When it comes to a new contract at Arsenal, the ball is firmly in Arsene Wenger’s court.
After Ivan Gazidis professed his desire to tie Wenger to a new deal in the summer, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has followed suit.
Kroenke is normally a media-shy figure, hence earning himself the sobriquet "Silent Stan." However, with Arsenal sitting atop the Premier League and morale around the club on a high, Kroenke has deigned to speak to the British press. The primary focus of his message was his unequivocal support for Wenger.
Speaking to John Cross of Mirror Football, Kroenke said of Wenger: "He knows how we feel, what our philosophy is, what we want to do and I feel like we are totally aligned. I think he wants to do it the exact same way as we do."
When it came to the issue of a new contract, Kroenke added:
He knows he has our support, there’s no one I feel more strongly about and I think he is doing a great job. Arsene is his own man, he will make up his own mind.
There is a lot of pressure in the job, he has handled it very well but at some point we all make up our minds whether we continue in our careers. That’s obviously his decision.
Wenger holds the power here. The major decision-makers at the club want him to stay. However, Wenger seems keen to delay any decision. Speaking at his press conference Friday morning, Wenger responded to Kroenke by saying, via Sky Sports:
I want to focus on the quality of our season. I don't believe that anybody can question my commitment to this club. I want to feel that I do well and then the question of me staying will be secondary after that.
Later, when pressed as to whether he’d like to remain at Arsenal “forever,” he jested: "I would love to be here forever because that would make me immortal! I love this club."
The truth is that Wenger is already immortal at Arsenal. His bust is cast in bronze and sits in Arsenal’s fabled marble halls. One day his statue will join that of Herbert Chapman on the concourse outside the Emirates Stadium. The stadium itself already stands as a monument to Wenger’s ambition.
So why the delay in contract talks? There are two plausible explanations.
The first is that, as Wenger says, he considers his own future a “secondary” issue. He merely wants the focus to be on ensuring that Arsenal mount a significant challenge for trophies this season. Perhaps he feels contract negotiations could be an unnecessary distraction. Perhaps he feels the idea it could be his last year might motivate his players, so he wants to prolong that doubt.
Alternatively, it’s possible he’s already decided to walk away from the club and football entirely. As with Sir Alex Ferguson last year, Wenger’s departure will probably come as something of a surprise. Could Mesut Ozil be his parting gift to the fans, just as Robin van Persie was for Ferguson?
Wenger’s position in Arsenal’s history is already assured. It’s now just a question of whether he feels ready to walk away.
Time will tell, but my hunch is that the Frenchman senses an opportunity to re-establish Arsenal as an elite club and restore his reputation as a trophy-winning manager.
He won’t want to walk away without bringing glory back to the Gunners.