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

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Miguel De­laney

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”

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