On and off the pitch, the problems are mounting for Arsene Wenger and Stan Kroenke
So will Wenger stay? And should he? Now Alex Ferguson who lasted so long at Manchester United has generously come to his defence, though an old rival. Ferguson went on winning titles for all those years even to the time he bowed out. Wenger, for all the brilliance of his beginning at Arsenal, has long been struggling for success, two more FA Cup wins hardly being a consolation for all those seasons with the 4th place in the Premiership and almost instant ejection from the European Champions Cup.
I have been saying for the last two seasons before the one that has just ended, with Arsenal in a frustrating fifth, that Wenger had shot his bolt. After the last league game at The Emirates, admittedly a fine 10-man success against Everton, his apologia was halting and almost bizarre. Time and again he spoke of his love for the club, which one has always taken for granted. He hinted at unspecified forces which had been working against the team, painfully blamed his own tergiversation for undermining performances, and defended the chief shareholder, the American mogul Stan Kroenke, from the abuse which had somewhat surprisingly come from the stands.
Kroenke? Hard to forget that till recently, rich as he is, he had been taking £3million a year out of the club, supposedly for advice. Yet all too rarely to be seen there, were he to sell his majority shares to Alisher Usmanov, he would make a colossal profit, but he has said that he is not ready to do so. Usmanov’s offer, huge though it may be, still does not quite match the value given to the club by experts. Nor is there any indication, were Usmanov to take control of the club, that he would want Wenger out.
But what fate and hope await Arsenal next season? It seems deeply unlikely that, out of the European Cup as they are, they can keep their prolific star turn Alexis Sanchez, who could leave for nothing at the end of next season if they even did. And who could possibly replace him? Who anyway among the top men of the game would want to join a club which won’t be competing in the European Cup? Whose two shocking 5-1 defeats in that competition by Bayern Munich, who haven’t even reached the European Cup Final, should have been enough to cost the job of any leading club manager in Europe.
What can be said for Usmanov, who was once jailed in Russia for alleged malfeasance by freed by the new regime with the sentence crushed, is that at least he has a spectacular base in London, the wide windows overlooking Park Lane and Hyde Park. Kroenke has no base in London.
For some years, Wenger arguably has been given too easy a ride by a compliant board, presided over by Sir Chips Keswick who once abruptly terminated a meeting of shareholders who were being critical of Wenger. But even he was seen to walk out of Selhurst Park when Arsenal were abjectly going down 3-0 to Crystal Palace.
Wenger now is seemingly agreeable to being flanked by a director of football, but would it work? When very recently it was suggested that Marc Overmars, once such a resplendent Arsenal outside left, might return to the club in such a role, Wenger immediately ruled it out. The recent Sunderland game, when the fans voted with their feet, some 15,000 of them staying away, was a dire warning given. Tactically, Wenger has been very slow to adopt the now fashionable three-man defensive formation, and he made the odd statement of criticising Chelsea for their counter-attacking methods. This, from the manager of a club which excelled in the 1930s on the breakaway.
Kroenke would have, it is reported, pocketed a £576million profit had he accepted Usmanov’s ofer. It has also been revealed that were the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, very much a marginal figure, to depart, it would be with a bonus of £5.5million plus. With Wenger all powerful, Gazidis has pocketed already more than £20million during his spell at the Gunners.
And Tottenham? They finished the Premiership season with a grand flourish, with Harry Kane prolific, but how will they adjust next season to Wembley, where their European games last year have produced such negative results? And have they overreached themselves in their plans to rebuild White Hart Lane?