It’s probably not Ivan Gazidis Wenger’s at war with

In his press conference before the match against Southampton, James Olley asked Arsene Wenger whether there was a place for a Director of Football at Arsenal. Wenger channeled his inner curmudgeon and replied with one of my favorite exchanges of recent memory;

Olley: So you don’t think there’ll be a Director of Football here under any circumstances next season?

Wenger: Director of Football – I don’t know what it means. Is it somebody who stands on the road and directs players right and left? I don’t understand. I never could understand what it means, Director of Football.

(quote via Andrew Mangan from Arseblog News)

This was Wenger in full old-man mode. It was as if a child had kicked his football into Wenger’s yard, knocked on Wenger’s door, asked for his football back and Wenger replied with “Football? What is a football? Is it a ball made of feet? Is it a foot long ball? I have never understood what it means this, football!” And then slammed the door in the kid’s face.

Wenger typically saves his acerbic wit for the press in order to dismiss them asking the same questions constantly. But this retort was aimed instead at another entity, which became clearer as Wenger expanded on why he wouldn’t want a director of football at Arsenal:

“When it does not work here, I am blamed, so if I am blamed for decisions I have not made. It is tough enough to be blamed for decisions you have made. It is difficult to imagine that somebody signs a player that the manager does not know. That never happened to me.

Some coaches are only interested in managing the team and they are happy with it. I am not like that and I cannot change myself now. I can change by trying to get better but my personality? I have 40 years of experience at the top, top level and I think, personally, I have a good knowledge of the game. I am who I am. That is it.”

This is clearly an argument that Wenger has either already had with another human being or one which he has prepared and it is a strong argument. We see at other clubs where player recruitment and management are divorced this exact thing happening: players being thrust on a manager who then has to take the blame for when the player doesn’t work out. There were even suggestions that Xhaka is one of those players at Arsenal. That Wenger didn’t want him but someone at the club did.

This exchange is being painted as an internecine war between “the board” and Arsene Wenger. Most comments I’ve seen suggest that “the war” is between Ivan Gazidis and Arsene but I wonder if there are more than one target on the board that Wenger is fighting against.

Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke appointed his son Josh Kroenke to the Arsenal board as a non-executive director in December 2013 and most supporters didn’t bat an eye. At worst they thought that this scion of the wealthy owner was given a cushy job so he could pull down a salary. But Josh Kroenke wasn’t appointed to the board to just drain money from Arsenal, he fancies himself as some kind of sports guy.

Back home in Colorado, Josh Kroenke is president of the Denver Nuggets. At the time of his appointment to Arsenal, the Nuggets had the 3rd best record in the NBA and their coach, George Karl, had just won coach of the year. Things were good, save one small problem: Kroenke fired Karl that summer citing his contract demands and the fact that he hadn’t been committed to Denver that summer and instead flirted with the LA Clippers (a rival NBA team). Kroenke and the Nuggets also parted ways with highly influential General Manager (a role similar to Gazidis’ for Arsenal) Masai Ujiri, who had won executive of the year in 2013. Ujiri went to the Toronto Raptors and since his arrival, the Raptors have finished 1st or 2nd in their division every year. Kroenke’s Nuggets on the other hand, went from a team with the 3rd best record in the NBA to one which routinely finishes 11th in the NBA and 4th in their division (of 5 teams).

George Karl was a notoriously difficult coach to get along with. He was the coach of my beloved Seattle Supersonics during their amazing run to the NBA finals (where they lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls II) and I know exactly how Karl rubs people the wrong way and how he can also often fail in the playoffs. Karl is the owner of several ignominious records, including being the only coach to win the most games in the regular season and get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the 8th seed.

Rumored to be the sticking point between Karl and Kroenke was a clause in his contract which allowed for an extension of three years. Karl wanted some extension though not all three years and Kroenke didn’t. Karl has spoken on record that Kroenke and Ujiri stopped collaborating with him after the transfer window closed that season, creating a strange atmosphere in the team and club. Neither Karl nor Kroenke wanted to have a coach on his last year and so the decision was taken by Kroenke to fire Karl.

It’s a decision that, oddly, still sits well with a lot of Denver fans: they feel like his team overachieved and that Karl was past it as a manager. Plus, Karl is seen as the type of coach who can only take you so far and his constant failures in the playoffs, especially his proclivity to lose in the first round, is an albatross he will probably never cut free. It’s also true that there is no relegation in American sports so our sports culture is less competitive in many ways than football.

For Arsenal supporters all of this must sound familiar. Wenger is in the last year of his deal. There are hints that there was an offer to Wenger but that both sides couldn’t agree. And recently Arsenal have been publicly making noise about a shakeup in the structure of the club. George Karl’s description of his final months at Denver paint a picture that also strikes a chord with Wenger’s final months:

A: “What I’ve loved about being here is with (the different front office regimes) is I felt we were all equal. This year, after the trade deadline, all of a sudden, I felt like Masai (Ujiri, the general manager) and Josh were over here, and I didn’t feel very equal.”

Q: What does “feel equal” mean?

A: “In the past, Stan (Kroenke, the team owner) would listen to all of us. I know I can be fired and the voices behind closed doors can be against me. But this year, I just felt that at the end, for a team that had so much success, unity and karma, I felt that Masai and Josh drifted into a direction that was difficult to understand.”

Q: What’s an example of that?

A: “It’s hard to say. It’s just communication, them getting mad about what I said in the paper more often than makes sense. Snippy texts about things. The whole thing it comes down to — you’ve got a great coaching staff, a coach who loves coaching the team, a city that loves the team.” (Karl gently pounds the table.)

This entire Wenger contract saga smells an awful lot like Kroenke’s dealing with Karl at the Nuggets and it looks like Wenger is being pushed out of the club. I’m not a “Wenger in” guy by any stretch but at the same time I’m not a “Josh Kroenke in” guy. I don’t think Kroenke has proven himself to be a competent executive in a sport which he played and football in England is perhaps the most competitive sport in the world right now, so tossing him the keys to the franchise is a massive gamble.

The Sun (Scousers don’t buy the Sun) are reporting that the Kroenke’s (both) want Theirry Henry to be the next manager of Arsenal and there are rumors that Marc Overmars will be brought in to be Director of Football. From a public relations perspective this is a great choice. Henry is a legend and Overmars hearkens back to the success of Wenger’s first season at Arsenal. But the question remains whether from a football perspective this is a choice that will land Arsenal in 3rd place or, like Kroenke’s previous bold decisions at the Nuggets, one which will land Arsenal in 11th. Either way, my suspicions are that Arsene Wenger is being pushed out of the club.

Qq

75 Comments on It’s probably not Ivan Gazidis Wenger’s at war with

  1. Based on previous examples, when do they normally pull the trigger, at the end of the season or at some point during the break?

    Interesting analysis, I have no knowledge to agree or disagree but curious as to how you think this will play out. What do you think happens if Thierry says no?

  2. I love Thierry, but he’d be a terrible choice for coach. It’s a different ballgame from playing, and I haven’t seen anything yet that tells me he can manage this great football club. Living and breathing Arsenal is not enough. If it was, Tony Adams would walk into the job, and Gary Neville and Roy Keane, very smart players, would have been better managers than they have been.

    Mind you, I think that Arsene’s horse has run its course. I don’t know about Josh Kroenke, but if there’s someone in the executive willing to stand up to the almighty manager, then that’s to be welcomed.

  3. Plus, I agree with Arsene that the manager should purchase the players at his disposal, not the DOF.

    Arsene’s problem isn’t so much talent identification as transfer management. He’s got too much to do. Structurally, there should be a point at which he devolves all other transfer management responsibility after identifying the player. But not even that he’s been doing adequately, because unfilled gaps has been a problem for him for at least 6 years now.

    • Speaking of Arsene’s responsibilities, did you guys know he’s already a non-voting Board member as well?

      I was unaware until I watched that presentation Dick Law and David Dein gave in Brazil last week. Apparently Fergie had the same position at United at the time of his retirement.

      It might explain why they can’t outright fire him and have driven half the fanbase mad with their radio silence until a “mutual” decision can be made.

  4. If it goes this route then the Arsenal are royally Fucked!
    stan the man and his sOn are totally inept and incompetent.
    That turd has run all his franchises into the ground and will do so with the Arsenal if Arsene is pushed out unceremoniously.
    Lifelong fan, but if the Arsenal go the Detroit Lions route for the next 30 years than I will move on as I do not have that much time left to cheer!

  5. Ideally the board would take one thing away from AW. The board would say “Arsène, we have taken away the financial aspect of transfers and wages from you. All you have to do is to identify the player you want. We will get the player signed if he is affordable. You will agree to stop worrying about the cost/affordability/economics of the club.” Taking away the stewardship aspect of AW’s management style could be what liberates him to win, what takes the handbrake off. Ideally…
    But we will never win the league title again with AW in charge. That is what I believe despite having been an AKB for 90% of his Arsenal career. Media and referee conspiracy will never allow the narrative of the successful French manager in England to continue.

  6. What is a 67 year old man doing playing party politics?
    He has not improved the team for the past 3 years when it was imperative he did.
    I have supported Wenger for 19 / 20 years time to put the feet up.

  7. Great article. Great research. Great insight. Rings horribly true.

    If this is true many people are going to get exactly what they’ve been crying out for, an activist owner, Wenger out, hope & change!

    Oh yeah, and their comeuppance.

    Anyone who wants to see what bad management can do to a team despite massive structural advantages should look at the New York Knicks after Cablevision’s CEO handed off the reigns of the sports properties to his son James Dolan.

    Let me put it this way, he’s about a decade older than me, but much richer. I’ve resigned myself to the likelihood that he will out live me and that I will never enjoy basketball again.

    Buckle up.

  8. First, a little context as to how Arsenal currently operate. Over on arseblog, there was a youtube video where Dick Law was speaking in Brazil on how football clubs in the PL are structured. Arsenal’s structure is unique in that the scouting, fitness, etc all report to the manager. But there is a structure in place to handle legalities (apparently put in place after George Graham), finances, player contracts, recruitment and negotiations which Wenger isn’t involved in. Which Wenger has said before too. Worth a watch.

    The agent John Smith during his book release talked about Arsenal. Referred to their stats team and the rest of the scouting as slowing down the process, but that once they identify a player they move quickly, especially if they feel a big club will come in for him. He also referred to Dick Law as the equivalent of a DoF. He also said Arsenal negotiate in good faith and don’t renege on deals, saying he even once agreed a deal verbally with Arsenal.

    Now as to the current scenario, I do believe Arsenal want to appoint a DoF. It’s understandable because the GM model is what they are used to in the States, and also because with managerial tenures ever shorter, the strategic side of transfers probably shouldn’t be left to them. However, Wenger cannot be accused of overlooking that aspect (indeed the criticism is the opposite) If they are looking to appoint a GM, it cannot be as a ‘challenger’ to Wenger, but as a way of overseeing a smoother transition when Wenger leaves.

    Or, it could simply be Wenger fighting to keep Dick Law’s job, as it is only a case of him being replaced in the existing structure. Loyalty, and the fact that he doesn’t know what working relationship he will have with someone else might be his motivation.

    A third option is that if Wenger were to commit to a certain period, there might be more accommodations.

    Or Wenger is being pushed out as you said.

  9. First, a little context as to how Arsenal currently operate. Over on a***blog, there was a youtube video where Dick Law was speaking in Brazil on how football clubs in the PL are structured. Arsenal’s structure is unique in that the scouting, fitness, etc all report to the manager. But there is a structure in place to handle legalities (apparently put in place after George Graham), finances, player contracts, recruitment and negotiations which Wenger isn’t involved in. Which Wenger has said before too. Worth a watch.

    The agent John Smith during his book release talked about Arsenal. Referred to their stats team and the rest of the scouting as slowing down the process, but that once they identify a player they move quickly, especially if they feel a big club will come in for him. He also referred to Dick Law as the equivalent of a DoF, and said Arsenal negotiate in good faith and don’t renege on deals, saying he even once agreed a deal verbally with Arsenal.

    Now as to the current scenario, I do believe Arsenal want to appoint a DoF. It’s understandable because the GM model is what they are used to in the States, and also because with managerial tenures ever shorter, the strategic side of transfers probably shouldn’t be left to them. However, Wenger cannot be accused of overlooking that aspect (indeed the criticism is the opposite) If they are looking to appoint a GM, it cannot be as a ‘challenger’ to Wenger, but as a way of overseeing a smoother transition when Wenger leaves.

    Or, it could simply be Wenger fighting to keep Dick Law’s job, as it is only a case of him being replaced in the existing structure. Loyalty, and the fact that he doesn’t know what working relationship he will have with someone else might be his motivation.

    A third option is that if Wenger were to commit to a certain period, there might be more accommodations.

    Or Wenger is being pushed out as you said.

  10. I think most people who respect arsene wenger still feel his time at the club should be up. It is also clear he doesn’t want to go. So we shouldn’t get our backs up if the arsenal board are for once listening to the deafening chorus calling for change. They should, in fact, be applauded.

  11. I think Henry would be a terrible choice and whoever thinks he should be our next manager should not be in charge of choosing our next manager.

  12. Several comments :

    There are couple of reports saying without sources that Wenger has been finally ‘given’ all powers etc…sounds like Ivan et al lost the in fighting??

    On the blog, I wish you would be right!

    Wenger out is based on performance, not some sort of politics as some AKBs still suggest.

    Josh in or not is not an urgent issue. He is after all an NED so would be around anyway. If he really could move Wenger on, well, he would have done a great service to the club and what an achievement to make his mark…

    From recent press con and quotes, Wenger is so arrogant, yet naive and dated. Funny these adjectives could actually describe the team and some players.. most times ie play a brand of ‘beautiful’ football… when?? 15 years ago may be! Defence and tactics have been naive as we all know. Etc.

    It’d be great if you could.do some articles and explore the sponsor angle. Surely they cannot be happy with the performance on the pitch, fans fighting in stands, nor what’s talked about in the papers. Not positive association and bad karma.

  13. One thing about Josh Kroenke though. Papa only gave him control over his US franchises because he had to. Does he have to with Arsenal? My feeling is Stan Kroenke would likely still trust Wenger to deliver what is expected. And if Arsenal make the top 4 and/or win the FA Cup, any big changes in personnel will likely not be a priority, provided Wenger is staying.

  14. 1. Henry would be a TERRIBLE choice for manager. We’ll end up like United post-Moyes or Liverpool when those two American idiots were in charge (Gilette and…can’t even remember), or worse.

    2. Bringing in Overmars or someone similar as a sporting director is not a terrible idea. Julian Laurens was saying the other day that there’s a big difference between a director of football and a sporting director, and while Wenger is clearly against the first, he may be persuaded on the second, the difference being, apparently, that only the director of football has ultimate say on transfers. So AW could still have final say on the players he wants, but someone else could work with him to identify those guys, and then take complete control of securing them. Maybe…though I’m not holding my breath.

    3. I think we’ve maybe been a bit guilty of downplaying the importance of the top 4 this year, in terms of the future of the club. This is understandable, because we’re all sick and tired of “just” getting into the top 4 without challenging for the title, and plenty of us have decided that dropping out of the top 4 could be good if (a) it provides a big kick up the backside to the club, from top to bottom (no pun intended), and (b) it means we can focus on the league next year, just as Leicester and Chelsea have done (though seeing as we’re likely to be in the Europa, not sure missing out on top 4 will really help us in this regard).
    But I think the problem is that (a) we definitely will lose several of our best players, as both Sanchez and Ozil have stated repeatedly that they are ambitious to win the CL (I think this is arguably a more important factor to them than money, or even who the manager is), and it might be much harder to convince the Ox to stay as well, (b) we clearly won’t be able to attract as much top talent in the summer, at least not without paying crazily over the odds, so we’ll be in danger of being left even more behind, and (c) I think Wenger surviving really could come down to him securing top 4 (getting to the FA Cup final helped, but I can’t see winning/losing the final as decisive either way), and even if, like me, you’d like to see a change at manager, there’s ZERO chance that if Wenger suddenly walks or is pushed next month, that the club will have prepared properly and lined the right person up this summer. Much better for him to sign for two more years, make it clear that this is his last contract, and put a proper succession plan in place.
    I guess there’s a tiny chance we’ll luck out and Allegri will win the CL and decide he’d like to move to England, but otherwise, I fear we’re in for a debacle of Moyesian proportions, e.g. Thierry or someone else seriously under-qualified for the role.

    4. All of this makes Leicester’s unlucky loss to City today all the harder to take. If they had gotten the draw, then we’d just need West Brom to hold City to a draw in midweek (very possible) to have everything back in our hands, in addition to the possibility of Liverpool screwing up. But as it stands now (even a City loss to WBA probably won’t be enough for us, since City’s goal difference is so much better), we’re probably relying on West Ham to do us a huge favor tomorrow. And while that’s possible, something tells me Arsenal fans and some pundits have gotten a little too confident of a result in that match. I don’t expect either City or Liverpool to drop points on the last day (much more likely that we do against Everton). Our top 4 chances really are hanging by a thread. It could be a looong summer…

    • I’m not sure it will be a huge problem. One year out of the CL is just that. One year. Our long record, much derided though it often is, should assure players that we’ll be back in there. Provided we back it up with money of course. Wenger said much the same thing when asked about transfer targets, while I read that Klopp said the opposite. (Liverpool don’t have the same track record as us)

      It certainly makes it tougher to bring in talent, but I don’t think it should result in us being left behind.

      On City. They lucked out. I think they scored an offside goal too, and that penalty miss was just so lucky. Last week both Manchester clubs got a penalty as a result of a dive, helping them pick up a point each.

    • his long balls and his finishing are poor but that’s about it. other than that, i think he’s a good player, especially off the ball.

      • He’s more than good enough for these types of games. It’s the real top level competition he struggles against because he just doesn’t read the game that well in either phase, unfortunately.

  15. Boy, talk about ugly. Wenger deciding to play pretty much his most cautious, ponderous lineup available, we’re entirely foregoing passing combinations through the middle of the park in favor of lots of long diagonal balls, and we’ve got one of the least mobile center forwards in Europe on the pitch. Still, a good goal. Guess the ends justify the means at this stage of the season…

  16. ALEXIS WITH THE CAVIAR!

    Again it’s the runs from deep undoing the packed defense. Robbed of Ramsey, it’s the wingbacks and now Ozil who got behind from deep areas for both goals.

    Do people remember in preseason when Man united was being picked as champions elect because JoMo + Zlatan + Pogba? So far their 65 points is good for a 1 point improvement over the Moyes 13/14 dumpster fire (64 points) with 3 games to play, may not supersede van Gaal mark I in 14/15 (70 points).

  17. After 2-0, Stoke came out at us and scored on a handball following the biggest fouling cluster not called a foul I’ve ever seen, then got torn to shreds trying to match up man for man at the back. This game will do that xG statistic Tim posted about some good, I think.

    One point behind Liverpool with equal goal difference. Their game away at West Ham tomorrow will be crucial.

    • Really seemed like Dean wanted a fight to break out so he could be caught on camera carefully pondering and then dramatically flourishing a red card. Honestly thought there was going to be a serious injury.

  18. Is that the best through ball of the PL season?? Perrrfectly weighted. Too out like 6 defenders at once. Just gorgeous.

  19. it’s why i say arsenal should make alexis the highest paid player in the league. he deserves it.

    btw, coquelin’s through ball to bellerin for the first goal was also pretty.

  20. Every true gooner wants us to finish top 4, whether they are among the diminishing band of AKBs, or fully signed up members of the Wenger-out brigade, like me.

    In the end, it could come down to a point. Looking at what might have been, which game do you think is THE ONE, THE one, that could cost us champions league qualification? I’m going with Boro at home in October, the goalless draw, in which we dropped 2 points. One, we’d been playing well (6 unbeaten until then), two it took us to the top of the table. Three, Boro were carp. Once Chelsea took over as leaders, they took care of business in games like these.

    Even after our horrific slump early in the year, we’d still be a point ahead of Liverpool and with our destiny our own hands.

    I think that whatever happens, the teams needs new management. CL qualification would be an inducement to a top coach to take over, and top players to come.

    • Serious question here, calude: Sure, Arsenal haven’t lived up to expectations. But what’s the excuse up in Manchester? United and City will finish with very similar and in the case of the former, probably worse records than us despite ostensibly having hired the best coaches in the world and having outspent us by buckets both in terms of wages and in net transfer spend. Are you prepared to give them a pass? I know we are Arsenal fans here but context is important: Wenger’s Arsenal will finish around the same place and with around the same points as Guardiola and Mourinho. So I ask again, what’s their excuse? Because if we think Wenger has underperformed then those two have massively underperformed.

      The theme that underpins my comment is one I’ve been saying until I’ve been blue in the face, turned purple and passed out: the change you want might not be what you wish to see.

      • They have inquests of their own. And frankly, I’m not concerned about them. They underperformed too, but so what? They won the league far more recently than we did, and City have hardly embarrassed themselves in the champions league like we did. Our form for the first few months of the year, and the Bayern aggregate, are the culmination of years of rot under Wenger, and the crystallisation of everything dysfunctional about his regime over the past 7 years.

        Heck, we might get change we do not wish to see this very season! “You don’t know what you’ll get” such a badly argued rationale for keeping an ossified Arsene.

        • So what? I think when evaluating his performance it’s only fair to give it context, not just this year but in previous years. Mourinho was supposed to win the league after adding Zlatan and Pogba, and Guardiola looked like his team might pulverize all competition for the first 3 months or so of this season. A few months later, they’re on basically the same points as Arsene despite having more expensive player (and personal) contracts and transfer fees. I think that matters when discussing Arsene’s performance this season.

          And look, I’ve said many times before I’m OK with changing the manager. Where I differ is the unrelenting optimism you seem to have that it’ll be a change for the better. I just don’t see the evidence that there is any coach in the world who can come in an instantly impact results to elevate this squad to the title contenders we all want them to be. If Guardiola couldn’t do that for Pellegrini’s city and Mourinho couldn’t do that for van Gaal’s United, and Klopp didn’t do it at Liverpool; then who is out there who could come in and singlehandedly make that difference for Arsene’s Arsenal? I don’t see that man because there is no such man. There are several managers who could come in and replicate his same results, even if it might come via different tactical setup or shape. You might point at Conte but I’ll point to Chelsea in ’14/15 that pulverized the league with basically the same PLAYERS. That’s what really matters in the end in football and that’s what Arsenal needs more than a new manager. They need a better midfield, they need better luck with injuries and they need some help up front for Alexis and Ozil. Let’s buy Naby Keita and Kylian Mbappe; that’s how we’ll get closer to a title, not simply by sacking Wenger (though again, I’m not completely against it).

          As Tim Stillman pointed out over on Arseblog, we have a lot of “Goldilocks” type players, guys who are only effective when a whole system is built around them and when the team is built around them. We need more of the swiss army knife types, players who give you high quality no matter the shape of the team or the weather or anything else. Wenger’s greatest shortcoming in his old age has probably been his indulgence of under-performing players and rewarding potential future performances instead of actual ones. That has led to a roster bloated with players who only do one or two things well and spend a lot of time being injured. Greater ruthlessness is required.

          • Agree with this, especially the bit about needing new additions, and the goldilocks problem. But a) if we don’t make top 4, it’s going to be really hard to bring those guys in, and that’s on Arsene, b) the weaknesses in the current squad are on Arsene, too. He’s had transfer window after transfer window to put things right and failed to do so (he’s not really been seriously financially handicapped for a few years now). The proof is on the pitch. I’ve said many times I think our squad is very good and we could be more competitive with, e.g., Poch in charge of the same players. But given that it’s Wenger, and Wenger’s more hands-off, free style, that we’re working with, Wenger should have known that his way of playing requires the right, extremely high quality, players to really work. There’s no sense putting trust in a Theo Walcott when only an Overmars or Ljungberg will do, or a Giroud when what you really need is an Henry or Anelka, or a Coquelin or Elneny when a Vieira is really required.

            So what confidence should we have that, after these many years of falling short, he’s going to put it all right in the summer? Even last summer, when we spent a lot of money and obviously *tried* to improve the squad, the track record ended up being patchy at best (Mustafi is a good player but not the finished article and not worth the huge fee; Xhaka is going to be brilliant, but his slowness means Wenger also needed to find him the right partner, which he largely failed to do, both in the squad and in the transfer window; Perez was bought on the relative cheap and hardly used, when it’s been obvious for years now that we need serious reinforcements up front).

          • Agree with a lot of this but managers DO matter. You point to Chel$ki as an example that players matter more than the manager. Funny, I come to the opposite conclusion. The fact that the same group of players completely tanked their title defense and then under a different manager won again indicates to me that Conte mattered in their winning the title again. He transformed Victor Moses from a journeyman winger to a good wingback, turned David Luiz from a mistake prone defender in a four man defensive system to a ball playing center back who benefits from the extra coverage of a three man backline, and regained the trust of their best attacker by loosening the defensive straitjacket Mourinho had placed on Hazard. No, managers can’t elevate a relegation threatened team to the Champions League. But deciding first from second, fourth from fifth,top of the table clashes, yes managers matter.

          • There’s a fundamental disconnect here. Is the squad a problem, or is it, as is, ready to compete for the PL crown if only it had the right manager? The message I’ve been hearing is more the latter, but I couldn’t disagree more.

            If you’re claiming that Wenger has to go because he hasn’t gotten the most out of these guys as a coach, then you should also be giving him credit for recruiting them in the first place and acknowledge that he built a pretty good squad. If you’re claiming that the squad is rubbish then you should also be giving Wenger credit for achieving the same results as the more lavishly assembled United and City, not to mention reaching a cup final, and acknowledge that he’s a pretty good coach.

            I think it’s a better squad than we’ve had in a long time, but the league around us has improved to such an extent that that better squad is still only good for the same relative results. At least that seems plausible to me and could explain some of the apparent dissonance stated above. I do think the notion that Wenger is the chief reason we failed to challenge for the PL trophy this year is a woefully incomplete analysis.

          • Yes, managers do matter, just not as much as we like to think in my opinion. The point about Chelsea is that virtually the same players won the league at a canter with Mourinho two years ago; then they quit on him to get him fired. Conte walked into a squad with the league’s best player from two years before and probably the most complete striker in the league as well: huge title winning potential, and yes, he was a good enough coach to make the most of it. Then they also added the lynchpin midfielder from last season’s title winning squad and bought well elsewhere too. He also had a lot of luck with injuries. I don’t think his back 5, or Hazard, were ever injured, and stats show they were the luckiest team in front of goal this season. Having said all that, I’m not trying to discredit Conte, I’m just trying to draw attention to all the things that had to go well besides him being a good coach for them to win the title. Funnily enough the catalyst for their season was the hiding they received at Emirates in the fall.

          • Don’t forget the fact that they had no European commitments. Leicester last season, Liverpool in their almost year led by Suarez..Or should that be Brendan Rodgers? There’s a pattern there. Even Spurs this season were basically willing to forego the Europa League and it helped them rise up the table.

            I think when talking about match tactics, a lot of fans underestimate the value of having a full week to focus on and prepare for an opponent, in addition to the rest, and likelihood of staying healthy throughout the season.

            The solution as you say, is to have better players throughout the squad. If Wenger indeed is stopping us from recruiting these sorts of players, I’d back Josh Kroenke in pushing him out (if indeed that is what is happening) Bring in such type of players and even Henry as manager might win the league. Like Zidane at Real Madrid.(Although he served time by managing the youth teams at Real, something Henry was unwilling to commit to)

      • City under Guardiola have easily played the most attractive football this season and have a chance to finish one place better than last season with a 12 points more to their tally.
        Calling this a massive underachievement is ridiculous and shows a typical double standards most AKB exhibit.

        First season in the most competitive league in the world, against the six of the best ten managers in the world, some of whom had one season’s head start( Klopp) , or simply a better squad to start with( Chelsea).

        If Arsenal finished 12 points better than last season, you probably would be calling for Wenger to be knighted.

        • City’s team gave up last season too once they knew Pellegrini was to be replaced. They’ve always played pretty football as well.

          This is no double standard. It is simply holding them to the same standard demanded of Wenger, except that you get to say they have a manager new to the league. Which is the logic much of the media uses to reset the clock and wash away all past sins. And yet, the clubs that tend to win keep winning, and the clubs that tend to not win, don’t.

          • If you believe City are playing the same football they were under Pellegrini, and Guardiola’s system is just a continuation of their previous one ,then I have nothing to say to you other than maybe stop watching football altogether my friend.

            If there’s one manager in the PL who deserves a couple of seasons to be scrutinized, it’s Guardiola.
            His is the most intricate system around and most football players require time to adapt to it.

            As for the first season in the league argument, to deny that familiarity with the league’s schedule, intensity, officiating, and even certain domestic competitions that are unique to the PL, is simply denying the obvious.
            Klopp didn’t know the format of the league cup Liverpool was involved in last season.” Return leg? What return leg? ”

            If Guardiola fails to win in the PL within his first three years, then he should most definitely be taken down a peg or two in the world’s best coaches charts, but not until then.

            As for the “double standards ” issue, sorry pal but you are a poster child for it when it involves Wenger.

            Every other manager should win the PL in his first season or he’s a failure , while Wenger has a limited timeframe because of “mitigating circumstances”

        • Tom, first off, I don’t think I labeled you because you hold different views and I expect the same courtesy back. I think calling me and Shard an “AKB” debases the conversation and puts us in some fictional bucket of Arsenal fans who might as well all hold the same views. I resent that.

          Second, you’re clearly prepared to offer a list of excuses for Guardiola that you would not for Wenger. I suspected this might be the case for some of his more adamant detractors. You see his reign in a totally different light, it seems, and are less concerned with the bottom line at the end of the season. That’s interesting. Wenger has been judged so harshly by some precisely because he hasn’t been able to move the bottom line high enough. How do you explain that? And no, I’m not calling Guardiola a failure. But if we are calling Wenger a failure then there is no escape for Klopp, Mourinho or Guardiola either because isn’t winning the only thing that matters?

          • Fine , I take the AKB back if it offends you and I apologize.
            But to the point , I offer plenty of excuses for Wenger ( always have). Ref bias,
            media bias, pundits bias and lesser resources than other big four just to name a few. So his list of excuses is even longer than Guardiola’s

            That said, holding Klopp , for example, to the same standard as Wenger , something you seem to advocate, is simply wrong by any metrics you have applied thus far.

            Guardiola has underperformed because he spent £150m net in the Summer according to you and Shard, but also has Klopp, even though his net spend was zero. Where’s the logic in that I ask?

            You seem to give credit to no one, which is a tell tell sign of e seriously warped view of reality.

            Conte hasn’t done anything special because Chelsea won with the same players two seasons ago.

            Pochettino deserves no credit because his style is simply to defend aggressively and rely on Kane to carry the day, and they have won nothing.

            Guardiola spent £150 m so he should walk the league( although Mourinho spent even more), anything other than that is an overwhelming underachievement.

            Klopp spent zero net but if he’s so good he should also win it right away.
            And on and on.

            Some of these statements might be partially true but they can’t all be true.

            And lastly, I’m not calling Wenger a failure. In my mind he’s a perennial top four manager who’s won titles in a two club PL where the odds of any single club
            ( Man U) dominating every year were very low.
            Even if he stays ten more years , Wenger will not win the PL title again because if he could he would’ve done it by now.

            But as claudeIvan said above , I root for him to succeed because what’s good for Wenger is good for Arsenal.

            Besides , it would be fun to see Klopp blow his head gasket on the touch line screaming at the fourth official as his Liverpool enter the Europa league, which of course wouldn’t be whining in his case, but rather showing passion.

          • Thanks for the apology. I wasn’t offended but I do resent being labeled, as, I suspect, do most people.

            I appear to give credit to nobody because I don’t consider the manager’s position to be all important. So by extension, Wenger’s removal or lackthereof is unlikely to significantly move the needle. That’s a big part of my point and one that you haven’t addressed yet. When the squad appeared to be quitting on him back in March, I would’ve absolutely backed finding a new guy because at that point any change is better than keeping a manager whose squad doesn’t back him. But now it seems like the players are all on board again which brings us back to the same issue with Wenger that we face year after year: his teams are good but not good enough to last the race for the whole year. The issue is, how do we remedy that? To me, firing Wenger is no surefire solution. He might even be more likely than an outsider to stumble on the combination of players that clicks and takes us on a winning run.

    • Respectfully disagree (no surprises there). Boro were a strong defensive unit under Karanka (goals at the other end were the problem), and they played out of their skins that day. We also didn’t have Giroud as an option, if memory serves, which made it difficult to switch it up late on when we were trying to lay siege to their goal. They parked the bus and got what they came for. It was disappointing, but it happens, even to the best teams. And we didn’t lose, so it kept our unbeaten run alive.

      No, there are so many good candidates, but I’m gonna have to go for Watford at home. A truly average, average team, to whom we gifted a ridiculous 2 goals lead (their second goal was such a collective clusterf*ck from us, it bordered on art) before we even began to try to play. I think it remains our worst half of the season. Then, in the second half, we demonstrated what an average team they are by quickly getting back in it with a goal, but just when it looked like we would definitely get at least a point, we ran out of gas for the last 25 minutes, not helped by more poor Wenger subs. He moved the on-fire Iwobi from the left wing where he had been roasting their fullback, into the center, and we again didn’t have Giroud to call on, as Wenger had inexplicably decided to start him (and he got a knock and came off at halftime), rather than leaving him on the bench as our insurance card in the last 20 minutes. It’s hard to overstate just what a waste of a 3 points that was, going into a run of tough games against Chelsea and Liverpool. The center midfield for that game: Ramsey and Coquelin, giving us approximately zero control of the ball.

      Honorable mention goes to the Bournemouth away game. Yes, they’re a decent team who did a great job of pressing us in front of their home fans, but our inability to get up the field was just embarrassing, making the look like Barcelona. And when we finally did get up the pitch we showed how defensively suspect they are in the last 20 minutes. This one’s especially bitter because their crucial third goal should never have counted, as Bellerin pretty clearly got fouled in the buildup (though he also should NEVER have gotten himself in a situation where the ball could be robbed off him; this was Hector at his worst). If that foul gets called, we gain 2 points. We also had to endure the embarrassing sight of Giroud’s scorpion celebration wasting time when his goal got us back to 3-3 and there was still time to grab a winner. That to me pretty much summed up what’s wrong with this squad’s mentality (or some of them, anyway).

    • “Every true gooner wants us to finish top 4, whether they are among the diminishing band of AKBs, or fully signed up members of the Wenger-out brigade, like me.”

      It’s logical, right?
      Even if you think Arsenal have no chance of winning the CL, you still want them in it because the alternative is much worse. The Europa League offers more challenges and far less rewards.

      Also, if you want Wenger gone, he’s far more likely to retire on a high than on the all time low.
      What are the chances of him walking away from Arsenal and leaving the club in the most vulnerable state, with its league position and numerous players out of contract at the end of this or next season?
      Slim to none.

      Also, it would be fun to see Klopp or Guardiola( less likely) to blow their head gasket on the touch line during the game that decided their Europa league faith.

  21. Holding was a real pleasure to watch today. Fights like a fighty thing, wants the ball and plays it with finesse. Automatic legend status for taking out Arnautovic.

    • I agree he looks a great prospect, but I thought this was one of his shakiest displays for us. Lost the ball and got beaten too easily a number of times, e.g. by Arnautovic and then Shaqiri for Diouf’s great chance and then for the goal. But of course massive credit for decking Arnautovic.

    • Holding represents the very best of Arsene Wenger as a spotter and nurturer of talent. Seriously, seriously good business.

      • not that dramatic. arsene simply watched england win the u-21 championship last year where chambers featured at central defender and noticed that his partner, some kid named rob holding, was better than chambers. wenger bought the kid and sent chambers on loan.

  22. In a hugely under-achieving season wins like these are to be cherished despite what came before or what come after. It was a great day at the office. Full stop. Enjoy it.

  23. like you said, doc, we should not only include this year but previous years. this is where wenger has a failed to capitalize on his very clear advantage. he’s had 20 years to build his team where the other managers have only had this season and wenger’s still failed to prove he’s a superior manager to them in a championship race. he even failed to beat raineri in his first season last year. spurs have improved. so too has chelsea. the manchester clubs are very likely to improve with their new managers settled. what will arsenal do?

    arsenal were favorites to win the title last year but absolutely blew it. the sensational nature of getting it so wrong is why arsenal weren’t considered title challengers, let alone favorites this year. bottom line, most don’t believe arsenal will improve under wenger. this is why there is a movement to see him relieved of his managerial duties.

    my position is this: at different times over the past few seasons, arsenal have needed direction. when a team loses their way, it’s the manager’s job to provide them with the tactical and strategic guidance they need to get back on course. wenger seems to have continually failed with this simple duty. as a result, arsenal continually fall way short in the league and are embarrassed in europe. a manager that provides arsenal with this direction on the pitch may not guarantee a championship but will give arsenal a chance to compete. most arsenal fans don’t hate wenger, they just want to see their team compete again.

    • I don’t think any Arsenal fan truly hates Wenger. That’s not my platform at all. I want to see Arsenal succeed and I do consider the manager an important part of that success. I’m playing devil’s advocate against the notion that removing Wenger will “fix” Arsenal. I think it’s much deeper and more complex than that. I do think Arsenal can win the league with Wenger. To me Ranieri’s example showed that given the right circumstances, a really good team can win the league with anyone as its manager. That may sound uncharitable to Ranieri. I think his career track record shows he’s no miracle worker. He’ s a good bloke and a decent manager who stumbled on something really good with Leicester and had the good sense to keep it going. Luck and poor results from their competitors did the rest. Ranieri’s example doesn’t stand alone: how about when Chelsea won the CL with DiMatteo? Avram Grant is still one of the winningest managers in PL history. You could put Ronald McDonald in charge of Real Madrid and they’d probably still win their league or at least finish second to Barcelona. Same with Bayern and Barcelona. Where a manager can make the difference is in high level matches against good opposition; and I’m fully aware Wenger’s teams have come up short all too often in those types of situations. I do think that’s an area of weakness for him. But I’m judging him on his body of work, given his resources, against his peers. And in that context, I don’t think he’s an obvious minus for Arsenal. And like any manager, I think his results will improve if the quality of his squad improves. That means not only transfers but better luck with injuries too.

  24. Liverpoo 3 Westham 0 now. Was thinking it would be so Arsenal of us to just.miss.the.top.four.

    • Yep, that’s the problem relying on clubs that have nothing to play for to take points off your rivals.
      West Ham looked like they were thinking off season before Liverpool even scored their first.

      Arsenal are on a run of games against clubs like that on their own so we can’t really complain.

      The last two clubs with something at stake Arsenal played against were Crystal Palace and Tottenham and we all know the outcome.

    • Hope, my friend. Hope is more than just the name of an American goalkeeper 🙂

      I wouldn’t put my hard-earned cash on Arsenal’s chances now (I’m not Buffet; have to watch every penny), but… hope. Let’s see what the last day holds, assuming we win midweek, of course. Which we should.

      Jose looked completely unbothered. He has all his eggs in the Europa basket.

      Wouldn’t it be ironic if we finish 5th and don’t get into the Champions League, but they finish 6th do.

      • But Buffet does watch every penny. His famous rules of investing:
        1. Don’t lose the money.
        2. See rule # 1.

        The man used to drive himself around in an 8 year old Oldsmobile until Berkshire Hathaway investors convinced history get a driver. He doesn’t like it even st his age.

        Maybe that’s where The Boss gets his parsimonious nature.

  25. I hope we play with the right attitude in the Europa League next season.

    Arsenal finally demonstrating the ability to overcome the opponent and the referee to win a game. Mike Dean failed to give fouls on 2 elbows (one of which was in the box), a blatant handball goal which screams out for VAR to put referees like Dean out to pasture.
    Nice to see Rob Holding ignore the memo to allow Stoke players to pillage Arsenal when he clobbered Arnautovic out of the game.
    I have been mightily impressed with how Monreal has thrived in the wing back role.
    More evidence for why you re-sign difference makers in Özil and Alexis.
    How about that Alexis with his Tiger Woods, Willis Reed moment to score that 4th goal with an injured leg and having signaled to be subbed off. I mean when is the last time in his professional footballing lifetime has Sanchez ever signaled to be taken off unless his leg was on backward.
    If Pool win their last game, then we can rest players for Everton and get ready for Man City.

    • We play Everton at the same time that Liverpool play their last game. All last games are scheduled for 3pm that day. Also, you must mean “get ready for Chelsea.”

  26. I’m not opposed to the Europa league. I think the Bayern results were a huge negative in the course of how this season unfolded and seriously damaged this team’s confidence and form. We’re not going to be likely to pass that hurdle next season either in my opinion, regardless of who is picking the team, so the alternative of going potentially deep in a lesser competition doesn’t seem so bad.

    I know, I know,the money and the allure of the UCL matters too, but spending one season building confidence among the lesser lights has its upsides too. All the other top teams have been there and done that at some point, so if it’s our turn, so be it. It’s worth noting too that the last two winners of the PL were not in the UCL.

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