Eventually Arsenal will lose Alexis, Özil, and Wenger

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.


  1. A decline in quality if Wenger leaves? Maybe a lack of ideas is what has caused that decline in quality. You said it yourself, we can’t pass the ball when teams show up to press us. A manager that doesn’t have a solution for that problem is not worthy of a new deal.

  2. Got a link to that info about Pep? Quite shocking for a 45 year-old guy to say his current job will be his last in his current profession.

    1. In my opinion, Guardiola’s problem is that he’s manic. I’m not saying that in terms of diagnosis but rather in Pep Confidential there’s a certain madness to the number of ideas he has about football and how to play football. “He’s so intense that he’ll exhaust us” is what Ribery said about him in his first year. He tries to introduce new ideas to his teams, new formations, new ways of playing, but they happen so fast and are so ubiquitous that I think he burns himself and others out.

      City is his last team. You can see it already catching up with him. I’ve never seen him look so harrowed. I’ve never seen one of his teams fall apart so quickly as this City team. It’s madness I’m telling you. Madness.

        1. They are very much yin-yang. I used to think Wenger was Mourinho’s opposite and he still is in a lot of ways but Guardiola is yet another foil for Mourinho. Maybe even a better one.

          1. Guardiola v Mourinho is a very compelling story. Their history at Barca. Cruyff picking Pep ahead of Jose. Their opposite philosophies despite some similarities in their personalities.

            Jose just looks upon Wenger’s legacy with a jealousy probably borne out of feelings of inadequacy. But Jose vs Pep is akin to the classic tale of two brothers forced down opposite paths in life and becoming sworn enemies.

          2. In this tale, Jose even slayed their father (LVG) to gain the throne to the kingdom from where he could challenge his nemesis to another round, after the succession battles in Spain.

  3. Firstly with the Ferguson comparison. I’d be very surprised if Arsenal fell off the cliff so badly after Wenger leaves. Ferguson rode an aging and ordinary team through his ‘force of personality’ or whatever euphemism we use for the systematic cheating by the league, for personal glory. (Ferguson 20 – when it was ManU 20) Wenger is not going to leave us in that situation. He’s even said that he sees part of his role to be to ensure that the guy who follows him can be more successful than he was.

    The decline from 2006-2016. In this era, some major European clubs have become super clubs. (Barca and Bayern), some oil funded clubs have come to the top, and all the other traditional top clubs have had their own decline. Some more dramatic than others. (See Serie A) I can only think of Dortmund and recently Atletico Madrid, who have seen major consistent improvement over that time minus oil funding. Arsenal had a unique challenge so it’s hard to compare directly as far as I’m concerned. I think we’ve done quite well to stay where we have, and can do better is always true anyway.

    But yes, now we are the 5th wealthiest (not richest) club in the world and can really look to push on. We’ll need to spend more without Wenger, and we’ll probably have more ‘bad buys’ as ‘modern managers’ don’t have the time or inclination to stick around for a decade, and so look to purchase mostly finished products. We’ll find out of the board are willing to make that happen, or indeed if they can find a true successor to Wenger to not need to do so.

    As for Alexis and Ozil. Both have said they are happy at Arsenal and it is up to the club to make their contract happen. Alexis was just not unusually emphatic in getting behind the manager in the media. I think we can cope with either’s departure. Not both though.

    Wenger did say that his decision to retire will be sudden. I don’t think he can plan for being emotionally ready to leave the biggest part of his life behind. He’ll just know when it’s time.

    Glad to see you’re sanguine about this. It hasn’t appeared to be the case in the recent past. Though I suspect your attitude comes more from a place of disappointment than excitement. Me, I’m happy with where we are and think we’re on the upswing. But if it were to be a fresh start, I can look on that with excitement too. Because I think we have a solid foundation to build on.

  4. Pep creates perfection on paper and presses to transplant it unto the field in the shortest possible time. Revolution from the barrels of ideas.. Wenger aims at the same target but proceeds along the evolutionary path. He allow his concept to evolve on the field. At the other end of the spectrum are the pragmatist like Mou and Conte. On the field they collide against each other as contests of philosophies. Which of them is the best one might ask? The answer is in a thousand page book of analysis that ends leaving you on page 1, all alone with your prejudice.

  5. Let’s hope that neither player departs. I love Mesut, but if I had to choose one to keep, it would be Alexis. About Wenger, I know I will miss him because he may, MAY be the most consequential person in the club’s history — player or manager — and even some of his consistent critics, in their heart, love him deeply. That would be an emotional parting. I know that I cried watching the players celebrate on the field breaking the trophy drought with the FA cup 3 seasons ago. Failure would have finished him there and then. But this may be a good time for change at the top.

    Speaking of which, I found strange, Ozil’s statement that his staying at the club would depend on Wenger. As a fan, I don’t like players talking that way, even if, at some level, I understand why they would feel drawn to a particular manager who has a big influence on them, rather than the club. But hey. We have to accept that in the modern age, those old deep-rooted attachment to clubs don’t exist anymore.

    1. I wonder if the deep rooted attachment you talk about years ago was the result of players playing for more ‘local’ teams or growing up in a time when it wasn’t so easy to follow foreign leagues.

      That’s probably not a great explanation of what I’m trying to say but I suppose I’m not really surprised Ozil is more attached to Arsene, a person who’s shown great faith in him, talks to him, trusts him and helped him integrate into a foreign league, than a club from a foreign country that is maybe 2nd or 3rd tier as regards international success or recognition.

      Hasn’t he also said that Arsene was the main reason he signed, hinting that without Arsene in charge he probably had very little interest in ever playing for Arsenal FC.

      I could understand a London born player thinking differently and being more excited to play for Arsenal Fc than to play for foreign manager.

  6. I’m having a hard time understanding the logic behind a three year deal for Wenger under any circumstances other than a major title this season.

    The chances of the CL or PL trophy are very low, so why have the board and Wenger waited this long for any extension on his contract is beyond me.

    In normal circumstances a club or and a manager might do this, if the results at the end of the season are the determining factors for future extensions ,but since we all agree Arsenal and Wenger do take the long view in their planing, this is becoming an increasingly curious situation.

    If Arsenal get knocked out by Bayern and fail to place in the top four, how is any new deal ,let alone a three year deal, going to be received by the fans is an interesting question to me.

    As disappointing as last season was I felt Wenger should’ve signed another extension at the end of the season if he was going to stay. The blowback from his detractors would’ve been weaker after taking second place than what he is likely to face this season.

    1. The logic is simply, is Arsene significantly worse than another guy you can find to replace him? If the answer to that is not clear, than he should stay. Any new manager will have an inevitable bedding in period as he tries to change the roster and the tactics and maybe even the culture a little bit. That’s going to be more difficult at Arsenal than any other club given the current manager’s influence and longevity here.

      Add to that an element of the unknown; I can acknowledge that Guardiola and Klopp are more likely than Wenger to win major trophies, but they are not available. Even if they were, it’s hard to predict how a manger will fare at a new club.

      It sounds like you’re thinking of a contract extension as a reward or an endorsement of the end result of the season. Instead, it should be a reflection of who is best suited to take the club forward in the coming seasons. If we’re not sure that there is a better option, then Arsene is still the best bet we have.

      1. I don’t disagree with the premise of your comment Doc but three years seems like too long of a time to identify Arsene’s successor and given that we have had some will he/ wont he sign a new contract situation with Wenger before, I would expect the board has been proactive about finding his replacement rather than react to him not wanting to sign a new contract. Or maybe they are a bunch of idiots who have no idea what the next phase is. Wouldn’t be surprised, to be frank.

        I just can’t get on board with this idea that there are no better managers out there right now because Klopp, Pep and Conte have already found their clubs. It’s been painfully obvious for a few seasons now that the club needs fresh ideas to get out of this 4th place trophy hole. But look – I can’t name any manager with a guarantee that he will improve the club after Arsene. Who can really? The board gets paid to take these decisions so one hopes that at the least, they have a short-list of candidates in case Wenger calls it a day.

        But a three- year contract if we finish fourth? You gotta be kidding!

        1. Does the length of the contract really matter? We all know managerial contract lengths, in most cases, are completely subject to the manager being fired. You could make him sign a one year deal, but what kind of message does that send?

          Like I said, it doesn’t really matter where we finish when it comes to his contract. It’s not like we don’t know who he is or what he has to offer. We could win the league and if there was a better option than Wenger for the following year, we should still take it. Vice-versa, if we finish 10th, maybe that’s totally untenable and the manager has to go regardless, just to get a fresh start and forget about a terrible campaign. But 4th, in this league, is not some grand failure. I know it’s not what any of us really wants but football is a cruel world of realities and one of those is that only one team can win each season. After that, do you really care if we finish 2nd or 4th? To me that’s a wash.

          1. Does the length of the contract matter? Generally, no but for Arsenal and Arsene – yes, absolutely. If Wenger signs on for 3 years he will be staying on for 3 more years because the one thing Arsenal won’t be doing besides not winning the league is firing him if he underperforms.

            4th is not some grand failure but I think we have seen what Arsene’s ceiling is now in the current footballing climate. It’s not just the table position though – we have had the same issues over and over again for how many years now? If you are okay with 3 more years of those same issues with Arsene then good on you but I’m not having that.

  7. Tim, can we stop talking about Sanchez leaving, pretty please with a cherry on top? I recognize the importance of the issue but we’re smack in the middle of a season which is far from lost and to my mind I’d rather be talking about a lot of other Arsenal related things. Thanks.

    For example, while I’d be shocked if we bought anyone in January, are there any quality creative wide players who you think might be available?

    How about a comparison of Arsenal’s shot quality with Sanchez on the pitch compared to Giroud? With Ozil and without Ozil?

    Perhaps an appraisal of whether there really has been a decline in Petr Cech’s goalkeeping compared to last season? I remember he was particularly prone to conceding from long shots. Still the case? Not based on my “eye test.”

    1. Alexis has played every game for Arsenal. It would be hard to show anything with/without him.

      Cech’s keeping is significantly worse this season compared to last.

      None available.

  8. Some interesting ideas here. I’ve got something coming out tomorrow on the managerial transition–I’m not as sanguine about that as you are, not because of Wenger himself but of weaknesses in the structure.

    What’s your reasoning behind calling Alexis the emotional leader? He seems like more of a lone wolf to me; I can’t see his teammates relying on him for support or encouragement. What he does, though, is set the tone of the performance.

  9. I’m not at all against Arsene leaving and there’s a part of me for sure that’s excited about the prospect of a different manager after all these years but if we’re talking about renewing a contract based on performance, success, or even finishing position, has Klopp done much more to deserve a new 3 year contract than Wenger?

  10. I believe Wenger decided before this season kicked off that he will only continue if Arsenal wins the Premier League in ’16-17. This is in alignment with what transpired during out FA Cup run three seasons ago (remember being 1-0 down to Wigan in the 83rd minute and 2-0 down to Hull after only 10).

    It’s as simple as that. If Arsenal don’t win the league this year then the club might change unrecognizably by the time August comes around.

  11. I think Wenger should stay until we can prise Diego Simeone away from Atletico. He is a manager who would help Arsenal develop the steeliness required to compete with teams managed by Conte and Mourinho.

    1. Sadly it seems he doesn’t speak English.

      And why would he move to Arsenal when he can win titles and get to Champions League finals with Athletico?

      1. Yes, Cholo could do that. I think he stands a better chance of being a consistent trophy winner at Arsenal than at Athletico given the parity in either league; plus many of his old soldiers are departing their prime. He’s certainly a coach we should be looking at. As long as he gets the results, he would be popular here.

        But, and this is a big BUT, I’m not sure how well his methods would be received by the bulk of the players we have. To go from the extreme freedom Wenger gives to his most skilled players to one of the most disciplined, regimented setups anywhere in Europe would take quite a bit of time and likely at the cost of quite a bit of squad turnover. Do we really want to reboot the squad like that?

        1. YES! That’s exactly what we need. A complete reboot of our mentality especially when it comes to intensity and organization because whatever Wenger’s preaching ain’t working.

          I wouldn’t feel as strongly about the need to replace Wenger if we were still bringing in the best players in the league like we did when we were at Highbury but we don’t and chances are we won’t. We are not going to get these big personalities who will organize themselves on the pitch.

          1. Aren’t we though? Ozil, Alexis, Cech in consecutive years and last summer a near 100 million euro outlay on some of the best up and coming talent around Europe… we’ve never been a club who bought stars, but we have started to do so lately. That plus the developmental aspect (which should always be the bedrock) will see us as well situated as any club, no matter who the manager is. Big personalities come from experience and are often exaggerated in the sheen of the trophies they win. The focus should be on good footballers and good football.

  12. The arguments over who will or could succeed Wenger are pointless. The notion that we should keep Wenger because Klopp and Guardiola are unavailable has a very eloquent counter-argument — Arsene Wenger, vintage 1996. It’s not about superstar recruitment. It’s about good visionary, well planned recruitment and succession. At some point, Dortmund decided that Klopp was a great young manager before he became a hot property. The answer may lie in someone most of us have never heard of.

    It is time to make a break with Arsene, who has served us well, and bring in young, innovative, visionary leadership. None of us can predict with any accuracy whether it will make us improve in the near future, so that by itself is a pretty unconvincing argument against. Top 4 YOY without taking the final step up is, yes, consistency. It is also stasis.

    1. I think you’re onto something in that the next manager will not be an established “big name” manager but a relatively unknown such as Wenger circa 1996. My question is, if at that point Arsenal fall to 5th, 6th or 7th place in the table, what are the ramifications? How quickly can the club bounce back? Both Chelsea and ManU have fallen out and it hasn’t impacted their abilities to attract top talent but they have history (ManU) and deep pockets (ManU/Chelsea). We have history as well as a pocketbook but neither to the degree of these two recent examples. Thoughts?

    2. All well and good if that person turns out to be another Wenger, but chances of that are slim. It’s a huge gamble. Liverpool tried and failed with several promising managers, as have Tottenham. Even Man United and Chelsea have been in the wilderness at times with their coaching. It’s so hard to find a coach with real winning consistency from one year to the next.

      1. There are a ton of good managers in the Bundesliga and Spain. The premier League’s arrogance that they are the best at everything is infuriating. Alan Pardew shouldn’t be allowed to manage a Golden Palace much less Crystal Palace and the only place Arsene Wenger was an unknown before taking over at Arsenal was in England. Thomas Tuchel is an excellent manager who is able to draw top name prospects to his club. Roger Schmidt is another young manager who plays extremely well in Europe with a club that is organized and presses high up the pitch.

        What I’d be loathe to see at Arsenal is Eddie Howe. Eddie Howe is Wenger lite. His club lacked fitness to compete for 90 minutes, lacked organization, and was incapable of holding on to a 3 goal lead against an Arsenal side which were well beaten by their own tactical ineptitude. Whenever I hear someone mention Eddie Howe to Arsenal I can tell immediately that they are either a) British b) American or c) woefully uninformed about what it takes to be a modern manager. Usually 2 of 3.

        By the way, what Jorge Sampaoli is doing with Sevilla is pretty crazy. Barcelona have already tapped him up and it looks like he’s going to go there next year. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him go all in for Alexis Sanchez (your favorite topic!) and easily lure Alexis back to the Bernabeu. And before you ask, yes, Sampaoli would fit right in at Barcelona. He’s been pegged as a defense first/time waster coach (because people have only seen his Chile record) but Sevilla are a possession-based football team who also press high and play hard for the full 90. Interestingly, his assistant manager Juanma Lillo is considered to be the brains behind Sevilla. He was once tipped by Pep to take over at Barcelona. High praise. Lillo is considered a genius at positioning and organization.

        Bottom line is that Arsenal need a manager who will scout the opposition, organize his team, and get the club playing beautiful football. Who will that be?

        My question for you is, is it really “winning consistency” to be in the top four all the time? Yes, we get bragging rights over Spurs and some times over Man U and Chelsea but the real benefit of this finish is that we are in the Champions League, a competition I can’t see Arsenal winning. Are we really winning? Somehow these last four years or so don’t feel like winning. They feel an awful lot like spinning in circles.

        1. My question is, how much time does a title buy Wenger? My feeling is none at all. I expect that even if we win the title this season (or had done so last season), the prevailing narrative would be yay good for Wenger, but it’s still time to move on, with a sense of perpetual crisis following the club into the next season – every flaw magnified, every loss catastrophic.

          Yes, we want to win. And I am not against a new manager coming in. But I think Wenger’s flaws are way over-emphasised, and people carry the history of the past 12 years when judging the Arsenal of today.

          I don’t know. I have a feeling he’s going to walk away at the end of this season. If he does stay, hopefully we’ll get to see what the reaction to a title win for him will be.

        2. It is winning consistency. I count 2012-2013 as rock bottom (that’s when we lost all our stars, that’s when the new sponsor deals were signed) and the current group has been built and evolved from there. Since then we’ve won two FA cups and finished higher than 4th in consecutive seasons. That’s progress on and off the pitch. We haven’t won the big one, not yet, but I don’t feel that’s down to the manager. We all know the ups and downs of his approach. I just don’t see the need for change just because the seasons and the games feel too familiar, win or lose. Either identify a guy who you know is going to be better and bring him in, or all else being equal, keep investing into a team which is clearly coming into its prime and has had that all important continuity that all the best teams do. Whether that results in the trophy we all want is down to a million factors. All you can do is set up the team with the best chance you can.

  13. As far as not being able to win the title goes, over this long fallow period, how many years was it more likely that Arsenal would win the title than fall out of the top 4?

    I tend to think of the past as the past. The new Arsenal started to take shape in 2013-14, solidified with Alexis’ signing, and so is now in it’s 4th season. We’ve improved our league positioning in each successive year so far (unlikely as it is this year) we won 2 FA Cups in that period, and contrary to feelings of same old same old, I feel we’ve seen progression and attempts to address shortcomings/weaknesses. If your standard of success is only the league title and no sliding scale, then I guess you’re right to want Wenger gone.

    Personally, I just have in mind that a small section of Arsenal fans were loud enough to get themselves heard even in the absence of the internet and 24/7 coverage, way back in 2001, in their desire to want Wenger out. Likewise, Ferguson out rang loud in 2005 in Manchester. To me, this team feels like it’s at a similar stage in its evolution.

    1. “Attempt” is the operative word there. We still have the same shortcomings in defense and our mental approach to games. If anything, we consistently fail to control the mid-field these days. At least the football used to be good even during the austerity years but now we get our customary one good game every season at home vs. a top team. I am not sure how much progress we have made. I would say we have better squad players than we used to in the past and while that’s a plus, we are not going to win the league just with better squad players.

      I do think it’s time to move on from Arsene. What other standards of success are there besides the league title for a club like Arsenal? Finishing top 4 every year is good but surely that cannot be our end goal. I could at least be on board with this idea that we have progressed (and by progression I’m talking about the football not how much more money we have because the premier league is now a global money making machine) if the football was good but the football has been simply dire at times.

      I don’t get your comparison with the Man U. During the time period you mentioned they never went without a title for more than a couple of seasons. The biggest thing they had going for them was their mentality. We are quite the opposite.

      1. Every system has certain inherent flaws. Pointing to those isn’t a condemnation of the system or the manager.

        I don’t know man. Winning the league as the sole standard of success for a club like Arsenal. Seems like an unrealistic standard to me. High standard as you will claim. The reason we feel this way about a title is because we’ve been starved of it. But a large part of the reason we’ve been starved of it is why we could become the club we are today.

        I understand we need to break out of that funk. And I don’t mind Wenger being replaced by someone better. (or even fresher) I just dislike this sense of desperation and crisis built up around Arsenal for the past, I don’t know, 8-9 years at least? I personally think that affects the perception of Arsenal and Wenger even today. I guess what I’m saying is, most comments about Wenger and Arsenal tend to be overly critical. Making it seems worse than it is. (Some even look to rewrite history) I think it is unnecessary. You can want more without saying how bad right now is. I guess that sounds…umm…. guru speak, mumbo jumbo. And also preachy. But that’s where my frustration with these ‘debates’ comes from.

        1. I don’t think it’s true that there is a sense of crisis and desperation around the club which had led to calls for Wenger to step down – I think it stems more from a sense of being stuck as a club. There are periods of desperation or joy which comes with a run of winning games or dropping points but that’s just noise and not the primary driver behind these calls over the long run. At least that’s the sense I get.

          And to a certain degree I understand what you and Doc are talking about in terms of progress but I think if you look around the league you will find that other clubs have too so I’m not sure what the relative improvement for Arsenal has been. Take a look at our kit deal with Puma for e.g. It was a big improvement over our previous deal and seemed pretty impressive at first. Until of course Utd and Chelsea announced their kit deals which eclipsed our deal with Puma. This has nothing to do with Arsene directly but deals do get more lucrative if you are a title winning side – that’s just the reality. Whether we think winning the league is a realistic standard or not, results on pitch ends up driving almost everything that happens in the club. It one of the major factors that determines the quality of new players, willingness of old players to stay on, revenue and fan sentiment. If we going to truly compete with the Uniteds and Bayerns of this world, there is only standard we have to hold ourselves to.

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