This week I heard that there was an Özil “controversy”. Will he sign a new deal? Won’t he sign a new deal? Is the deal entirely down to whether Wenger re-signs? And you know what? The whole thing didn’t even give me pause. This is a non-story.
If Özil only wants to work with Arsene Wenger, that’s certainly his right – though I’d like to know which manager he thinks would give him the same freedom Wenger affords. I know a lot of people love him and he’s certainly one of the more talented players on the team but creative midfielders are plentiful right now and Özil is far from irreplaceable. Arsenal are the 5th richest club in the world. We can literally afford almost anyone to replace Özil.
Please note that I’m not saying Özil is crap. It’s just that I have seen literally dozens of top players leave Arsenal over the last 20 years and Arsenal have always found a way (albeit sometimes slowly) to replace those players. Or to change the way that the squad plays in order to fit those new players into a new system.
Still, this is a tough time for Arsenal and I understand the nerves. The club could potentially lose Wenger, Özil, and Alexis in the same summer, which would send an earthquake through the club.
I think that’s a far off prospect, however. Wenger hasn’t signed a new deal but I suspect that he will. Wenger is a long-term planner. He’s the last person on earth I’d expect to make a sudden decision. He also cares deeply for the club and the players he has brought in to the club. If he is going to leave this summer, all of the board and owners would have known about it well in advance and would have had ample time to plan for a new manager.
Now, maybe that’s happened and Arsenal have managed to keep it all secret. That’s possible, Arsenal are famously tight-lipped. But I suspect that Wenger will sign a new three year deal and tell the board that it’s his last. When Wenger re-signs, Özil will re-sign and that leaves just Alexis.
Alexis is the best player in the Premier League right now. He is the emotional leader of this club and Arsenal’s playing style has been, in many ways, molded after him and his infectious energy. But he’s been looking pouty recently and there are some signs that he might not want to stay at the club. If Alexis leaves it’s a huge blow to Arsenal and would require a major purchase just to get back to square one.
There is some worry about a decline in quality if Alexis should leave and I understand why people would think that. After all, we have seen a decline in quality at Arsenal since Vieira left, then Henry, then Fabregas, then van Persie. I’d say that the decline in quality at Arsenal from 2006 to 2016 is fairly evident. Arsenal can’t even pass the ball around teams that press us anymore. So, it totally makes sense that people would be worried about a further decline in quality if Alexis, Özil, and/or Wenger leaves. But these guys aren’t going to play football forever. Wenger isn’t going to be manager forever (though it does feel like it at times). Arsenal need to be prepared to move on when, not if, these people quit.
Wenger himself takes a similar attitude toward Özil and Alexis that I have, saying last month;
“Arsenal is a big club. It is not one or two players who will make the difference. The important thing is we are in a strong financial position; that was not the case before. We are in a financial position where we can plan our future and do what we want to do. And what is important is always to take care of the values of the club, and the identity of the club, and not to depend too much on one or two players.”
I would expand what Wenger is saying about players and include the manager. Arsenal, the club, need to be prepared for when Wenger retires. Not if, but when. And us football fans as well, we have seen clubs struggle when their long-serving managers leave. Wenger is a huge presence at Arsenal. His job is more than just manager. He will be impossible to replace with one man. Losing Wenger, which is going to happen one day and we should all be ready for it, is potentially more difficult than the transition to the new stadium. Just look at what Man U went through to see the effect losing an iconic manager has on a club.
This is the reason why I’m sanguine about losing one or more of these players or whether Wenger re-signs. Yes, even Alexis. Change is inevitable. The fortunes of our storied club expand and contract like breath. But as long as we maintain our values, we will always be the Arsenal.
*Pep has gone on the record that this City job is probably his last. Not sure why that’s not publicized more.