Ed Woodward gets plenty of criticism (and some of it richly deserved), but Nick Miller describes a numbers man pushed into the Old Trafford limelight. It's not easy...
It's been a long time in the making, that Southampton Philosophy. And in one summer, it's all been ripped asunder. Has it been replaced by another or the same old?
As a neutral observer with, generally speaking, an inclination to see Arsenal do well, this season has been one of great frustration. They dangled the carrot, got everyone very excited and hinted that, partly down to their own performances and results, partly due to the deficiencies of others, they really could do it this season.
We believed it for a while too. Then the old frailties emerged - from the injuries to the patch-up-and-make-do January transfer window to the absolute, abject and infuriating spinelessness in big games - and they fell away.
A couple of weeks ago Arsenal were on the same number of points as Liverpool, but the latter's odds for the league title were significantly shorter than the former's, which led to consternation aplenty and musings along the lines of 'Well, the last time I checked...' Of course the reason that Liverpool looked like safer bets to win the whole shooting match was that they didn't and don't look terrified of their own shadow, whereas Arsene Wenger's side do, and have done more times than a title challenger should. The ideal number of times for this to happen is, obviously, zero.
It was almost enough to make even non-Arsenal fans angry - angry that we'd almost been tricked, duped, hoodwinked into thinking that things were different this year, that things really had changed and Arsenal weren't 'Arsenal' anymore.
There seems to now be a consensus among the more sensible Gooners that the time has come for Wenger. The parting will be emotional, they will thank him for the good times, his send-off will be great and there will probably be a statue of him at the Emirates before too long, but as Matthew Stanger wrote in Winners and Losers this week, you can't keep a manager because of his legacy. If Arsenal are to progress, then he has to go, but this is merely where the problems start.
Wenger is, as you may have spotted over the last 18-odd years, a stubborn sod, unwilling or perhaps unable to divert from his own principles and ideas, even when it seems relatively clear that they simply aren't working. Wenger even said recently that winning wasn't enough, that he had to win with style to be satisfied. That is a lovely and noble sentiment, but there are ways to win, ways to play with style and ways to do both. Wenger is only doing the middle of those three at the moment (and even that only occasionally), and seems to be determined that the only way to win with style is his way, when the last nine years have shown us this is demonstrably not the case.
All of this means that, despite some reports to the contrary, it's tough to rely on Wenger recognising his own mortality, taking his carriage clock and a cushy gig with the French Football Federation and slipping away from the stadium and club he built.
Thus, someone at Arsenal needs to step in. They must have a quiet word with Arsene and suggest it's probably time to go, and work out the most dignified way of doing it. They need to load up the bolt gun and shoot Bambi square between the eyes. Although that would admittedly not be especially dignified.
But who? As Profile365 noted a few weeks ago, there is nobody at Arsenal with the requisite oomph to move Wenger aside, largely because he's been there for so long, has so much influence and is so beloved that, well, it would be like loading a bolt gun and shooting Bambi square between the eyes.
The responsibility must lie with Ivan Gazidis, whose role at the club does primarily seem to be maximising growth revenue streams and monetising the customer demographic with the most efficient business model, or some other hateful bullsh*t, with only a casual relationship to the football side of things. But Gazidis is also the only person with any sort of weight to throw behind something as huge as unseating a man of Wenger's standing, so despite his clear affection for the old boy, he must recognise that a change is required. Hopefully his assertion in January that Wenger would sign a new contract has been altered by recent results, and he can now see that an FA Cup win would not be the start of a new era, but a fitting send-off.
Indeed, someone as business-minded as Gazidis is in theory the best person to make such a ruthless call - he should be able to recognise that a part of the company he is in charge of isn't currently performing as it should, and isn't likely to improve much in the near future. This is probably where the 'not qualifying for the Champions League this year might be a good thing' argument comes in, as it at least might 'shock' Gazidis, who many will characterise as being perfectly happy as long as the tills are ringing, into having that most difficult of conversations.
It is possible that Wenger, whose face has increasingly carried that unmistakable 'I'm tired of this shit' look in recent weeks, might realise that time is up, and it's best for all concerned that he goes out on his own terms. If not, Gazidis must reach for the gun, try to ignore the big fawn eyes and pull the trigger.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter