What really had me scratching my head about today’s announcement from Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick was the timing of it all – was it planned or were board members so backed into a corner they felt they had to act?
There was a certain inevitability about the nature of Arsene Wenger’s press conference this morning, littered as it was with questions about his future and reflections on his last few years at the club.
In truth, almost all of the Frenchman’s press conferences this season have touched on his contractual situation and his plans for the future, so there was little to surprise when the assembled media launched immediately into that line of questioning today.
What caught everyone napping, however, was a statement posted on the Arsenal website an hour or so after the press conference had finished, attributed to Sir Chips.
The statement read:
“We are fully aware of the attention currently focused on the club and understand the debate. We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.
“Arsène has a contract until the end of the season. Any decisions will be made by us mutually and communicated at the right time in the right way.”
After years spent lurking in the background, steadfastly refusing to comment on anything, whilst cunningly letting Arsene take the flak, the board finally felt moved to issue a statement, something that is near-unprecedented at Arsenal. But why at that moment? Why not after defeat to Liverpool? Why not after the first leg of our Champions League clash in Munich? Who was this statement aimed at?
That it came so soon after the morning’s press conference seemed to me to be the most remarkable thing about it. I find it hard to believe it had been planned that way and it reads as if it had been hastily arranged in light of yet another barrage of questions for the manager at his press conference.
Arsene’s contractual conundrum has been raging all season, so why was this statement – short and sweet as it was – put out this morning? I do wonder whether, sick of the speculation, Arsene asked his press team to get something done, in the vague hope that a statement from the board might put the issue to bed, at least temporarily.
If true, I think that is pretty wishful thinking on the manager’s part, but I think it is Arsene’s desire that the focus be put back on football and doing what can be done to get this team back on track. It is that desire that really lay behind today’s announcement.
The poisonous atmosphere around the club, and the constant hubbub around the manager’s future, has become a real distraction for the squad, a horrible sideshow that follows the team everywhere it goes at the moment.
That ill feeling is heightened by restless fans, who have been demanding clarity from the manager and the board for months now. In fact, the ire of many fans has started to shift from the manager to the board in recent weeks, a fact that has obviously not gone unnoticed.
In many ways, I suspect this statement was aimed at applying a bandage to the gaping wounds of division among fans and getting everybody behind the team and the manager for the final few months of the campaign. Lord knows they need all the help they can get at the moment.
It’s no secret that Arsene is pinning his hopes on a spectacular end to the season. An FA Cup win and a top four finish is, in all likelihood, the only way he could justify putting pen to paper on a contract extension and I think he is hoping to galvanise support behind that goal.
As things stand, disharmony is rife among both fans and players and, if things go on as they are, we stand a real chance of dropping out of the top four and out of the cup.
Sir Chips’s statement – however odd the timing – seems to be an olive branch from the board to the fans, aimed at ensuring that doesn’t happen.
Whether it will serve to calm some of the unrest remains to be seen but, one thing we can all agree on, things must be bad if Sir Chips and co have been moved to come out from the safety of the boardroom.