Wenger, speaking after his team’s comprehensive 3-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, suggested that he knew his decision on his future and would announce it “very soon”, and he went on to stress that this would be a decision based not on where Arsenal finish in the Premier League standings.
“I take a bigger perspective than that – it is not the last result that decides,” said Wenger, whose side ended the weekend further adrift from the Champions League places in sixth spot, six points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, who have played two games more, and two behind Manchester United. “It will not necessarily be linked with that. I’ve done the top four twenty times, it is not that.”
Wenger’s comments will not end the guessing game over his future. The latest rumour to emerge over the weekend was of a one-year deal, rather than the two-year extension originally offered, though amid the current uncertainty gripping the club about his next move, it is understood Arsenal’s board are making contingency plans and considering potential replacements for the Frenchman.
Whether it is Wenger or another manager at the Arsenal helm in August, they are unlikely to have Champions League football to plan for on the evidence of Saturday’s dismal performance by a team embarrassingly short on spirit and determination.
With four defeats in five matches, Arsenal are on their worst Premier League run since the days of Stewart Houston’s caretaker reign in the spring of 1995 and there is no guarantee of things improving after the international break given Manchester City are their next opponents at the Emirates on 2 April.
As it is, Wenger believes Arsenal could cope with an absence from the Champions League, a competition in which they have participated for each of the last 19 seasons. “On the sporting front it would be a blow but financially the Champions League does not have the impact that it had five, six years ago because of the influx of the television money,” said the 67-year-old whose club earned £100.95m from the Premier League last season compared with £48.5million from the Champions League.
If missing out on the Champions League will not affect Wenger’s thinking, the mood around the club might still do – and there was no hiding the supporter discontent on display at the Hawthorns on Saturday. There were ‘Wenger out’ banners and chants respectively seen and heard in the away end, and two planes – one pro, the other anti – circled the skies overhead. “I don’t judge other people,” said Wenger. “I give my best and as long as I will be at the club if it’s for two more years, if it’s for ten more years, if it’s for one month… it’s not the difference. Everybody has to look at himself.
The circus now surrounding a man who has spent 21 years at Arsenal even led an old adversary, West Brom manager Tony Pulis, to speak up in his defence. “I will say this,” said Pulis. “I will think he is the greatest manager Arsenal have ever had.”
That may be so, but there was little evidence of such appreciation from his current Arsenal team, who did not play like a side eager to help their manager out of a hole. Arsenal were second-best in every department on Saturday bar one – possession. They could not handle Albion’s counterattacking strategy, and nor, moreover, their set-piece threat, which led to two headed goals from centre-back Craig Dawson.
Alan Shearer on Match of the Day accused Arsenal of defending like an “Under-10 team”. Pulis had a more detailed explanation of their set-piece failings: “They mark [with] five players across the six-yard box and have two players who try and block your runners. So if you get away from one of the blocks you are running at a standing object and [with] someone with a standing jump working against a person with a running jump, I’ll bet my bottom dollar the person with the running jump will score. We’ve worked on that but you have to have someone who wants to head it and you have to have the quality that comes in.”
Unlike Albion, who have now equalled last season’s points’ total of 43, Arsenal had no one with that same desire. “We need to fight,” said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain afterwards, but actions speak louder than words and on Saturday, his Arsenal players’ lack of that very quality left Wenger looking a lonely man indeed.