Despite Arsene Wenger’s protestations that there have been no contract extension talks as of yet, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis’ comments this week suggest that an offer to the 62 year old Frenchman to extend his spell in charge at the Emirates beyond 2014 is imminent. Indeed, Wenger’s proclamations and delaying tactics have been seen before with the Frenchman often leaving the signings of his new deals until well into the final year of the previous one, despite there never really being any doubts over Wenger’s desire to stay.
This time however, it feels a little different. Age is of course one of the biggest factors. Wenger is 62 and by his own admission is running out of time at the very top of the game, despite the fact that if you had to pick anyone to do another Sir Alex Ferguson, it would be Wenger. He spoke during his press conference on Thursday of needing to judge whether he retained the commitment and hunger to carry on after the expiration of his current contract, despite his undying love for the club.
Indeed, perhaps the clues to whether Wenger will sign a new contract can be seen in his transfer business. Back in 2007 it was genuinely thought that with the departure of close friend and ally David Dein followed by Thierry Henry’s move to Barcelona, that Wenger was considering leaving. However, upon eventually signing his extension Wenger not only pointed to his role in securing Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium but also cited the young team he had on his hands. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Alex Song, Mathieu Flamini, Gael Clichy, Alexander Hleb, Denilson, Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendnter were all in their early 20s and Wenger spoke of his desire to see his “third team” come to fruition and achieve the success he felt their potential merited.
We will not go into the much-discussed verses of that team’s failures and the departure against Wenger’s will of many of those names to pastures new and in some cases success at the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City. However, one thing that is for certain is that Wenger suffered more than most at the inabilities of that team. Particularly in its final season of 2010-11,Wenger’s touchline antics, rants and raves drew mirth and laughter from the majority but for some Arsenal fans, it was a recognition of just how much pain Wenger was in at what was the biggest failure of his career. The team that he had invested in for almost five seasons had contributed nothing to the trophy cabinet. Since then, Wenger has spoken of his anguish as he was unable to hold onto Fabregas, Samir Nasri and latterly Robin Van Persie and with this in mind, it questions whether at the age of 62, Wenger would commit himself to another Arsenal project of such magnitude.
Indeed, his transfer business in the last two seasons very much have the look of a short-term emphasis about them, rather than the long-term planning that went into the recruitment of his previous side. Mikel Arteta was 29 when purchased last summer, Andre Santos was 28, Per Mertesacker may have only been 26 but had a wealth of experience behind him. Of this summer’s signings, both Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla were 27 while Olivier Giroud not far behind them at 25. These are not signings for the long term. These are signings who have been brought in to hit the ground running, players who should be at the peak of their powers to bring in instant success rather than the potential of years gone by. With Wenger under pressure to end Arsenal’s trophy hoodoo before he leaves the club, do the signings of more experienced players represent simply an admission of previous mistakes, or do they in fact suggest that his long term future at the Emirates is in doubt?
That is not to suggest that Wenger has completely abandoned his youth-based philosophy, particularly with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remaining in around the first team but one cannot argue that Wenger appears to have changed philosophy. Even the promotion of Steve Bould as his new assistant, though necessitated by Pat Rice’s retirement, suggests that Wenger’s eyes are on the short term rather long, with Bould immediately improving a defence that had conceded 49 goals last season.
Of course, there are some Arsenal fans out there who would welcome the departure of Arsene Wenger after so many years of relative failure by his very high standards. Perhaps however, they should be careful what they wish for. It certainly is not a stretch to suggest that were Wenger to leave the Gunners tomorrow, he would have his choice of almost every club in world football. Not even the likes of Jose Mourinho can claim that.
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