Wenger Relations: How intelligent Arsenal PR strategy has kept Wengerouters at bay
On the day that Arsene Wenger announced that he would be extending his contract at Arsenal for a further two years, we here at the Faculty couldn’t help but think the Frenchman (and the Arsenal PR team) had played their hand remarkably well.
As is always difficult to translate, just try and picture how negative and poisonous feelings surrounding the club were in mid April. Arsenal were utterly abysmal. The club had been trounced by Bayern 2-10 on aggregate and had just lost 0-3 to Crystal Palace in the league, where loud choruses of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ echoed down on a team bereft of confidence. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil had both failed to sign contracts on schedule, casting huge doubts on Wenger’s potential to entice big players to construct a championship winning team. And- at that time- Arsenal’s chances of winning the FA Cup seemed unlikely given Man City’s, Tottenham’s and Chelsea’s continued presence in the competition.
It’s fair to say that around this time, Wenger’s relationship with the fans hit a 21 year nadir. And, more crucially, he probably knew at this point that he would sign a new contract, which posed an immesenly complex problem of quelling the approaching coup. The signs were there; apart from the utterly obvious point that his contract was on the table, Wenger was stubbornly resilient that he would be managing a team next season, he continued to be publicly active in the transfer market, while dogmatically insisting that this Arsenal squad, under his leadership, could soon win the league.
Here’s the key; if Wenger had announced in April that he was staying (NB: Granted, we don’t know for sure if Wenger knew he would stay, but let’s face it, he didn’t want to leave, and a contract was on the table), there would have been WengerOut outrage. We’re talking parades, demonstrations, stadium boycotts, offensive signs, mediocre social media ‘LadBible’ material that somehow goes viral, and a wholly polarised fan base… and the rest.
By delaying his decision until after the season, he essentially pacified the WengerOut-er, who in their un-blissful ignorance of internal club affairs, hoped he would remove himself if fan pressure mounted. While there were still some demonstrations in this interim, these actions were somewhat muted as the rationale of supporting the team and hoping Wenger would go at the end of the season took hold.
As of today, now that the news is out there, now that the WengerOut-er can lose their mind over the seemingly senselessness of the decision, the season is gone and done. There is no stadium game to boycott, no public spotlight to exploit for a social media campaign that can topple him. There’s a finality and closure with the end of the season, and even a glimmer of hope that next year genuinely might be Arsenal’s (it probably won’t be).
The overriding point being that while the uncertainty of Wenger’s future did potentially exacerbate Arsenal’s decline in the New Year, the strategy to announce the decision at the end of the season- and (crucially) to maintain that a decision wouldn’t be made until this time- has carefully, intelligently, and tactfully allowed Wenger to minimise fan outrage while extending his region for another two years. True, you could dismiss this as entirely logical (and exactly the sort of thing that a PR department is employed to do), but managing fan expectations under heavy pressure at a crucial time at the season is no easy task.
Wenger honours his contracts and Arsenal won’t sack him, so the stasis of Kroenke-Wenger will continue on into the future. Whether that will be for two years remains to be seen; given the Frenchman’s enviable resolve, he may just have his eye on surpassing Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 year tenure at Manchester United.