This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of WGM.
With fans mounting a season-long campaign to end his 21 season Arsenal reign, Arsène Wenger has survived for another two years but may need to accept big changes within if he hopes to remain in North London much longer.
The 2016/17 Premier League season has come to an end and the finale was a painful one for Arsenal’s Tlong-time manager Arsène Wenger. By finishing fifth courtesy of Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on the final day, the Gunners endured their worst ever result under Wenger’s reign and have missed out on Champions League spot for the first time since 1997.It’s a stunning record yet the consistency of Arsenal over the years hasn’t been able to mask the fact that they have nevertheless failed to mount a genuine title challenge for the past decade, leading to an outbreak of fans wanting to see the back of Wenger as well as club owner Stan Kroenke. Instead, Arsenal announced on 31May that Wenger has signed a new two-year deal. Statistically speaking, this was not actually Wenger’s worst season at Arsenal. The side has bettered its 75-point tally only eight times in the previous 25 Premier League seasons despite the large 18-point gap between them and champions Chelsea. The Gunners also finished the season on a high, winning seven of their last eight league games.
But two big failures hurt the fans so deeply that patience was gradually eroded. Firstly, Arsenal were again humiliated by continental opponents in the Champions League, conceding 10 goals in their two legs against German giants Bayern Munich. Continental failure has been an ongoing problem for Arsenal in recent seasons, an indication of the club’s declining competitiveness on the European front.
Secondly, Arsenal’s seasonal pattern has been alarmingly similar every year. The traditional mid-season slump was back as usual this season, with the team winning only two league games from the end of January to the beginning of April. Fatigue and injuries took their toll, just as the festive season affected other small squad teams like Liverpool. But Arsenal’s confidence hits rock bottom so often in February and March that it has been touted as an ongoing psychological concern.
How much longer can Wenger hope to remain in North London now that fierce rivals Tottenham have finished above them for the first time in Premier League history? Despite a strong record in the FA Cup – which Wengerʼs Gunners won for a record seventh time this season – the manager’s future seemingly rests with his ability to accept structural change within.
American owner Kroenke wants to hire a Director of Football or Sports Director to turn things around – a trend that has become increasingly common at other Premier League clubs who are more than happy to move to the continental system of management. The English club manager, who has traditionally acted as both head coach and football director, is now considered obsolete by most foreign owners.
Kroenke is no different in wanting to hire a specialist to look after the business side of things. Such thinking was unimaginable for old school football coaches such as Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, who once said the board was only there to sign the check. But although Wenger has never worked with a Director of Football either, he may now have no choice but to accept the idea.
It has been reported that the new recruitment boss would offer coordinated support across all off-field football operations, including analytics, scouting, sports science, youth development and even simple logistics, rather than shape any actual day-to-day aspects of coaching or team selection. But of course, it will still weaken Wenger’s power. Wenger has stated that even now, he believes Arsenal are “not far away” from lifting the Premier League trophy again. Yet, as it stands, accepting this new structure is likely to play a key role in his Arsenal future.