Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his future would probably be decided “in March or April” as he pondered whether to take up the offer of a contract extension or leave the club he has managed for 20 years at the end of the season.
The Frenchman was speaking to German television station ZDF before Arsenal’s 5-1 Champions League humiliation by Bayern Munich on Wednesday, but details of the interview emerged only on Thursday as speculation intensified about Wenger’s intention.
Asked when he would decide whether to continue next season, he said: “March, April probably.” Separately, the BBC reported, without sources, on Thursday that his future would be determined at the end of the season, when his existing deal expires.
The 67-year-old Frenchman was stunned almost into silence after Wednesday’s game, answering just three questions in a press conference that lasted under three minutes.
Wenger is due to speak publicly again on Friday, by which time he will have had time not only to digest the 5-1 defeat but also the hostile reaction from pundits and former Arsenal players who lined up to predict his demise when his contract expires this summer.
Such is Wenger’s standing at the club, he will effectively decide his own fate.
British media reported that a new two-year deal had been offered but Arsenal legends Lee Dixon, Ian Wright and Bob Wilson all said they felt Wenger might decide to walk away.
“I doubt he will sleep very much between now and a horrible (FA Cup) game on an artificial pitch at Sutton on Monday night,” said Wilson. “He might say enough is enough.”
Critics were quick to point out that Wenger’s explanation for the Munich mauling — that his players were “jaded and lacking organisation” — reflected his own managerial shortcomings, and almost mirrored his remarks the last time his side were thumped, also 5-1, by the same opponents 18 months earlier.
The only support seemed to come from Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti. “This is football,” he said. “I think Arsene has a lot of experience, the experience to manage this moment, this result and look forward to the next game. It’s only one game.”
The trouble is, it isn’t.
Six successive eliminations at the same stage of the knockout phase do not suggest coincidence and a tactically disjointed Arsenal side were well beaten by opponents below their best.
Arsenal’s two biggest stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, underperformed in wildly contrasting fashion and did little to suggest either is worth the enhanced new contracts they seek.
While Ozil was anonymous, confirming the critical view that he goes missing in the big games, Sanchez got visibly agitated in chasing the ball, often on his own.