Monday, to the irony of many, is International Happiness Day. And how many Arsenal fans could muster a smile on a dank and dreary morning to the reports that much-maligned coach Arsène Wenger is set to stay on for another season at the Emirates.
Following the shocking 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the voices for the Frenchman to leave gained more traction, but then the coach gave a hint to the press that he had worked out what his future held:
“I know what I will do with my future, you will soon know.”
When asked how soon, he replied “very”, which is different to the approach he has taken in the past, something that wasn’t missed by the reporters in attendance.
“You will see. But today I do not necessarily worry about that.”
63% – Tony Pulis now has a higher win % in home games vs Arsene Wenger than Jose Mourinho does against the Frenchman (all comps). Nemesis. pic.twitter.com/Byvq9b1ND8
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 18, 2017
Spoiling the air of secrecy from what Le Professor admitted, WBA’s manager, Tony Pulis, may have given away what his decision will be:
“I’ll be surprised if he goes.”
Asked to clarify why he thought that may be the case, with a wry smile on his face, “Because he told me.”
Rather than sign the expected two-year extension, it looks like he will agree a one-year deal to continue at the North London club.
Can Wenger save Arsenal’s Season?
Only two things will save Wenger and Arsenal’s campaign: winning the FA Cup and finishing in the top four. However, to do that, the Gunners will have to banish a record against the top clubs that has been deteriorating over the past 10 seasons.
On April 23, Arsenal take on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The omens are not on their side.
Over the past 10 campaigns, Arsenal have played City 22 times in all competitions, winning eight and losing eight. In fact, it’s against the blue half of Manchester that Wenger’s record has improved, three of those victories have come over the last three seasons, losing just once in six games.
Yet, Wenger’s record against the Premier League’s top six has fallen season by season. No fixture shows this more than the North London derby.
In the last 24 fixtures, Arsenal have beaten Spurs 10 times, losing just six; however, over the last six games, they’ve won only once.
Arsenal’s Poor Record
Wenger’s win rate over the top six has gone from 30.7 per cent over 10 seasons, to 29.6 per cent over five and 29 per cent over the last three, playing 31 times, winning just nine games.
What is interesting is the same record that City have held over the same period.
They have won 36.8 per cent of games against the top six over the last 10 seasons, 40.7 per cent over the last five, but it has dropped to 29 per cent — the same as Arsenal — over the past three campaigns.
You can allow a little drop when you have a great record against other sides, unlike Arsenal and Wenger, whose number of victories in the games that matter, has just continued to drop down a slippery slope.
Arsenal’s best record against any club in the top six comes against Manchester City, but with Pep seemingly finding his feet despite a UEFA Champions League defeat, Wenger will need that to continue if the season is going to make it beyond April.
“You cannot imagine,” said the Spanish coach. “This is one of the most special days of my life. After our defeat in the Champions League, for two days we were so, so sad and in the training sessions we didn’t talk too much. We arrived here against Liverpool, who haven’t had European football and had all week to prepare, and how we fight and how we run and how we showed spirit.”
City going in the right direction
Guardiola will be ridiculed for celebrating a draw at home to a rival, but the former Bayern Munich coach has a point and a method to his madness.
Unlike the constant mixed signals sent by Wenger and his team that are falling down a black hole, Pep showed his team how proud of them he is, and just what they are capable of when they put their mind to it.
“Today is one of the happiest days of my life as a manager. I am so proud of my players. We were sad [in midweek] so that is why I am so happy,” he continued. “My players put everything on to the pitch. It is one of the days I am most proud. More than ever I want to help the club – if they want to stay with me – and make the next step forward. I came here for three years and I want to stay for three years and next year play better.”
You must believe that Arsenal and City are two clubs going in completely different directions. Momentum will always be with Guardiola, everyone still believes he will guide City in the right direction, whereas not many think or hold a hope that Wenger can regain control of this sinking ship, spinning out of control.
Wenger’s record is falling, but to have any hope this season, he needs to regain the only advantage he has over any of the top six clubs. First off, they play City in the Premier League on April 2, then in the FA Cup on the 23rd.
As West Brom showed on Saturday, teams like West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, who play very well in the air, will offer their own difficult challenge, but if the Gunners are not in a good place, they will struggle against Guardiola’s men.
Survive there and the bigger challenges lie ahead.
Bigger Top Six Challenges Ahead
Most points in the top six mini league. Be careful what u wish 4
Man City (8)
Man Utd (6)
— Black cab for wenger (@russafc) March 19, 2017
Arsenal still have to play Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea in the league, where they have picked up just five victories in 19 games against those three clubs — that’s just 26.3 per cent.
The odds do not fall favourably on Wenger guiding this club to a top four finish, and with Chelsea or Spurs waiting if they do reach the FA Cup final, the chances of them finding success is reducing by the game.
To give the Arsenal fans hope, make it look like this decision to extend his deal makes any sense, Wenger needs to completely turn around the form that has plagued him over the last 10 seasons and prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks.