Monday 3 May 2010

Vote Arsene (at least for one more year)

517 words. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

The media may be fascinated by the race for 10 Downing Street but we all know there is only one leader Gooners should be concerned about – Arsene Wenger.

It’s a fitting analogy given that Wenger’s record is being questioned more heavily than ever before, particularly his economic policies. With his contract up in a year, there’s a sense that his reign is coming to a natural conclusion and that this summer would be a good time for a new manager to take over.I think that would be a mistake.

Wenger deserves more loyalty

Wenger has his flaws and collecting silverware remains the priority for a club like Arsenal but we should show more loyalty to a man who has stuck by us and guided us pretty smoothly through the move to Ashburton Grove.

In the season after the Invincibles, Wenger will have known that money would be non-existent for at least four years and that to keep winning trophies would have been virtually impossible. You could have understood why a professional manager would not fancy that proposition and taken up one of the doubtless many offers of a new job he received.

But he agreed to carry on and do his best for the club. To turn round now and say time’s up wouldn’t fit the ‘Arsenal way’ and would damage the reputation of the club, at least in the eyes of neutrals. Wenger deserves at least one or two season’s more grace than would be given to any other manager. We shouldn’t forget the scale of the job that has been carried out – Arsenal has funded the building of a state-of-the-art 60,000 capacity stadium without any Government or municipal financial support (unlike teams that share stadiums or have seen their grounds built for major tournaments) while remaining within Europe’s elite competition and solvent.

Even playing field

We now appear to have come to the end of the harshest phase of self-imposed financial restrictions that kept us out of bankruptcy as we moved home. Wenger talks increasingly about being able to match Chelsea’s spending power (in transfers if not overall wage burdens), something he would never have raised in the past five years and the prospect of being able to challenge for titles looks realistic.

It’s from this point onwards that we should begin to judge Wenger as he begins to tackle our domestic and European rivals on a less uneven playing field. So should he be given an extension to his contract now? Part of me says yes for the benefits it would give to the stability of the players and staff. But if the purse strings are loosened this summer and Wenger fails to address the obvious faults in the squad, how will having a longer contract that lasts another three or four years help anyone?

This summer, when the club appears able to compete for at least one ‘marquee’ signing, will provide some conclusive answers to whether I’m right to think we’ve been hamstrung since 2005 by our finances or if it really was Wenger’s unwillingness to acknowledge the weaknesses in his team.

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