Is the catalyst curtain finally coming down on Arsene Wenger?
The teams current slump would be "a catalyst for change." That is what Ivan Gazidis had said back in April, only a few short weeks before the end of what was becoming Wenger's worst season in charge of Arsenal, but what changes would we be likely to see? Many assumed it was the end of the road for Arsène Wenger, others believed there were members of the board stepping down but between April and Deadline day the only changes made were the hiring of former Team Sky legal expert, Huss Fahmy, to work on the players contracts and low and behold a two year contract extension for Le Professeur. It didn't need to be said that the fanbase was ablaze, confusion reigned as so many were sure Gazidis' words meant that Arsène was ready to step aside and give somebody else the whip but evidently not. In fact nothing at all appeared to be happening. During September fans grilled the clubs CEO about his recent comments and accused him of lying in order to save face and placate the fans. There had been talk of the club bringing in a Director of Football to ease transitions at the club but even more talk that Wenger refused to work with one and therefore the "dictatorship" accusations once more rose to the surface and didn't help matters when trying to work out exactly what Ivan had meant. However as if in some kind of "I told you so" fashion, the very next day stories broke that the clubs chief negotiator, the elusive Dick Law, was stepping down. Law's decision to step down was thought in part to be regarding tensions between board, staff and Manager, but was later confirmed to be a personal issue for the man in question. And whilst that in itself didn't allude to much, while it was going on there was a lot of noise regarding a former Gunner coming in to take charge of Operations, in the form of Marc Overmars. The once Arsenal winger would reprise the same role he had at the Amsterdam Arena currently, should he be offered and of course accept, the role at Arsenal. Not a lot else has been said about him coming however since early October, but the club have also been speaking with another man who is cut from the same cloth in FC Barcelona's Director of Football, Raúl Sanllehí, who is credited with being party to bringing both Neymar and Luis Suarez to Barça. This news says a lot in my opinion about the possible restructuring of Arsenal Football Club and the subsequent future of its manager. It is feeling as if slowly but surely Ivan Gazidis is implementing a plan for life without the Frenchman who very recently in an interview with beIN Sports we saw his "I always see out my contracts" rhetoric become an "I always try to see out my contracts" nudge towards what could be coming and sooner rather than later and the moves haven't stopped with the hiring of Fahmy and interviews for other roles behind the scenes either. In early November another one of Arsène Wenger's staunch allies at Arsenal in the club's chief scout, Steve Rowley, decided he was to step down from his position. It was said that Rowley believed that behind the scenes he was being used as a scapegoat for some of the club's more recent failed scouted players and acquisitions (going back to 2012 I'm personally having trouble finding any player we've signed who's been that bad!) Therefore held his hands up and volunteered to walk. Now one would think that the club themselves already knew it would come down to this because extremely shortly after the announcement Rowley was due to go they had spoken to Borussia Dortmund's head scout, Sven Mislintat (who also had a Directorial role once Tuchel left) to take over as the club's chief scout and hired him a couple of weeks later. A massive personality who at the end of last season rejected a move to Bayern Munich, Mislintat is credited with finding players such as Aubameyang, Lewandowski, Kagawa, Dembélé, Pulisic, Guerreiro, Gundogan and Blaszczykowski. Mislintat wasn't due to join up with Arsenal until the 2018/19 season however, so what is strange is that the club convinced Steve Rowley to stay on in an advisory capacity whilst shelling out the best part of £1.6m in order to compensate Dortmund and bring him to the table as early as last week and it's moves like this that are convincing people that Gazidis is working (possibly alongside Arsène?) In order to fill the roles he, as a manager, takes on weekly whilst leaving the door open for his successor to have the role and title of "First team coach" only. It is no secret the kinds of duties Arsène Wenger takes on at the club and some would say it's more than any other coach at another club, therefore delegation is key. And this brings us back to the Director of Football/Operations role and Barcelona's key man, Raúl Sanllehí. Recently there has been a lot of talk regarding Sanllehí and the man himself was even in North London to discuss with the Arsenal board, with the belief among most that the announcement of him becoming the club's new DoF being "imminent." This is yet another of the big behind the scenes roles that Wenger generally took on himself but it's also a role that Dick Law was in charge of and with him stepping aside now, Sanllehí's arrival before the end of the season could signal him going sooner than expected, much like Rowley. On top of everything else, with all the backroom shake-ups going on, in the last few months the smoke has been signalling one Carlo Ancelotti too. It's no secret the Italian (much like Roberto Mancini) would love to take the helm at Arsenal and according to his agent recently, rejected the opportunity to become Italy's next manager with "The next six months in mind." One can only speculate but with talk that Arsenal have recently made contact with the former Bayern Munich manager, it does seem as if life without Arsène Wenger really is being prepared for, in North London. With Mislintat in the door already and Sanllehí reportedly almost there with one foot in, what happens next is anybody's guess but I think it's fair to say the second half of the season will be very interesting.