London – Robin van Persie was invited into Arsene Wenger’s magnificently app-ointed home in north London towards the end of last season for talks about his future.
It was a tense meeting, a full and frank exchange between Arsenal manager and captain after another trophyless season at the Emirates.
With a year left on his contract, the top goalscorer in the Barclays Premier League wanted assurances that the Gunners were ready to invest heavily in the squad before committing himself to a new deal.
Wenger was indignant and the offer to keep Van Persie was never made.
After winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in 16 years at Arsenal, Wenger still rules the roost. He remains untouchable, even after Tuesday’s shameful defeat in the Capital One Cup quarter-final at League Two side Bradford City.
A team who cost almost £67million to assemble were beaten on penalties by a side costing £7,500, despite boasting internationals from Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, the Ivory Coast, Wales, England and Poland. Bradford’s two internationals have played a handful of games for Bermuda and Northern Ireland.
For many Arsenal fans this is the endgame, beyond the point of no return.
Wenger’s observations at Valley Parade, when he spoke of “pride” and “self-belief”, were a smokescreen for a manager who has been sending distress signals since 2007.
It is time for Arsenal to move on, to do the unthinkable and thank him for 16 years of loyal service and look to the future with another forward-thinking coach. As charming as he is, Wenger is on the way out as the club’s manager. It is over and an increasing number of people within the game are beginning to recognise it.
Wenger earns £7.5m a year, and is the highest-paid boss in the Premier League, yet Arsenal consistently claim they cannot pay big bucks for players.
They were ahead of the game with identifying the talents of Juan Mata and David Silva but their dithering allowed Chelsea and Manchester City to step in and gazump them.
Even contract negotiations with Theo Walcott, who is expected to be fit for Monday’s Premier League clash at Reading, have broken down over the club’s pay structure.
Andrey Arshavin, a flop since his move from Zenit St Petersburg in 2009, earns £110,000 a week all in. Given the Russian’s pitiful contribution, it is not unreasonable for Walcott to demand a similar contract, yet Wenger is refusing to meet the England forward’s demands.
It was also revealed that players are being asked to agree clauses in their contracts about a 20 per cent reduction in salary if they fail to make the Champions League.
It seems inconceivable that Jack Wilshere, England’s most exciting young player, who is about to enter talks over a new contract to increase his £70,000-a-week package, will agree to such a clause.
Wenger, known to avoid confrontation, delegates contract negotiations to trusted advisor Dick Law following the decision to fire his ally David Dein as vice-chairman in April 2007. Dallas-based Law is the club’s transfer fixer, regularly sending emails at 3am US time to fit in with the working day in London.
The coaching structure is complicated, with assistant manager Steve Bould apparently marginalised despite his promotion this season.
At 63, Wenger remains convinced he can improve the players, taking training every day and planning every move in meticulous detail.
Bould, a former Arsenal defender, deserved his chance after 11 years with the academy and reserves but he is largely ignored by Wenger. The pair are understood to have limited communication and the distance between them is so big that, when the boss missed training the day before Arsenal were beaten 2-0 at home by Swansea, fitness coach Tony Colbert took the session.
Bould’s appointment, on £1.5m a year, was heavily influenced by the Arsenal board following the retirement of Wenger’s trusted assistant Pat Rice at the end of last season.
Rice is still a club scout but others are frustrated by Wenger’s failure to take notice of the detailed reports they provide on players. Gervinho, who won the French league and cup double before he joined from Lille in 2011, was recommended by chief scout Steve Rowley after coming to the attention of French talent spotter Gilles Grimandi .
He scored 28 goals in 67 league games for Lille but the Ivory Coast forward has rarely threatened to make a major impact at Arsenal.
Left back Andre Santos, a surprise signing from Fenerbahce in 2011, is another mystery to the scouts.
Other coaches, like Bould, are bypassed. Neil Banfield, promoted to first-team coach after years at the academy, is paid a £1m salary but has little input in first-team affairs.
Former coaches are made to sign confidentiality agreements not to talk about Wenger’s methods.
The club used to outsource fitness checks to a specialist company at a cost of £750,000 but the Frenchman disagreed with results after he was warned players were being overworked.
Wenger was ahead of his time with sports science, diet and training methods when he arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996. More than a decade later there is a growing feeling the rest of the Premier League have left him behind.
The manager is proud of his development strategy but one could argue that, in his 16 years, Ashley Cole and Wilshere are the only bona fide graduates from the fabled Hale End academy who have become first team regulars.
He points to the careers of Steven Sidwell, James Harper, David Bentley, Fabrice Muamba, Anthony Stokes and the Hoyte brothers as evidence of his success with young players. Others at the club believe there is little point producing players to play for other clubs.
It is an open secret at Arsenal Wenger and youth development coach Liam Brady rarely speak.
At the London Colney training centre, which was ahead of its time when built 12 years ago, there has been a noticeable shift in Wenger’s demeanour.
During the glory years at the turn of the millennium, for example, first-team players would regularly tease Kanu about the mystery surrounding his actual birthdate.
Wenger, who signed the Nigeria striker from Inter Milan in 1999, would laugh along, telling him: “Kanu, you know you are supposed to add a year, not subtract one.”
That was when Wenger could still rely on the famous back four as they charged towards the Premier League and FA Cup double in 2002.
Today he has tightened up, wrapping himself in his Arsenal jacket and feeling the pressure after seven years without a trophy.
Some believe the decline began with William Gallas’s infamous sitdown protest after they drew 2-2 against Birmingham but they beat AC Milan in the Champions League with goals from Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor in the San Siro a few days later.
Others trace the slide back to Wenger’s decision to break up the team beaten by Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
Wenger always insists he is judged at the end of the season. Sadly, the verdict is already in. – Daily Mail