In the wake of Arsenal’s 5-1 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich, debate over Arsene Wenger’s future has risen to a defining crescendo—and one side is clearly winning. There seems to be an emerging consensus that the Frenchman has reached the end of the road.
Whether or not he feels the same way, the groundswell of opinion may be so great that he has no choice but to step aside. If Wenger does conclude that it’s time to step aside, perhaps he should consider making his decision public. As long as his decision remains uncertain, Arsenal are in danger of being engulfed by infighting.
There are seemingly no immediate plans to announce Wenger’s intentions. He has long insisted he will make a call at the end of the season, and the noises coming out of the club after the Bayern game simply reiterated that stance.
It’s easy to understand the club’s position. Arsenal will fear making Wenger a ‘lame duck’ manager. Sir Alex Ferguson long insisted his decision to announce his retirement in 2001 was one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Similarly, Manuel Pellegrini admitted he was leaving Manchester City well before the end of last season, and his players slept-walk through the remainder of the campaign.
Also, there’s the very real possibility that Wenger simply doesn’t know what he’s going to do as yet. Every indication had suggested he would like to remain at the club, and he may cling on to the hope that the mood will settle and the fans will come around.
However, if Wenger already knows he will go, he should contemplate some kind of formal announcement. First and foremost, it’s essential he lets the board know—privately or otherwise. If Arsenal are to identify a successor, they need as much time as possible to make appropriate plans.
More broadly, letting the fans know would surely see the Arsenal supporters unite behind him. Even if there are many who are frustrated by Wenger’s recent reign, he remains a club legend and beloved figure. No-one associated with Arsenal wishes to see him go out on a sour note.
If Wenger admitted he was off, the next few months would see the Arsenal support come together in a concerted effort to ensure he finished in as successful a manner as possible. Right now, there is a very real possibility that Arsenal’s fight for the top four will be dogged by demonstrations, banners and insurgence. If they knew their time with Wenger was running out, the fans in the Emirates Stadium would sing his name louder than ever between now and May.
Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith certainly seems to think that a public declaration of his impending departure would help Wenger. He told Sky Sports:
"I think if he announced today or tomorrow that he was stepping down at the end of the season he would then be revered as the legend he is at the football club. That toxic atmosphere would be taken away in a heartbeat and it would help the team because the atmosphere would completely change at the Emirates."
Arsenal need a positive atmosphere to prevent this season becoming a complete disaster. Their chances of challenging for the Premier League or Champions League may have disappeared, but they must still battle to avoid the ignominy of missing out on the top four.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect Wenger to declare his hand while there is still so much at stake—especially if he still considers staying a realistic option. However, perhaps the board should exert a little pressure on him to make a call. It might be the one way to end the discord that could further undermine an already difficult campaign.