As the seconds ticked away yesterday and the 1-0 Wigan triumph got closer and closer to reality, I couldn’t help but think that it was poetic that the nadir for Arsenal was happening at Wembley. After all, it was the decision to not move to the new Wembley and build Emirates Stadium that was at the core of so much of what’s transpired for Arsenal this last decade. The recriminations between the old board and David Dein. The arrival of Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov. The financial handcuffs placed on the club. The falling from perennial title contenders to fourth-place combatants. The split between the supporters in to the black-scarfed Wenger Out Brigade (WOBs) and Arsene Knows Best (AKBs).
Then, with a great header, Per Mertesacker both made amends for his earlier blunder and managed to stave off the Grim Reaper. Arsenal would fight on and do everything short of scoring before going into extra time and then penalties to force their way into the Final of the FA Cup. And in so doing, the team managed to stave off The End for just a bit longer.
You know The End of which I speak, right?
The End of the Era.
The End of the Reign.
The End of Arsene Wenger.
It’s been the topic de rigeur for the last few weeks. Ever since the losses to Liverpool and Chelsea and Everton, the question has hung over everyone’s heads. “Has The End arrived?” “Who will make the decision to call for The End?” “Can the club afford another season like this if this is not The End?”
It’s understandable why the Question hangs in the air. After a great first half to the season, the team has looked not just timid, but tired. The mental strength of the club has become a punch line. The usual spate of injuries have hit and revealed a shallow core that’s been stretched to its limits. When you’re desperate enough for attacking talent that you’re recalling on-loan youngster Chuba Akpom, it doesn’t speak well for the use of Arsenal’s vast resources. Specially after spending the last year showing off the new big deals that have been signed with Emirates Airlines, Puma and the like.
This is part of the problem for Arsene Wenger. Everyone by now knows the shackles forced on him by the Emirates move have been loosened. There’s money to upgrade the squad. So when he did nothing but bring an on-loan Kim Kjallstrom and say that was enough, he made a large rod to be beaten with when (not if) the run of injuries happened. Could he have predicted Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott would join Aaron Ramsey in the physio room? Perhaps not. But you can never go wrong in predicting Arsenal will lose key players in February and March. It’s what always happens.
Now, as we sit here in mid-April, there is an offer from the club for Arsene to sign a new three-year contract. He has not signed it. There are many who want him to not sign it; who’d be glad if the FA Cup Final on May 17th becomes his last game in charge of the club. Whether or not he does, we will find out soon after. There are complications if he stays and if he goes. If he stays, can he convince so many that have finally begun asking The Question that he still has the requisite skills in the 21st Century? If he goes, can the brain trust under Gazidis manage to bring the right manager fast enough to make changes with a World Cup shortening the summer businesses? And can whoever strides the technical area come the fall manage to build the right team out of the current parts and new ones expected to arrive?
The win against Wigan at least puts a temporary stop to the questions. Between us and the Final are five key matches in the Premier League to ensure Champions League qualification. Three games at home against West Ham United, Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion and two away games at Hull City (now a “preview” of the FA Cup Final) and at Norwich City on the last day of the season. All five are eminently winnable. All five are possible banana skins. And every Gooner will sweat each minute of those five games until May 11th.
Whether The End is here or not, I cannot say. Part of me knows that it’s closer than it is further away. Part of me cannot help but look at Manchester United’s season and dread what will happen to Arsenal when that inevitable change is made. At the same time, I cannot help but be glad that The Question can be staved off for another few weeks. All resources and efforts can be aimed at securing Champions League football and the FA Cup.
“If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance.”