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03rd Apr 2017

NIALL QUINN: Wenger staying doesn’t mean there can’t be changes at Arsenal

Niall Quinn

Sometimes in football you don’t always get the result you want, but you get the performance that you need.

You could feel the nervousness at the Emirates yesterday. There weren’t airplanes in the sky with duelling messages but there was the feeling of being with a family that is divided against itself.

When Arsenal went one down you thought it might all turn quite unpleasant. Then there was the conspicuous lack of celebration of Theo Walcott’s goal and the same player getting the hump when he was taken off.  The atmosphere all afternoon was uneasy.

Yesterday Arsenal didn’t turn a corner but their path curved gently toward what might be a better place. They came back from a deficit twice; if they didn’t go for the win in hell for leather style that was to be expected from a team which has only beaten Burnley, Sutton and Lincoln in the last two months. Teams with low confidence usually play it safe.

‘Just enough positives’

The togetherness and fight that Arsenal showed weren’t enough to convince anybody that the club’s troubles are over but it was sufficient to cause the next Arsene in the stockades session to be postponed for a while.

There were just enough positives.

The meekness that Arsenal had shown when they accepted their beating against West Brom last time out was gone.

With all the focus on the manager a lot of people had forgotten that the players have responsibilities that go beyond shaking their heads sadly and saying that they had let the manager down again. Too often this year, the players have let themselves down as professionals. Against the likes of Watford and West Brom we saw players playing as if they just didn’t care. Not good enough.

In the near future the Arsenal board have a decision to make on the manager’s contract and, like Brexit, they must be wondering which would be better; no deal or a bad deal?

‘A glorified clerk helping out with the bottom line’

The decision needs to come quick and the powers-that-be need to look at their own role in settling for the level of “success” that Arsenal have been stalled at.

The club has accepted what has been delivered. A very successful business and a decent football club. That’s unfair on the fans and unfair on Arsene Wenger as well. He deserves better than to be asked to finish his management career as a glorified clerk helping out with the bottom line.

It is far from certain at this stage that there will be a new manager at Arsenal next season. There is no distinct sense that Arsene wants to go or that the board has the ruthlessness to push him. My hunch is that he will stay.

‘Wenger staying doesn’t mean that there can’t be changes’

I think he will have to give something though. I don’t see why his last two years can’t be a preparation for a smooth succession where a new manager is identified and structures are put in place before Wenger moves in a sidewards and upwards direction.

Wenger staying doesn’t mean that there can’t be changes.

Manchester United discovered when Alex Ferguson went that a new manager usually wants to clear out all the ghosts. United’s staff changed radically under David Moyes and a lot of expertise and a lot of the culture of the club was lost.

If you have one man running an organisation for 21 years, people are bound to become set in their ways. When people talk about a new manager coming in at Arsenal it is accepted that there will be changes in the way a lot of things are done.

That shouldn’t be too brutal if the transition is handled in a smart way. If Arsene Wenger is to stay for another two years, why not review and change these structures where necessary anyway? Change might be the cattle prod that the club and its manager need.

‘Leaner and meaner’

If Arsenal don’t make the  Champions League cut this year it might prompt the sort of reset that the club badly needs. People often point out that the problems which Arsenal have are the sort of problems that fans of most other clubs would kill to have. That idea does more harm to Arsenal than anybody else. Being happy that the rut you are stuck in is nicer than lots of other ruts is a sure way to stay stuck.

If Arsenal head into this summer without the usual comfort blanket of Champions League qualification they will know that they need to reinvent themselves as something leaner and meaner. The same for Wenger. I don’t believe that he is beyond change or that he can’t play a constructive role in laying the table for his successor.

First he has to build on Sunday. Arsenal have to remember how to defend like an Arsenal team.

Since January their only clean sheets have been against Hull, Sutton and Lincoln while they have leaked freely and against Bayern spectacularly. If they have to chisel out the results for a while so be it. The confidence will come back when the points start piling up.

Yesterday Arsenal stabilised. They can get back to full health but whether they need surgery or medication remains to be seen.

The club’s manager has been around the block often enough that he knows well how different the outlook might be in a couple of weeks’ time… good or bad?

Niall Quinn is a former Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and Republic of Ireland striker. He currently works as a pundit and co-commentator for Sky Sports, and also writes for Sportsvibe.

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