Whenever there is a whiff of discontent around Arsenal, you can be sure that Alisher Usmanov will be on hand to offer his two pennies worth.
The Uzbek billionaire is the club’s second largest shareholder (with about 30 per cent of shares) and, unlike majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, he is never short of an opinion, or scared to speak his mind.
In his latest outburst, Usmanov told news outlet Rossiya24 that Arsenal need Arsene Wenger and that it is the Frenchman who should decide when to call time on his tenure at the Emirates.
He said: “Arsenal’s results are stable. They are always among the leaders of the English Premier League. This is a good and large sports business project, and I am pleased with it.
“The only thing is that today such situation occurred, like in any sport, there are ups and downs. The club must retain its major symbol and main asset – manager Arsene Wenger.
“Failures have been haunting Arsenal for many years now, they cannot become the EPL champions. This has led to some discontent with Wenger’s position as a manager.
“I believe that Arsene Wenger is a great coach, and Arsenal have to give him the opportunity to plan the succession process and leave his legacy when he deems it necessary.
“It is very important for the football club to maintain the principles that were established by those people who created its victories. Arsenal need Arsene Wenger.”
In all honesty, I’m surprised. Usmanov is a shrewd operator, of that there is no doubt, and I thought he might use the current unrest among the fans to nail his colours to a new mast.
His interviews always seem to surface at the most opportune of moments, from his point of view at least, and tend to portray an image of the Uzbek as a man of the people, someone with his finger on the pulse, a realist – the very antithesis of Kroenke.
So it is with that in mind that I find myself a little surprised. This seems to be Alisher the businessman speaking, with his projects, his assets and his investments. It’s all very steady as she goes. Not quite the diatribe I had expected.
One thing worth noting is the way he stresses that the club must allow Arsene to plan his own succession. In some ways, I would agree. There is bound to be an ‘epoch-ending’ feel around the club when he finally leaves, much as there was at Manchester United, so it is important that the next manager can hit the ground running as fast as possible.
But, should we finish this season without a trophy, having succumbed to the same old failures and frailties, would we really want Arsene to pick a manager in his own image, a man who is unlikely to iron out the very obvious and recurring problem with mental fortitude?
Ultimately, time will tell. But it seems to me that, with Usmanov confirmed as a ‘Team Wenger’ fan, there will be no pressure on him to leave in the summer, from among those in the boardroom, at least.
He only went and did it, didn’t he! Olivier Giroud scored a much-needed goal in France’s 3-2 win over the Netherlands on Friday night.
In the run up to the match, I talked about how the 29-year-old was short of goals, and short of confidence, and how the distraction of an international friendly might just give him the chance to find the net again, after scoring just two goals in 10 appearances for Arsenal.
And so it proved. He struck in the 13th minute to add a second to Antoine Griezmann’s early opener, pouncing on a ball headed back into the box to volley low into the corner. A neat piece of work.
Koscielny was also involved in the match, playing the full 90 minutes for the French. Not ideal.
The duo may well be back in action again on Tuesday when Russia visit Paris. Here’s hoping Giroud can add another goal to his tally, and keep himself at the forefront of Arsene Wenger’s thinking heading into the final run of matches.
Elsewhere, Joel Campbell, Mohammed Elneny, and Alex Iwobi were all in international action. They all appear to have made it through unscathed, which is the only plus to come out of pointless friendlies such as these.
Tonight, England travel to Germany and we may well see a number of the Arsenal contingent involved. Fingers crossed they all come through unscathed.
Come on Theo, give us a hat-trick!