After initial difficulties in the transfer window and defeat in their opening game, Arsenal's successful start to the season has left manager Arsene Wenger in a position of strength in terms of contract negotiations.
A few weeks ago, a vocal contingent of Arsenal fans that perpetually advocates for Wenger's removal was creating a crescendo of criticism.
Even the most optimistic Arsenal fans must admit that the baying was at least somewhat justifiable.
Would the erudite Frenchman actually squander what had the potential to be one of the most productive and transformative summers in the club's history? Could Arsenal emerge from a seemingly boundless transfer window with a net profit and two free transfers?
And if this unthinkable act of negligence materialized, would Wenger's inexplicable inactivity finally outweigh the unprecedented success and consistency that he has brought to Arsenal in 17 years as manager?
Perhaps if Arsenal had not been so successful on transfer deadline day with the signing of Mesut Ozil, fans might have finally lost faith in a manager who has frustrated and thrilled in equal measure in recent seasons.
But, maybe partially because this transfer achievement was linked entirely to a single player, growing disappointment at the Emirates Stadium has lifted.
The German is a tremendous boost to Arsenal's midfield in the short- and medium-term. His signing, as I wrote the day after the transfer was completed, wholly transforms the Gunners' status, and ensures that their place at the top table is no longer a matter of discussion.
[E]veryone at the club knows that they have pulled off something quite special here. Not only is Ozil among the top several players in the world, but his purchase required Arsenal to do business with Real Madrid—the club that the Gunners could not manage to do business with during the Gonzalo Higuain fiasco.
Even before Ozil became Arsenal's messiah, the players already in place were working to rectify the stinging defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
Arsenal have played five games since. They have won every single one.
Perhaps five matches and a superstar signing does not completely assuage the fans' feelings of discontent that have existed for years. But Wenger is not building a managerial reputation from scratch—there is no shortage of evidence of his managerial competence.
Not coincidentally, focus on the fact that Wenger is in the final year of his contract has magnified exponentially since Arsenal signed Ozil and began to win again.
Even before the Sunderland match, Wenger was asked about his suddenly important contract situation. His response, per Sky Sports:
There is no need to plan (any talks). I have said many times I want to do well with this club and in the end I will sit down and think 'how well have I done with the team I have had?' That has to be sufficient for me to decide yes or no.
One of the main judgments you can have about a manager is how well he does with his team.
A dodge, perhaps, but Wenger is not exactly renowned for candidness with the press.
Arsenal are nevertheless in an extremely complex situation—the outcome of which will largely be determined by what Wenger wishes to do.
Stan Kroenke, the Arsenal majority shareholder whose decisions are final, has unequivocally expressed his support for Wenger in the past.
As reported by The Telegraph, two years ago:
Arsène is one of my favourite people I have met in the last 20 years. He is a great person and I love the way he handles himself. I love his focus. ...
With Arsène, it’s his decision and only he will know that.
Of course, if Wenger wants to continue, the club has to offer him a new contract when the time comes to sit down and hash out a deal.
They must consider his age, how much the team improves this season, his organizational plans for the future and, most importantly, what options are available if a replacement needs to be hired.
Perhaps it is easy to forget that Wenger turns 64 next month. He would receive social security next year if he was a citizen of the United States.
His tactics are not static, but perhaps it would be difficult for him to maintain the level of energy and attention that has allowed him to act as both manager and de-facto director of football since David Dein left the club several years ago.
Yet offering Wenger one-year contracts every season in the Pep Guardiola mold—and as Wenger himself does to his aging players—is not feasible. Uncertainty over whether the man who glues the club together will return for another season is destabilizing and counterproductive.
Maybe Arsenal could invert their new transfer policy and stick to the status quo. That is, keep giving Wenger what he's already signed on to multiple times: multi-year deals that only bind him to the club for two or, at most, three seasons.
This is a system that has worked, and, due to Wenger's continuing loyalty, has prevented dangerous subversion of the club's organizational stability.
Nevertheless, if Arsenal have not begun to plan for a post-Wenger era, all of the Frenchman's success could be undone in a perilously short period of time.
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