19 May 2014

Should Arsène get a new contract?

Basking in the afterglow of Saturday's FA Cup win, it looks as if Arsène will be handed a new contract that pays him £8m per year for the next three years. At first blush, we might say, "why not? He's ended the trophy-drought, and this will surely propel us towards more silverware next season and beyond." Right? Not so fast. We've barely finished celebrating, and in the rapture that follows the victory, should we really be re-committing so soon? It's not as if the win over Hull expunged from the record so many maddening problems in the squad, not to mention Arsène's strategic or tactical decision-making.

Knowing that Hull might try to come out and hit us hard in the first 10-15 minutes to nick an early goal, we conceded two in the first eight, each on scrambles in front of the net that reminded us all too painfully of flops in seasons past while highlighting weaknesses that have still be exorcised. Defensive frailties. Brittleness against lower sides. Near-helplessness against the top four. Strategic stubbornness guised as idealistic virtue. For us to have stormed back in the second might sweep these and other flaws under the rug, but they're still there. Rather than being called to the carpet, though, the manager looks to be handed a new contract that would give him a raise, in essence rewarding him for a season that, by many standards, fell short of expectations. Rather than lavishing him with cash and plaudits, should the board not wait a bit to at least think things through?

The rumors from the likes of John Cross and others suggest that we'll see a deal signed by week's end. Arsène himself says ""Yes (it will be done), because I go to Brazil on the 10th of June", which does offer a bit of a delay—just under a month—but is that really enough time to ponder whether one cup in a decade should satisfy a club of Arsenal's size, traditions, and ambitions? After all, there are bigger fish to fry, namely the Prem title, and we're no closer to winning that than we've been for the better part of the last decade. After all, until we overtake the likes of Chelsea or Man City, we'll never hoist that trophy, and we can't count on those clubs to implode the way that Man U has done this season (and they'll probably claw their back into contention as early as next season). Whether Arsène is the man who can lead this club to that pinnacle or not remains an open question as shown by the struggles against those three this season and in seasons past. If anything, the problem seems to have gotten worse: we took six points, total, from six matches against Man U, Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea while suffering humiliating defeats along the way.

Here's the rub. If we dither in dealing with Arsène (that's a little bit irony, isn't it), we delay negotiations with transfer-targets. I don't hold much stock in the "look at what happened with Moyes" argument, having written here and here about why it's an apples-and-oranges comparison. However, players are going to want to know who they're playing for. Younger players will be curious about how they'll develop, and older players will be cautious about how we'll compete. I'm not suggesting that we simply must re-sign Arsène in order to convince transfer-targets to put pen to paper. I will say that he's the manager best-suited to lead this club into the near future. The development of players like Ramsey, Wilshere, and Szczesny flow directly from him, and behind them follow Jenkinson, Ox, Gibbs, and others. Who among them will become the superstars of the next decade? Their continued growth alone is unlikely to elevate the club to the next level; competing directly with Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City, not to mention others like Real Madrid, Bayern, and Barcelona, will ultimately depend on borrowing from their methods, at least a little.

After all, those clubs have raided and pillaged our methods if not our roster to achieve their successes. We're not going to get a squad full of galacticos, not in one summer, but we do have something like £100m to spend. For as much as we've mocked or rued Arsène's stinginess and dithering in the market, there's been a method to that, a long-term vision, that shall be realized sooner, rather than later. We have a young, bright core, arguably among the best in England, and with a marquee signing along with one or two reinforcements, we'll be ready to remove "arguably among" from that description.

Despite the qualms I listed at the outset, I do firmly believe that Arsène is the best man to lead this club forward—not because we have to worry about potential successors or fall-out in the transfer-window but because this is a man who has built a squad that is ready to compete with the best that money can buy. I have a feeling that the FA Cup marks a beginning of a special period in this club's history. It may not rise to the levels we saw ten years ago.  With Arsène at the helm, we can say we've done it our way...the right way—financially, philosophically, aesthetically.

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