson had built at Manchester United in the years up to his retirement? When it came to managing things after his departure, though, club officials found that absolutely everything around Old Trafford and Carrington was built towards the Scot’s personal references — rather than what was generally best for a modern super-club. It has required — and still requires — a lot of unstitching, something that an actually workable succession plan would have seen take place well before Ferguson went.
Look, now, at how they’re still reshaping their international scouting. The big benefit of the club Ferguson had created was of course that they had the resources and wealth to lessen the impact of structural problems, but there’s still so much work involved. It i s much t he s a me at Arsenal, and expect to hear a lot about the time around Ferguson’s retirement in the next few months, because it is so relevant and there are so many parallels with Wenger’s situation.
As with his grand old rival and friend at United, absolutely everything around the Emirates and London Colney is built towards the man they call “the boss”. That is going to require unstitching too. It is all the more important because so much with this kind of thing comes down to the manager’s innate abilities, the mindset and perception that elevated him above so many others in the first place. With some things like this, elements only work because of the specific genius of the man involved, as was the case with Ferguson. That is only going to add to the challenge of figuring things out. This is not to cast undeserved criticism of Wenger’s overarching work at the club, or his “legacy”