The seemingly never-ending saga as to whether or not Arsene Wenger would remain at Arsenal beyond this season had many villains.
Many clearly felt Wenger himself was to blame, readily articulating the notion that he’s doing little other than slowly dismantling his legacy with each passing season. Others lay the blame with the owner, Stan Kroenke.
The last decade has seen him unashamedly prioritise profits over silverware and thus he has been more than happy to persist with Wenger’s banal consistency rather than dispense with him in the hope of scaling the heights the club knew so well ten plus years ago. Others still blamed the inexorably large social media footprint the club enjoys, which is most obviously manifested in the ubiquitous Arsenal Fan TV and the torrents of vitriol it so readily inspires.
Bizarrely, the one group that has largely escaped public chagrin is that which is most intrinsic to the team’s on-field fortunes, accounts for the overwhelming portion of the club’s expenditure and enjoys wider media exposure than the rest of those held accountable combined. I speak, of course, of the players.
For at least the last decade Arsenal Football Club has clearly provoked great distress among the Emirates faithful. A dearth of trophies, which belies their insistence that they are a top club, has been a constant scourge but it is the apparent culture change at the club that should be most concerning to supporters.
While Chelsea’s last season under Jose Mourinho is hardly an example of how a successful club operates, it did at least illustrate how quickly driven players can turn on a manager if they lose faith in their ability to guide them to the top. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were readily labelled ‘rats’ by Chelsea fans but surely such an attitude is preferable than that of players willing to coast through a managerial reign to simply collect cheques at the end of each month rather than silverware at the end of each season.
Similarly, Leicester City’s players were quickly lambasted for their petulance in ceasing to fully expend themselves for Claudio Ranieri this season, only to miraculously return to form upon his departure. Players instrumental in a title-winning season quickly descended to the level of relegation strugglers and made it perfectly clear to the public that they had lost faith in Ranieri’s ability to keep them competitive. The Italian was duly sacked and Leicester comfortably finished the league mid-table.
Arsenal players, by contrast, appear more than happy with their current situation. Each season they subject their support to a numbingly predicable trend. An initial period of optimism succeeded by a calamitous dip in form only for them to resurrect themselves when their title tilt is dead to invariably rescue a Champions League spot. Indeed, so impressive are their performances in April and May that they often appear motivated purely by the notion of Wenger prolonging his tenure, ensuring them another season of mediocre expectations and the presumably placid scrutiny of a coach who has previously likened a top four finish to silverware.
Even on an individual basis, the club appears to attract those to who averageness is acceptable. Mesut Ozil has frequently pronounced his hope that Wenger will remain at the club next season, specifically stating (via the Daily Mail) that:
“I have his trust, he’s a superb coach. He always manages to get Arsenal to the Champions League.”
Is Champions League qualification, a feat not attained this season, really sufficient to label a coach ‘superb’? How should one describe managers that regularly win trophies if Ozil is willing to use the word ‘superb’ on a coach who hasn’t finished the season at the summit in 13 years? The Germany international appears to have concluded that base camp is often much comfier than a mountain’s peak, and can be reached much more easily. More to the point, it’s not surprising he currently plays for Arsenal rather than his previous employer, Real Madrid.
Indeed, the club’s failure to sign a centre-forward last summer pointed to the perceived malaise at the club. Their ultimate failure to sign Jamie Vardy could hardly be put down to financial reasons and it’s hard to imagine a player being hesitant to swap the Leicester lifestyle for that of London. The perceived wisdom at the time was that Vardy felt Arsenal was no longer a winning club. It was a dressing room populated by those merry with mediocrity who seldom deigned an opportunity to disappoint their fans. In light of Leicester’s fortunes this year such a decision, of course, looks questionable, but the perception of Arsenal’s mindset remains.
In persisting with Wenger the club have proven that they are motivated by financial stability rather than success at the highest level. However, in remaining mute in the aftermath of Wenger’s newest two-year contract, Arsenal’s players have proven the adage correct that players ultimately join clubs whose ambitions matches theirs.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena
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