Arsene Wenger is staying at Arsenal, it was confirmed Wednesday morning, ending a year of speculation that his 21-year reign at the Emirates was coming to an end ... which came a year after speculation that the year before would be his last year leading the Gunners ... which followed a year of speculation that Wenger would step aside at the end of that season.
If there is one thing that we know, it’s that bringing Wenger back doesn’t change anything at Arsenal. Even giving him a two-year deal won’t matter. The supposed breathing room that a multi-year contract gives him will mean nothing to fans and the media. The pressure won’t go away, nor will the criticism and speculation. Nobody is putting their #WengerOut banners away.
In bringing Wenger back, all Arsenal did was punt their decision, with every problem amassed over the last decade and the accompanying anger still there to bother the club like it has for months and years.
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Arsenal will still have the same man in charge who has bungled his fair share of transfers, assembling a team where mediocrity reigns. They’ll still have to hope that he can buck recent history and convince his best players (in this case Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil) to stay. They’ll still have to bet that he can not only improve enough to get back in the top four, this time without Champions League money, but do so in a Premier League that is better at the top than it has ever been.
And beyond all those very real reasons that it’s difficult to imagine Wenger getting the Gunners back among England’s elite, there is also the inescapable truth that Arsenal will still have the same man in charge who wouldn’t even take a lap around the stadium for fear of being booed, who saw fans hire planes to fly banners over the stadium calling for his ouster, and who started the offseason by saying the supporters acted poorly by booing and jeering the struggling Gunners.
Fair or not – and there is plenty of reason for the fans to be upset ... as well as reason for Wenger to feel hard done by the way they expressed their frustration – that isn’t going away. The drama isn’t going away. All of the distractions and issues, which have been acknowledged as difficulties for the team at the Emirates, will be there on Day 1 of next season.
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Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, who chose to bring Wenger back, and the board, which signed off on the decision, decided that this was the best course of action. To put faith in a man who was once rightly regarded as one of the best managers in the world, but hasn’t sniffed such success in the last decade, and all while inviting pressures and scrutiny they didn’t need from fans who feel as if the club they love isn’t just ill – they fear that those in charge don’t even want to acknowledge that there may be a sickness.
At least in the short-term, it’s nearly impossible to imagine this playing out well for Arsenal. Not with the toxic atmosphere, the need to overhaul the squad and the threat posed by the rest of the Premier League.
Arsenal’s decision may be justified in the long-term, if Wenger can buck a decade-long trend and rebuild this team. But that assumes Wenger can survive the short-term and will even be around in the long-term. After all, the manager is now 67 years old. He is, by all accounts, in good health and appears plenty energetic, but that’s hardly an age where you are betting on a decade more.
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It’s understandable that Arsenal don’t want to fire Wenger. Not with the way he turned the club into a powerhouse 21 years ago, and all that time at one place does breed familiarity and trust that doesn’t just go away. That the Gunners continue to make a nice chunk of cash doesn’t hurt either. But even with all that, Arsenal are wrong here.
Wenger doesn’t make sense in the short-term. He doesn’t make sense in the long-term. To bring him back shows a blatant ignorance for how far the Gunners have fallen and how much work they need to do to catch up, not to mention a how ill-equipped Wenger has looked to orchestrate that turnaround. It invites more of the same toxic atmosphere that has plagued the club in the stands as much as on the field and led to Wenger hitting out at the team’s own fans at the conclusion of the season.
The only bright spot this season was an FA Cup title, the same title they won in two of the previous three seasons. It's nice to win trophies, but it now only serves to reinforce the idea that the club has made no progress under Wenger.
So why are Arsenal bringing Wenger back? Familiarity and the terrors of change are the only explanations, but those explanations won’t suffice when Arsenal are floundering again next season with #WengerOut signs dotting the crowd at the Emirates.