Arsene Wenger ready to gamble Arsenal reputation for one last shot at glory

JOHN DILLON
David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsene Wenger doesn't view Tottenham as Arsenal's main rivals. It is Manchester City and Chelsea he wants to beat most of all.

It is the burning desire to defeat their imported financial might which, I believe, is fuelling his apparent desire to stay on for two more years as manager at the Emirates.

It is a yearning to prove that the model of self-financing economics he has built in north London can triumph once again in football's era of the Oligarchs and the Oil and Gas Potentates which is driving him on at 67 years old.

And, immediately after the current frenzy of speculation about his future, an opportunity will present itself instantly for Wenger to prove that he might still be able to achieve this aim.

Pep Guardiola's opulent but stuttering City side visit the Emirates on the Sunday after the international break for a fixture which will be one of the most critical of Wenger's 21 years leading the Gunners.

It may even be that the "opportune moment," Arsenal are waiting for to make Wenger's plans clear will arrive in the aftermath of this game.

Win, and the public belief in Wenger's ability to rouse his players, to scheme a victory against their big rivals and to suggest there really is a big future ahead will enjoy something of a restoration, given the dramatic circumstances of the match.

What better time to announce a new deal?

Lose at home and it will look like he has become utterly powerless to reverse the sliding status of his club. What worse time could there be to announce that he is staying on?

Arsenal and City also meet in the FA Cup semi-final on April 23.

If Wenger can defeat them twice in a month, then perhaps his stubborn belief that Arsenal have the players, the spirit, the mentality and the talent to compete properly at the top of the game will get a slice of vindication.

Lose twice and it will surely confirm that the game is up; if an announcement hasn't already been made by then, of course.

For Arsenal to win the title again - and have a serious go in the Champions League - do either would spike the guns of Chelsea and City after their transformation by the foreign might which Wenger once memorably described as "financial doping."

Few go short at the Emirates, of course. It would be risible to suggest Arsenal are underdogs among the football elite. But in England, their financial power is of a different kind to that lavishly revelled in by City and by Chelsea.

Manchester United, meanwhile, lord it over Arsenal in the corporate game. But only now because their huge commercial expansion has been supported by the massive debt burden loaded on to the club by the Glazer family.

Don't feel sorry for Wenger amid all this. He is on £8million a year. But still, these are economic realities - not hardships - which apply in Europe, too, and make Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris St Germain more financially powerful than Arsenal.

When you witness Wenger discussing these issues, it is etched on his face just how strongly he feels about taking on these global financial monoliths and proving them wrong.

Perhaps, even, those Arsenal fans desperate to see the end of his reign, should ponder whether they wish their club to become a central part of this corporate elite - which has turned the game into a giant marketing industry with some football attached.

Don't get me wrong. Arsenal are major players in that business, too. But they do retain some individuality. And even though the major shareholder is an American sports investor, Stan Kroenke, who many believe is perfectly happy for the place to just tick over while the money pours in

So there is a very fine line which highlights these differences between Arsenal and the rest.

But it can be detected. Unless he is an extremely persuasive snake oil salesman - and nobody thinks that - Wenger truly believes that Arsenal operate on the right side of that dividing line.

The big questions are now; are the fans as concerned about that dividing line or do they just want some glory? And can Wenger make his idea of how the game should run work successfully ever again?

He seems to believe he can. But if he stays on, he will be gambling one of the finest reputations ever built by a manager on winning in the Last Chance Saloon. And that is a place where the dice are loaded in favour of even bigger financial players than Arsenal.

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