By all accounts, this was Arsène Wenger’s most difficult season at Arsenal—more difficult than the 2011/12 season, when Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left in the summer and Arsenal lost 8-2 to Manchester United. Indeed, Arsenal have failed to qualify for the Champions League under Wenger for the first time in 20 years, and the first time that Wenger has managed the whole season (in 1996/97, his first season, Arsenal finished out of the 2nd Champions League spot by goal difference). And yet Arsenal have won the FA Cup, for a record 13th time, beating the champions, Chelsea, in the final, and the third place team, Manchester City, in the semi-final. Furthermore, Arsenal won 9 out of the final 10 games of the season, after Wenger made a tactical switch to three at the back, showing that he still has buy in from the dressing room.
This does not excuse the poor performance in February, March and April, nor the embarrassment of losing 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich. When evaluating the performance of the manager, those are crucial factors to consider. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that Wenger is now underachieving at Arsenal, and that having failed to qualify for the Champions League, really the minimum requirement of a season, he and Arsenal should part ways, after the high of Wenger’s 7th FA Cup triumph.
But therein lies the paradox. Were Arsenal to part with Wenger, it would be at a suboptimal time. Arsenal are entering the Europa League, not the Champions League. It is, thus, already a period of transition for the club. Further transition would seem unwise.
This is also the club’s fault. There is no structure aside from Arsène Wenger, and whether it is now or in two years, Wenger will leave the club. That needs to be addressed, and it is good to see that Ivan Gazidis does indeed want to address this issue. Wenger may be stubborn about appointing a director of football, but it is not hard to see someone appointed as a sporting director who gets a bigger role in the future.
Again, we must return to timing. There is no structure; thus, if Wenger were to depart, Arsenal would have no manager in June. With the transfer market already well under way, and Arsenal looking to make new signings while also keeping their players, this would be a misstep. It’d cause uncertainty and tumult. A summer which could be focused on retaining the services of Alexis and Mesut Özil while signing reinforcements could be turned into a battle to find a new manager and keep Arsenal’s best players.
Finally, Arsène Wenger retains the support of his players. They have been vocal about wanting him to stay. If he did not, they wouldn’t have won 9 out of 10 games, and wouldn’t have produced the performance in the Cup final.
Ultimately, this is about making the safest decision possible. Were Arsenal to have qualified for the Champions League, it might be a different story. But with Arsenal out of the Champions League, security will have to come from Wenger himself.