Belfast Telegraph

Bad run may settle Wenger's decision over Arsenal future

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Are we turning into the final corner of the Arsene Wenger era?

That is how it feels with just 15 Premier League games left this season, the last of the Frenchman's current contract.

There is a new deal on the table but Wenger will not be rushed into making his "gut decision" whether he signs it or not.

Whether Wenger continues as Arsenal manager is only up to him. Of course his players want to know who their manager will be next season, and Mesut Ozil has even said that his decision on his own future will be informed by what Wenger does.

But Wenger, speaking at his press conference ahead of today's clash with Chelsea, told his waiting squad that they should worry about the Blues before they worry about him.

"My future has always been certain, I focus 100 per cent until the last day of my contract," Wenger said. "That is the only way you can guarantee the future. We worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not in the summer. It is tomorrow."

It was not a rallying cry, more of a reminder that if the players focus too much on the bigger picture then they will lose the ability to focus on the details.

That is what happened in the shock defeat to Watford on Tuesday, when the Gunners simply did not show up.

If they do that again at Stamford Bridge the scoreline will be far uglier than 2-1. "They can't think beyond the game," Wenger said.

It is good advice but nothing that happens at Stamford Bridge can be as important as the decision Wenger will make about his future. Wenger gave the clearest indication yet of how he will decide if this is the end or not. He said: "It is not all quantifiable," Wenger said. "It is linked with your gut feeling as well."

That gives Wenger flexibility to make his own mind up. He will not be compelled to stay by a strong league finish, or an FA Cup win, just as he would not have to stand aside if the team achieves neither.

The problem is that fans are more fickle and reactive now than they have ever been before.

It is easy to see an uprising in post-match boos and online noise. Wenger is a keen observer of social change and thinks that fans appear more emotional.

"Of course," Wenger said, when asked if fans appear more to be fickle. "Because everybody can express frustration straight away, in a fraction of a second. There is no time to take a distance from what happened."

Wenger did not want to say whether Arsenal fans were more prone to this sort of thing.

"We live in a society that is like that and I cannot change society," Wenger admitted. "I focus on what I can influence."

Wenger's challenge over the last 15 league games of this season is to make sure they turn away from what happened against Watford. If Arsenal recover their stability and finish strongly, they can avoid the spasms of rage that sometimes take over the Emirates.

But if they do not then Arsenal's season could spiral towards the Europa League. The calls for Wenger to go would be deafening. And at that point it would become politically difficult for Wenger to sign his new contract, whatever his gut tells him.

Premier League fixtures (Today, 3pm unless stated): Chelsea v Arsenal (12.30), Crystal Palace v Sunderland, Everton v Bournemouth, Hull City v Liverpool, Southampton v West Ham, Watford v Burnley, West Brom v Stoke City, Tottenham v Middlesbrough (5.30). Tomorrow: Manchester City v Swansea City (1.30), Leicester City v Manchester United (4pm).

Belfast Telegraph


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