Arsene Wenger set to stay as Arsenal manager because Arsenal doesn't really care about winning

Wenger out? Looks like Wenger is staying. (AP Photo)

For the next two seasons, just as in the last 21 seasons, Arsene Wenger will likely be the manager of Arsenal. The 67-year-old Frenchman has apparently accepted a new two-year contract, with his old one about to expire. The deal was reportedly approved by the board on Tuesday and set to be announced Wednesday, according to several English reports.

And so, following a long saga, and after tapping into a bottomless well of angst by Gunners fans, the increasingly controversial manager will continue a tenure that is longer than that of any other Premier League boss by a factor of more than four.

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The move – or non-move, as it were – underscores the long-held belief by Arsenal fans that the club is altogether more concerned about revenue and stability than winning things.

Professional loudmouth Piers Morgan, one of the club’s most high-profile fans, summed up the sentiment of the broad anti-Wenger faction within the fan base.




Supporter opinion on Wenger basically falls into two camps, and it’s impossible to say which is bigger although the opponents grew as loud as ever this season. They don’t disagree that, since his arrival from a Japanese club a month into the 1996-97 season, Wenger did fabulous work in modernizing the club – and, by osmosis, the entire English game – mainly by getting players to eat right and stay out of the pubs.

The next year, his first full season, Arsenal won the Premier League. And in the next seven campaigns two more titles followed, while the club never finished worse than second. The season after that, 2005-06, Wenger got the Gunners into their only Champions League final to date, which they lost to Barcelona after a late comeback by the Catalans. His teams played beautifully to boot.

But since then, Arsenal had placed third or fourth every year but one – last season, when it finally came second again. Wenger’s aptitude, primarily, was that he set a baseline for performance and never fell below it, meaning he reliably drove revenue with Champions League income and steady attendance. He hadn’t missed Champions League qualification since 1998 and hadn’t failed to survive the group stage in that tournament since 2000.

This season, for the first time, Arsenal fell out of the top-four and Champions League qualification, coming in fifth. The slow-moving regression is now plain to see in the diminishing results.

Yet if Arsenal was reliably solid during Wenger’s second decade in charge, it wasn’t ever consistently good anymore. And it certainly didn’t transcend like the undefeated “Invincibles” team that last won the league in 2004. It hasn’t properly competed for the English league title in years and was knocked out in the round of 16 in Europe in the last sevenseasons consecutively.

There were excuses aplenty. While Arsenal was building its new Emirates Stadium, which was self-financed, its transfer and salary budgets were admittedly a bit more limited than usual. But the club moved into its new digs more than a decade ago and now is the seventh-highest grossing team in the world, with the highest average ticket prices in the sport. The money excuse hasn’t held up in years. As such, neither has the club’s stinginess been justifiable, resulting in a steady drip of the best players leaving in their primes.

Wenger, in charge of transfer policy, has pleaded poverty again and again, and always seems to be rebuilding without ever delivering a finished structure. As both reasoning and a policy, it has rung hollow for years, while the product on the field has steadily eroded from artful to chaotic.

The anti-Wenger camp is fed up of waiting and wants someone new to sweep in and finally get the club back to the summit of the game, rather than lingering just below it. The pro-Wenger fans trust that he’s still the best man for the job and will get them back to the top eventually.

The board, meanwhile, seems to leave all serious club matters up to Wenger himself, including whether he would stay. A new contract had apparently been on the table for months, waiting for the man himself to make a decision. After he secured a third FA Cup title in four years, scant consolation for the failures elsewhere, he seems to have decided to stay.

Certainly, Arsenal gave a good performance in beating Chelsea in the final, which strengthened Wenger’s case. But then that’s to overlook yet another season of deeply entrenched issues, not to mention a pair of star players – forward Alexis Sanchez and playmaker Mesut Ozil – who’d quite possibly rather play somewhere else where they can earn more and win prizes. Both have just a year left on their contracts and will require top dollar to stay. And that’s not historically been something Wenger has been willing to do.

To keep Wenger around can send but one message: That the status quo is satisfactory. That being in the upper regions of the Premier League, but never at the top of it, suffices. That being in the Champions League – or in some seasons, like the upcoming one, not even present at all – and making it to the knockout stages, but no further, will do just fine.

And this is just the gripe a lot of Arsenal fans have with the majority ownership of American billionaire Stan Kroenke, who recently rejected a buyout offer from Russian-Uzbek minority owner Alisher Usmanov. They say Kroenke doesn’t truly love the club, or indeed the sport, but that it’s just another asset in an extensive portfolio of sports clubs, which also includes teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and NLL.

Wenger, if nothing else, has kept revenue streaming in without interruption by doing just enough to keep the fans coming to the stadium, turning on their TVs and buying merchandise. If Kroenke is merely interested in ensuring that his asset appreciates, Wenger is indeed the manager for him.

If he wants to win, however, he might well do better with someone else – like German hotshot Thomas Tuchel, who became available after parting ways with Borussia Dortmund on the very same day Wenger was renewed.

Yet it seems Kroenke has chosen to stick with Wenger. And as such, there remains no ambiguity on where his priority lies between winning and earning.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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