Although he carefully avoided saying it, what seemed clearest about Arsene Wenger’s pre-FA Cup press conference on Friday was his desire to stay on as Arsenal manager next season.
A proud man who has dedicated his life to winning trophies at the highest level, it is obvious that Arsene eats, sleeps, and breathes the game and, even at 67, believes he still has a future in management, whether that is at Arsenal “or somewhere else” as he put it.
I don’t think anyone listening to the press conference really believed the Frenchman would announce his decision to leave at the end of the season, but I’m not sure many expected that he would be so determined to fight on in the managerial hot seat.
Clearly, continuing his life’s work at Arsenal is his priority, he is determined to make it work.
And while the illusion remains that it is up to the board whether he stays or goes, I think most of us realise the real decision ultimately rests with Arsene.
It seems to be common knowledge that chairman Stan Kroenke and his board have put a two-year extension on the table for Arsene to sign but it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to be able to justify signing it, and I think he knows that.
As his team continues to tumble unceremoniously out of contention in the big competitions, the rancour and ill-feeling among fans grows, and it becomes harder to put pen to paper.
Speaking on Friday, Arsene was initially vague about his contractual situation: “At the moment we have other priorities. My [situation], as I have said many times, is not important, it’s Arsenal Football Club and the future of our team and what we can achieve until the end of the season that is important.
“I think we have to focus on real problems and the real problems are the way we play football and not my future. The priorities are how we respond to defeat and how we play together, that’s what it is to be professional.
“It’s always important not to look for wrong excuses in life and to focus on what is important, what you can influence, and your job.”
Pressed further, he said: “No matter what happens I will manage next season whether it is here or somewhere else, that’s absolutely for sure. Of course I hate defeat and I hate to lose games and I want to do extremely well for this club and I feel a big responsibility.
“It is difficult to take but as well I have the strength and experience to respond to that.”
While it’s great to see that the manager still has the hunger and desire to take the club forward, it’s hard to see how he can do that. He has shown year-after-year that, tactically, he is unwilling to divert too far from his philosophy for any great length of time.
And his players also seem to have lost faith. They were utterly flaccid in the recent defeats to Watford, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich, and, in all honesty, looked all at sea tactically, like an ageing boxer struggling to cope with the footwork and movement of a brighter, younger opponent.
When Antonio Conte saw that his Chelsea team was in trouble earlier in the season, he brought about a paradigm shift in the way the Blues set up. Despite a number of high-profile hammerings in recent years, Arsene has stuck largely to the same way of playing, which, as the game moves on, is becoming easier for teams to pick apart.
As a club, we risk real stagnation in the years ahead if change isn’t affected and, unless he can demonstrate he is the man to do that, Arsene should step aside and let the club move into a new era while he takes his rightful place in club legend.
Arsene added: “What is important is that the club makes the right decision for the future and I do not work here for 20 years not to care about this club because I had many opportunities to go during this period.
“I care about this club and I care about its future and I think it is very important the club is always in safe hands.”
Nobody could have expressed it more eloquently and, if the future of the club is really what Arsene believes is most important, he will realise that change is in its best interests.
Signing a new deal because he believes doing the same thing next season, perhaps with slightly different players, will produce a better result will only mean his achievements are diminished and Arsenal carry on failing when it really matters.