Arsene Wenger is set to continue as the Arsenal manager after the club announced a two-year extension for the French manager this week.
The intense speculation surrounding the future of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal ended on Wednesday, as the North London club announced that the Frenchman has signed a new two-year contract to extend his stay at the Emirates.
However, 2016/17 turned out to be a disastrous campaign for the Gunners following the failures in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League – the FA Cup triumph notwithstanding. So, have the club made the right choice in handing the two-year deal to their long-serving French boss?
Arsene Wenger’s Journey at Arsenal: A Short Look Back
Le Professeur made his way to Arsenal in 1996 after the club heeded vice-chairman David Dein’s propsosal to hire him. Wenger’s arrival was greeted with a sense of unfamiliarity, and the scepticism grew as he made some significant changes behind the scenes.
However, he oversaw a quick change in the club’s fortunes as in only his second season in charge, Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup double, whilst also introducing a fresh change in the style of play.
In the seven seasons that followed, Arsenal went from strength to strength under Wenger, as they were the only worthy challengers to Manchester United for the Premier League title.
The Gunners won five more trophies in this period, including another double and the historic Invincibles campaign, as they went the entire league campaign without being on the wrong side of a result. However, then came the shift from Highbury to the Emirates and what followed was a difficult period for the club.
The Gunners were unable to compete against the best of clubs on a financial basis and Wenger often had to do cut-price deals while integrating young players in his first-team squad season after season. And despite the financial crunch, he managed to guide Arsenal to Champions League qualification without fail.
This period coincided with a trophy drought that stretched for eight seasons before the North Londoners clinched back-to-back FA Cup triumphs in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.
2016/17: A Campaign Full of Disasters… With A Promising Culmination
As the 2016/17 rolled on, there was a sense that Arsenal would finally be able to sustain a challenge for the Premier League once again, despite the anti-climactic season-opening loss against Liverpool. Wenger’s men didn’t lose another league game till December, though, but that was the point that turned it around – and dramatically so.
Back-to-back losses against Everton and Manchester City towards the end of December was the beginning of the derailment of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign, as they went from the top of the table to fighting for a place in the Top 4.
The damage was limited to an extent in January, before the season spiralled out of control in February and March. Wenger’s side were eliminated by Bayern Munich by a humiliating aggregate scoreline of 10-2 in the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, defeats in the to the likes of Watford, Chelsea, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion dealt a crushing blow to Arsenal’s aspirations in the Premier League as they crashed out of the Top 4. It only took a late flourish in the last month and a half to get close – but still remain far away – to clinching Champions League qualifications.
There was enough time for some salvation though, as Arsenal beat Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup to win the competition for the third time in four years. Despite that though, as it had been the case for large parts of the campaign, a section of Arsenal fanbase continued to clamour for Wenger’s removal from the helm after what was termed as a failure of a season.
The Show Goes On: Did Arsenal Make The Right Decision?
The main dividing point surrounding the announcement of Wenger’s renewal with Arsenal is whether it was the right move to reach agreement on the extension, or if the club hierarchy should have taken the hard decision to end the Frenchman’s storied managerial reign at the Emirates.
Considering the circumstances in which the announcement was made, the answer is that the decision to agree on a renewal is right on Arsenal’s part, and for a few good reasons.
The decision dragged on for a considerably long time, which suggests that Arsenal didn’t have much in terms of a succession plan for Wenger. Additionally, the North London club has never been more unstable under the Frenchman and, ironically, the manager leaving would have worsened things further.
That is because the new manager would realistically not have had enough time to lay out the transfer plans, as well as making the preparations alongside the current squad at the Emirates, which would have only made the situation more chaotic.
It is also important to note that there weren’t any suitable candidates available to succeed Wenger at the helm at Arsenal. The announcement of Thomas Tuchel’s – if he even was a candidate to replace Wenger – came too late, while the likes of Massimiliano Allegri and Diego Simeone are set to stay at their respective clubs.
Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe, was also speculated to make the big jump to Arsenal, but he, too, remains committed to his club. In any case, such a decision is one that requires careful planning and structuring in order to ensure a smooth transition and that was seemingly just not possible.
Quite ironically, it is the man who has placed his faith in Wenger, Stan Kroenke – and to his credit on a consistent basis – who should be the first one to depart Arsenal, in order to bring about more stability and assurance of a better future, but that is a debate for another day.
The immediate challenge on Arsene Wenger’s hands concerns the two most influential players in his squad at the Emirates – Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. The duo have continually been linked with summer exits from the club, and speculation has only gained traction as the months have wore on.
Keeping hold of the attacking duo will be half the job done for Wenger as far as the success of the transfer business is concerned. Recruitment in key areas is also important as is clearing out the deadwood in order to make the ideal preparation ahead of the 2017/18 season.
As for the style of play, the success of the new 3-4-2-1 formation suggests that Wenger should continue to place his faith in newly-implemented season, as that adds solidity at the back while also allowing the attacking players more freedom to express themselves without being too overburdened by defensive workload.
In the longer-term view, the succession plan for Wenger’s eventual departure – irrespective of whether it happens at the end of this two-year spell or sometime later – must be laid. Otherwise, no matter how stable a situation Wenger leaves the club in, there will always be the risk of the transition not being smooth enough, as it happened with Manchester United.
For now though, all Arsenal fans can hope for is for their club to do a better job at mounting the challenge for the Premier League than they did this season. With Europa League also presenting itself as an all-new territory for Wenger and the club, it will also be interesting to see how his men fare in the competition.