Battle in the boardroom: Has Ivan thrown a spanner in the works of contract extension?

Little by little, as the days go by and the press conferences come and go, I become convinced that there is some sort of battle raging in the Arsenal boardroom.

In the build-up to the West Bromwich Albion game, it seemed almost certain that we were imminently due an announcement on the issue of Arsene Wenger’s contract extension.

The manager himself assured one and all that news would become apparent “very soon”.

The lamentable defeat that followed seemed to delay what many expected would be the announcement that Arsene had signed a two-year extension, but few doubted we would hear something during the two-week international break thereafter.

Yet two weeks came and went without any announcement from the club, despite it being the ideal opportunity to do so, given much of the attention was diverted to the international setup.

That the club decided not to take that opportunity surprised a lot of fans.

When the Premier League resumed again and Arsenal welcomed Manchester City to the Emirates, Arsene again assured fans and the media that an announcement was due shortly and that his mind was made up as to where he would be next season, although he declined to add any specifics.

The match came and went and still no news was forthcoming. In the meantime, chief executive Ivan Gazidis spoke to the Arsenal Supporters Trust and reportedly said he saw himself as a catalyst for change and that no contract had yet been offered to Arsene, something which seemed to contradict the perceived wisdom among those in the know.

Leaks and whispers began to emerge of wholesale structural changes at management level, with Arsene’s workload reduced, a director of football brought in and former Arsenal greats invited to join the coaching setup.

Many suspected this was a way for the club to lessen the blow of a new contract for Arsene, and to placate those who were wavering in their support for the manager.

And yet, when Arsene was himself asked about the rumoured changes pre and post West Ham, he sought to play them down and he has continued to do so in the week or so since that result.

In fact, in his pre-Middlesbrough press conference, Arsene was quite dismissive about the need for a director of football, insisting that the focus would better be placed on good quality players instead of management structures.

At the same conference, Arsene said he was none the wiser regarding the goings on at board level and added that his relationship with Stan Kroenke was the ‘same as it always has been’.

Add into the mix further back-channel briefings about bumper contract extensions offered to Alexis Sanchez, the signing of a Serbian left back from Shalke, visits to Italy to woo Max Allegri and talk of £200million to spend in the summer, and you have waters that have become so muddied they are practically an oozing swamp of confusion.

All of this has done nothing to assuage the anxiety and anger among fans about just where the club is headed. If anything, as we saw at Selhurst Park on Monday night, it is making things a good deal worse. So bad in fact that fans are no longer fighting eachother, but have united against the players.

You can’t help but feel that there is much more going on behind the scenes than many have assumed. It was generally accepted that Arsene and the board had reached agreement many months ago and that the formality of announcement was the only issued still outstanding.

And yet, given the frequency of leaks now emerging, and the contradicting whispers, it would appear that something of a power struggle is raging in the upper echelons.

It is being suggested that Ivan Gazidis, long pilloried as Arsene’s yes man, may have thrown a spanner in the works, in a bid to impose change of a manager who is famously reluctant to cede control in any aspect of his managerial remit.

Perhaps the results in the last few months have strengthened Ivan’s hand and what seemed to be a straightforward deal has been adorned with several strings, caveats that Arsene is unwilling to adhere to.

If true, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a man who is generally not held in much regard by ordinary fans – a real zero to hero story.

Ultimately, the decision on Arsene’s future belongs to Stan Kroenke but one gets the sense that he has been content to leave the finer points of this negotiation to his board, who appear to be very much at odds with eachother and, in some cases, with the manager.

The end result, as we all know to our detriment, is the team, the fans, and the club are suffering in a very public and damaging way. Nobody knows what the future holds and most simply can’t wait for this season to finish, so that we can scamper into a dark corner and lick our collective wounds.

It should never have reached this point, where near open warfare is being waged at every level of the club, but regime change is seldom easy.

Will we get some long-awaited clarity in the week ahead? It is extremely unlikely. In truth, this debacle is unlikely to end until the end of the season, when the issue will be forced to a head by the ending of Arsene’s contract. By then, however, it will probably already be too late.

Whatever happens, it seems blood – metaphorically at least – is likely to be spilled.

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