Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board will be asked at Thursday’s annual general meeting to make a final decision on the club’s managerial future well before the end of next season so as to avoid a repeat of this year’s uncertainty.
Wenger did eventually agree a new two-year deal until May 2019 but, for the second contract in succession, final confirmation did not come until the previous season had ended. The 68-year-old has since acknowledged himself that the team were affected amid a collapse in form between January and March that effectively cost the club a place in the Champions League. Arsenal did also rally to win a record-breaking 13th FA Cup – and seventh under Wenger – but shareholders will make it clear that a repeat of this uncertainty should be avoided next season.
The situation largely resulted from Wenger’s own uncertainty and, while the support of majority owner Stan Kroenke never wavered, it became difficult to make any announcement once Wenger had communicated his desire to go on in March. By then, Arsenal were on a dreadful run of results and there was a desire also to finalise some off-field additions to the support staff. A group of players went to see Wenger to seek clarification and he did eventually tell them that he intended to stay but that they needed an upturn in form. Arsenal did then end the season with 10 wins in 11 matches, including against Manchester City and then Premier League champions Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and final.
“I created, with my not deciding, a lack of clarity in the dressing room – and there’s nothing worse than that in the dressing room,” admitted Wenger. “When you’re not completely in, or the players feel you’re not completely in, it’s difficult to tell them ‘we go’. So at some stage I had to tell them, look guys, ‘I’m with you, but we have to win games.’”
A survey by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust ahead of this week’s AGM has underlined the importance to those shareholders of finding a way to avoid a similar scenario next season. A total of 90 per cent of respondents believes that a firm decision should be made and announced “well before the end of his contract in May 2019”.