Beneath all the hours and pages that have been devoted over recent months to the great Arsene Wenger debate, the extraordinary current situation at Arsenal can be essentially understood with reference to two defining statements.
The first came on March 2. It was a press conference that Wenger ended by wryly noting that he had “talked too much” but in which he described himself as a “specialist in masochism” and outlined in quite fascinating depth why he wants to go on.
“This job allowed me to get to the next level as a human being; to develop my strengths in what makes a human being great which is to bring out the best in others,” he said.
“I am focused on getting to the next level, trying to improve, trying to see what you can do better and reinvent yourself.”
At various points in the three weeks that have followed, this remark about reinvention has been referenced by people close to him. It was a clear insight into the conversations that have been taking place behind closed doors at Arsenal and on which another two years of Wenger is effectively being sold.
It will also be greeted with incredulity from swathes of fans. Wenger is 67. He has been a manager for 37 years. He has been managing at Arsenal for the last 21. His recent delivery of top four football without seriously challenging to win the Premier League has been almost bewilderingly unerring. You really could not deliver a series of such similar seasons if you tried. So how can Wenger now sell himself as the agent of change?
It is hard not to feel fearful and sceptical about the actual delivery of this alluring brand of reinvention, although it perhaps does also represent recognition that this really is the last remaining chance. The starting point must be the players. Years of too many signings who lack a certain edge has been catching up with Wenger when he needed it most this season. They might say all the right things but the recent on-field evidence could hardly have been more contradictory.
Some recent performances have bordered on the cowardly and is symptomatic of a culture that was most vividly encapsulated in those celebratory selfies when they beat Leicester City last season. Yet all this is Wenger’s ultimate responsibility and, as well now as bringing genuinely strong characters like Per Mertesacker back into the team, that must be addressed this summer.
The second recent defining statement was from Arsenal. Yes, chairman Sir Chips Keswick’s message might have sounded like a statement of the obvious, but the insistence of a “mutual” final decision over Wenger remains of huge potential significance. Yes, confirmation of a new contract now feels like a question of timing but Arsenal have given themselves a get-out.
Nothing yet has persuaded majority owner Stan Kroenke to waver in his backing of the manager but how both he, and indeed Wenger, would react to a continuation of the recent nightmare run cannot be guaranteed. On the flip-side, situations that feel irretrievable can invariably be rescued in football by results.
Arsenal have long been a club that do things differently and, amid a landscape where a quarter of the 92 professional clubs have changed manager in the past 100 days, there is something admirable about their stance.
Most now will also regard it as misguided and, in the modern age, there is nothing really comparable anywhere in the world. Indeed, with the fans now so angrily divided, what had always felt like the safe decision is turning into one of the biggest gambles in the club’s recent history.