In the wake of Arsenal’s humbling defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday it seemed like Arsene Wenger had finally accepted the inevitable – that his time at the club was drawing to a close.
It appeared as though the Frenchman had realised that he could take the team no further and he conceded during his post-match interviews that he had, at last, decided what he would do regarding his future.
The general feeling was that he would not sign the two-year deal it is widely believed has been offered to him and instead step aside at the end of the season, paving the way for a new era to begin.
In the days that have followed the press conference, however, and with attention turned briefly towards the latest round of international friendly matches, it has emerged or, more likely, been leaked, that Arsene is on the cusp of signing his contract extension. Some outlets went so far as to say that the ink is already dry on the deal and that the club is simply waiting for the right time to announce it.
When one or two journalists pick up on the same story, it can usually be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. When almost every mainstream media outlet runs with the same story at almost the same time, however, you can be assured that it has almost certainly come from someone inside the club.
Whether this was an exercise in testing the water on the board’s part remains to be seen but, if it proves true, it would be a deeply polarising move.
At the beginning of the current campaign, Arsene still enjoyed a healthy majority in favour of his continued tenure, a lot of fans were prepared to back him and let the season run its course.
As the games have ticked by, and the team’s performances have deteriorated to the point of farce, the rift between fans has deepened and feelings have often boiled over into abuse and even violence.
The majority commanded by the manager back in August has withered away and it seems clear that most fans believe that it is time for the Frenchman to step aside. Those violently opposed to the idea of him signing a new contract have openly vowed to continue their protests regardless of whether the 67-year-old signs for another two years.
Against that backdrop, it would seem to me to be extraordinary that the manager would even consider signing a contract extension. You only have to look at the level of performance offered by the Gunners at West Brom to see that the team is riddled with a rot that is deep-set and, in all likelihood, beyond healing.
As much as he has tried, Arsene has proven himself incapable of lifting the team’s level of performance since they first erred back at Goodison Park in December and, if anything, they have steadily declined since then. That they were so easily beaten at West Brom shows how far they have fallen and they are in real danger of crashing out of the top four this season, for the first time in 20 years.
If ever there was a time to step aside and allow the succession planning to begin, it is now. To sign a new deal at a time when the atmosphere around the club is as toxic as it has ever been, would be demonstrative of a stubborn and self-serving attitude. I firmly believe Arsene holds the club in much higher regard than to put his own bruised ego above its future success.
In fact, it would only hurt the club in the short term as there exists a significant section of the fanbase who will simply not accept Arsene staying on as manager, no matter what he does or who he signs, or however short term the deal may be.
Of course, Arsene is only mulling over his new contract because the board have put it in front of him, and so they must also accept a good deal of the flak that is currently being taken by the manager. Their collective silence and lack of courage does them, their manager, and the fans a great disservice. If they believe in the Frenchman, they should come out and back him to the hilt. That he has been allowed to be the subject of planes, protests, and social media campaigns is a cowardly admission from the board that they do not really know what they are doing, and care little for the concerns of fans.
I hope that the stories of a contract extension prove to be untrue. I hope, during this two-week break, that Arsene reaches the right decision and concedes that his time is up. That way, we can finally move on as a fanbase and focus attention on giving our greatest manager the send-off he has earned.
If we go into the Manchester City fixture with the manager’s future plans still a secret, however, we will almost certainly take another thrashing and the bad feeling will be difficult to control.
It is time we had some clarity.