Arsene Wenger is looking toward a brighter Arsenal future.
When a Premier League manager stakes his own future on the success (or otherwise) of a blockbuster new signing, it is invariably taken as something of an act of desperation.
Yet when Arsene Wenger suggested on Thursday that his continued Arsenal employment might ultimately depend on how record signing Mesut Ozil improves performances and results on the pitch over the coming weeks and months, the reaction was more understated than might have been expected.
Wenger’s current deal, worth around £7.5 million per annum, no insignificant sum of money to be seemingly so nonchalant about, expires at the end of the current campaign.
But having already spent nearly 17 years at the helm, Wenger evidently (and justifiably) feels so sufficiently part of the furniture that, unlike with certain players who slipped out of the club’s grasp in similar situations, such contract discussions can be left to nearer the time.
“We are in September, and my contract finishes in June,” Wenger told the press on Thursday, via John Cross of the Daily Mirror. “There is a long way to go. There is no need to plan [talks at this stage].”
The Frenchman knows better than most how quickly the tide can change in football but has similarly proven better than most at riding things out. It was only early 2013, after all, when he was facing perhaps the gravest pressure of his tenure—at that point, he was wanted out by a vocal subsection of Gunners fans after a shocking Capital One Cup loss to Bradford City.
A subsequent run of great form in the league—a surge that ultimately secured Champions League qualification on the last day—assuaged the doubters, but an undercurrent of dissent remains close to the surface, as evidenced by the rush to condemn after a surprise opening-day loss to Aston Villa.
Probed further on Thursday about extending his stay at the Emirates, Wenger seemed to acknowledge that improved performances would likely be required:
I have said many times that I want to do well with this club, and in the end I will sit down and think how well I have done with the team I have had.
That has to be sufficient for me to decide yes or no.
One of the main judgments you can have about a manager is how well he does with his team.
That is where Ozil comes into the equation. At £42.5 million, the Germany international’s arrival has been lauded as a turning point for the club in more than one regard—not only will he improve the team on the pitch, but his transfer fee also hails a new era of more eye-catching spending from the North London club.
“Of course it is [a statement of intent],” Wenger added. “We went through a period of restricted finances [after building the Emirates] when the aim was to stay in the Champions League.
“We are in a strong financial position now.”
More optimistic about the options available to him, Wenger seems happy to let the board—who, admittedly, have long seemed to be closely allied to their manager—judge him on his results over the remainder of the season.
Perhaps that is because, in addition to Ozil’s obvious qualities as a footballer, Wenger senses a kindred spirit.
Like Wenger, Ozil has had to face a wave of criticism in the media in recent times, becoming the victim of Real Madrid’s propaganda machine as the club’s president, Florentino Perez, has attempted to explain the popular playmaker’s sale back in Spain.
In planted stories—done with a heavy-handedness we have never seen from the player in question on the pitch—Ozil’s private life was made the subject of rumour and innuendo.
The stories provoked a strong response from Ozil’s father, but during his official Arsenal unveiling, the player himself would only admit to a lack of “respect” from his former club.
Make no mistake, however: This is a player with a huge incentive to prove his former club wrong.
“I did not get the respect and trust,” Ozil noted to the press (via Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph), speaking through a translator. “It was a bit difficult. You can see by the reaction of the fans and the players [at Madrid] that they didn’t understand the move."
Wenger also may feel that "respect" and "trust" are two things he has not been afforded enough of in recent times, considering his overall track record with Arsenal.
He will not want to stay at Arsenal when a noticeable number of fans don’t want him, but he is banking on the next few months—with Ozil pulling the strings—to remind fans of just what his sides have been capable of.
Like other, lesser managers, then, Wenger is staking his job on the success of his big-money signing. Unlike those managers, however, the player in question has every incentive to deliver—and every quality required.
“When I spoke to Arsene on the phone, he was full of respect, and as a player I need that,” Ozil noted, according to Wilson.
“I cannot promise to win trophies, but I can promise that we will give our all to try to win trophies.
“Of course [the team are title contenders]. I know the team. I know what talent we have here, and I think every player wants to be successful.
"Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in the world, and we definitely want to achieve something with this team. Of course, it will be very difficult, because this is the strongest league in the world.
"It is very balanced, but we will give everything to have success.”