the narrative the club sold to Gunners fans was one of young talent and hope: Things might look dark now, but wait till the youthful core of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner matures, and you'll see a force that could dominate English football for 10 years. The moment when that blossoming was destined to take place always seemed to be "next season," but it was something to live on, at least. The only problem was that most of the child stars got tired of waiting for themselves to mature and jumped ship for clubs where they could win trophies immediately:2 Fabregas to Barcelona, Nasri to Manchester City, van Persie to Manchester United, Adebayor to various clubs, and Bendtner to Bendtner Comes Alive! FC, a club of 11 Bendtners that plays its league games inside Bendtner's imagination.
But it suggests that Wenger is intelligent enough and flexible enough to think like an executive as well as like a visionary coach — that for him, the two roles may even be synonymous. And that, ultimately, is why it's impossible to say whether Arsenal should fire him or not. Because we, as outside observers, however knowledgeable (and fun, and good-looking) we are, have no idea what the Arsenal board has demanded of Wenger. If they've made vast sums available for his transfer spending and pleaded with him to build the strongest team in England, then yes, his determination to buy bargain players and stick to his own vision has hurt the club. But what if they've ordered him to keep costs down, control wages, and just do the best he can while they get the club's long-term revenue and ownership structures worked out? Obviously, some managers would fail swiftly and hilariously in that scenario (I'm not convinced that Harry Redknapp knows how to subtract). But Wenger? He could just about keep it together under those circumstances, right? And wouldn't his corporate-administrative, "this club is in fantastic shape" side even approve of the project? The only criterion by which we can judge a coach is what he accomplishes with the resources he has. And with Wenger, the background is so complicated that we simply don't know exactly what he's had. He's soccer's quantum uncertainty. He's a terrible coach whose decisions have ruined Arsenal, and he's a brilliant coach whose balancing act has saved Arsenal's future. We have no way of measuring which of those things he really is, so to us, he's both at the same time. The slogan Arsenal fans have always used to express their faith in Wenger is "Arsene Knows." Maybe Arsene does know, and that's why he's gazing into space with that black-hole stare every weekend. For the fans' sake, I hope someone knows something — and at the moment that's all I know about Arsenal.