Ending months of speculation that Arsene Wenger was on his way out at Arsenal, the Frenchman signed a two-year extension to manage the club through the 2018-2019 season, which was officially announced today. That will mark his 23rd season at the helm in North London, an impressive reign considering the turnover that has come to define his profession.
It has been no secret that many Arsenal fans wanted this season to be his last, but Wenger reminded his doubters of why he is the longest-tenured manager in the Premier League. Arsenal did everything they could in the final month to extend their run of 19 consecutive Champions League appearances, winning their final five EPL fixtures. Ultimately, 75 points was not enough in such a top heavy league this season, and Wenger will need to make some adjustments to return to the top four.
Still, it’s clear that Arsenal aren’t far off. Their convincing win against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final made them perhaps the hottest team in the final month of the season, momentum that the club hopes will influence its players’ decisions in this summer’s transfer window. Re-signing Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oil are the top priorities, and beyond that Wenger has suggested that the club will look for a couple of elite players rather than a roster overhaul.
It’s a fair assessment to say that Arsenal are only a player or two away. They have shown that they have the quality against top flight teams, but injuries and inconsistency have kept them from contending for a major title throughout the last decade.
Arsenal has bowed out in the Round of 16 the past seven seasons of the UCL, losing to Bayern and Barcelona a combined five times. They’ve also never really threatened for a league title since winning it in 2004. Perhaps next season Wenger will focus the team’s resources on EPL matches ahead of the Europa League. With the current top four and Man United playing in the Champions League, that could provide Arsenal with a sufficient competitive advantage to return to the top of the table.
Arsenal fans have confused Wenger’s sustained quality with mediocrity, but there is justification in striving for more. The club hasn’t been a part of a legitimate title race in a long while, and that drought needs to end to quiet Wenger’s detractors. Majority owner Stan Kroenke believes that Wenger is the right man for the job, and he’s likely right. For years a top-four finish was good enough, but the people have spoken. I think Arsenal supporters have good reason to be optimistic about Wenger’s reply.