LONDON — Time seems to have stood still at Arsenal.
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While games come and go, what lies ahead for the Gunners’ future is the main question surrounding everything they do.
Will Arsene Wenger stay? Will Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez sign new deals? Can they finish in the top four? Everything is threatening to change but at the same time, nothing is happening.
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Arsenal’s crucial top four clash with Manchester City on Sunday was almost an afterthought as the entertaining draw epitomized the melancholy felt by most around the Emirates Stadium.
For 20 years Wenger has ruled supreme, leading Arsenal to the UEFA Champions League each season with what seemed to be consummate easy. Yet questions around his future and that of his star players have lingered nastily in recent months, even if he doesn’t admit it, and the Gunners are seven points away from fourth place with 10 games to play.
Following the draw with City, Wenger, predictably, is no closer to revealing if he will stay at Arsenal beyond this season.
“We are in a tough battle for the top four,” Wenger said. “I am professional and I have shown great loyalty in the past. I love this club, I don’t know how long I will be here, I am clear in my head, that’s the most important thing. The decision will be soon.”
The sooner the better.
Arsenal’s season is in severe danger of drifting away with an upcoming FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City on Apr. 23 perhaps holding the key to rescuing their campaign as another trophy (their third FA Cup in four years) would at least lift some of the gloom as their top four hopes hang in the balance.
Surely Wenger coming out and announcing his decision will galvanize the team and fans one way or another. Is Wenger worried about a negative reaction from fans and his players if he reveals his decision in the next few weeks?
Fans of Arsenal had planned protests before the game but they somewhat petered out with reports suggesting some fans fought against each other outside the stadium in the north London sunshine on a Sunday afternoon.
This is what it has come to.
Arsenal’s fans are split when it comes to Wenger staying on and are confused at what’s going on and why it is taking so long for a decision to be made.
That said, in the stadium fans stuck with their team when they fell behind to City twice and Wenger pointed out that the vast majority of supporters got behind their players despite brief lulls in the crowd which suggested they were, once again, sat there thinking about what comes next.
“Despite what happens on the fans front, I thought our fans were fantastic today in very difficult moments in the game,” Wenger said. “Our fans could have turned against us. I thought they were absolutely sensational.”
Arsenal’s recent form has been far from sensational with one win in their last six games which included a run of four defeats in five.
With so many questions unanswered and so much confusion about the future, a huge transition is coming at Arsenal with up to 10 first team players out of contract in the summer of 2018 and a massive rebuild needed. With talks about the future of Sanchez and Ozil put off until the summer, qualifying for the Champions League for a 21st season on the trot holds the key to everything.
Is Wenger capable of leading the Gunners, his Gunners, into a brave new era?
“I’m here for 20 years. I have shown one thing, complete loyalty to the club,” Wenger said. “I will always support this club and wish it well.”
Until the bitter end Wenger will be an Arsenal man. Whether he stays beyond this season to lead the team is still up in the air, like pretty much everything at Arsenal these days.