Arsenal are seemingly conducting yet another Premier League title race in a similarly dispiriting way to how they’ve conducted it in the previous few seasons. With the GO AWAY noises around Wenger growing increasingly strident, we thought it might be time, instead of writing yet another WHO SHOULD REPLACE ARSENE article - if you’re looking for one of those, we already wrote a bunch of them! - to take a minute and think about how Arsene’s exit from the club he’s run for 20 years might take shape.
As with all these articles, we have absolutely zero inside knowledge or information - we don’t know if or when he’ll go, and we have no idea how he’ll go when he does. What we have, basically, is a list we brainstormed about possible scenarios for his departure, ranked in order of preference - not of their likelihood, but in order from the one we prefer most to the one we prefer least, and some reasoning behind why we feel ththe way we do about each one.
Wenger’s contract is not renewed, but the board has a replacement lined up
This, I think we can all agree, is the best possible scenario. The main sticking point with this scenario, though, is that Arsene’s contract ends in June. If no decision has been made yet, or even if a decision has been made but not communicated, that doesn’t leave the board much time to find a replacement. And with domestic seasons still going on, it also limits the pool of possible replacements - Arsenal would have to reach out to clubs in order to secure permission to speak with managers under contract.
While this isn’t impossible, it does make Arsenal’s search a lot less private than they’d probably want it to be - “(club) asks permission to speak with (other club’s asset)” is a pretty commonly leaked story, and given that Arsenal always prefer to do their dealings as privately as possible, they may not want to run that much risk in their search.
Wenger’s contract is not renewed, and the board has no replacement lined up
This would, I imagine, be the consequence of a sort of last-second decision on Wenger’s part, if he gets to the end of the season and it doesn’t go well, and only then says “Eff it, I’m out”. I don’t think this is a very likely scenario - for all of Wenger’s shortcomings, an impulsive streak is definitely not one of them - but it’s definitely something that could happen.
This is where Arsenal’s financial might would have to come in to play, I think - they’d be under the gun to find a top, top manager ASAP, and the best way to do that is to throw money around. Again, I don’t see this happening - Arsene is too planned, too calculated, and Arsenal as an org are too risk-averse for something like this. But it is theoretically possible, so that’s why it’s on the list.
Wenger is appointed to the front office, but has no say in Arsenal’s player personnel/coaching decisions
This appeals to the continuity nerd in a lot of us, but also acknowledges reality. Wenger has been a part of this club for longer than most of you have been fans of the club, and in some cases, since before you were born. So it’s natural to want him to continue to be associated with the club in some fashion - I mean, for better or worse, Arsenal pretty much ARE Arsene Wenger at this point.
The problem with that statement, though, is that it’s a double edged sword. Arsenal are Wenger, which means they advanced the game further than anyone had up to that point; but those days are gone, and now Arsenal are Wenger. Stubborn, idealistic, and convinced that if things go right all will end well, with no concrete evidence that that is in fact the case.
The unclear thing is whether Arsene would even accept a non-influential role like “club ambassador” or some other sinecure; he is very invested in Arsenal at this point, and if they offer him a job that basically turns him into Milton from Office Space, he might just walk away entirely.
Wenger is appointed to the front office, but has a say in Arsenal’s player personnel/coaching decisions
Remember that double edged sword I mentioned up there? This is the sharp side of it. Arsene has done very well in identifying fantastic talent to bring to the club in recent years, but hasn’t done all that well in coaching them to be a team that can win the Premier League or Champions League.
If he remains at the club, on the board or in a Director of Football-type position, Arsenal will continue to be shaped in his image. Which is what we’ve all been disappointed in for the last few seasons. So why would it be a good thing for that to continue by having him pulling the strings from behind the scenes?
No matter which option is chosen, Arsenal need to make a clear and transparent break from Wenger as far as influence goes, and this option does not do that at all.
Wenger is fired
This is, I think we can all agree, the ugliest of departure options for a club legend. It would, at this point, probably take something Chelsea 2016-level bad for this to happen, because Arsene has, by any objective measure, a record of consistent success that is or should be the envy of any modern manager. I mean, in 20 years, he has never finished lower than fourth - most managers would kill for that kind of consistency.
The downside of that consistency, of course, is that Wenger hasn’t finished higher than second in 13 years. But that, to me at least, doesn’t outweigh the good he’s done for the club over the years, at least in terms of his exit. While I do think it’s time for him to depart, I would not want to see him forced out the door with a chunk of season remaining, because he’s earned the right to at least finish a season.
Wenger renews his contract for another year
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that my most fervent hope is that this doesn’t happen. I’m tired of every recent year playing out the same way. I’m tired of the moral victory of “we took six points off the champions when nobody else did”. I’m tired of the moral victory of “we won our Champions League group”. I’m mostly tired of the Groundhog Day-ness of recent Arsenal seasons, and I lay most of the blame for that sameness at the feet of Arsene Wenger, a man who I admire and deeply respect for what he has done and will always be a fan of.
But all good things must end, and I believe that ending Arsene’s tenure is best ended after this season. Whether he and Arsenal agree or not remains to be seen.