Even if the old magic has faded, Arsene Wenger still manages to keep Arsenal's players in his thrall
Mesut Ozil's comments about a wish that Wenger stays shows the respect his squad still have for him15:21 Thursday 19 January 2017, 15:21 19 Jan 2017
Once again as another Arsene Wenger contract ticks towards its expiration date, there are murmurings about how long the three time Premier League winning Arsenal manager will keep up his career in elite management.
But as advanced playmaker Mesut Ozil suggested, Wenger's future at Arsenal is intrinsically tied to whether the German World Cup winner signs a new deal.
"The club knows that I am here most of all because of Arsène Wenger. He is the one who signed me and he is the one whose trust I have," Ozil told Kicker magazine recently.
It comes back to that wider point about the cult of the manager which still survives at the likes of Arsenal where Wenger is Mr Arsenal and in some ways all things to all men: Coach, squad builder... and lightning rod for criticism.
Over the years as Arsenal's familiar failings rear their heads at inopportune moments to derail trophy tilts and spark mounting criticism from the "Wenger Out" sections of the fanbase, the manager is still held in high esteem by one of the key constituencies: the squad of players.
Olivier Giroud who has found goalscoring form again after being left on the bench for the start of the season - albeit his return was delayed by deep involvement at Euro 2016 - still maintains unwavering support for Wenger.
And publicly at least, the Arsenal striker feels it is a sentiment shared by the squad at large.
"We hope that the boss will sign a new contract. Because we all want to keep going with this squad," he said, echoing Ozil.
That is remarkable given the shelf life for managers, even for someone with the longevity and expertise that Wenger has.
As his rival Jose Mourinho found out to his cost at Chelsea last season, discontent can erupt very quickly and force out even those managers with the greatest aura around them.
Over a span of a decade without significant trophies since the glorious early days, there has never been a sense that mutiny was ever brewing among the players (or hierarchy for that matter with their own unwavering backing) - even if it has among sections of the support.
Even among those players who have forced their way from Highbury or the Emirates towards pastures new, it is difficult to find someone who has truly fallen out with Wenger or lacks basic respect for him.
Take David Bentley for example. The ex-Arsenal and Tottenham midielder was not a regular during his time under Wenger's tutelage but speaking to us in 2016, the respect he had for the Frenchman was clear.
"He's probably the best manager I've had. I mean, technically he's got everything and he's got the passion and he's obsessed with the game," Bentley told me, hinting that the passion Wenger has for the game is infectious.
"Every minute of the day he's thinking about the game. He knows everything about it."
Bentley did also note that those moments when Arsenal appear to suffer downturns on field that derail their chances could be down to the overall organism of the club missing a "human element" to carry them through on the rare occasions when the over-arching technical side cannot be harnessed.
Of course, the players at the club at large have been hand-picked by the manager and integrated into the squad by him, as Ozil himself said when he explained that his trust of Wenger emanates from being signed by the manager.
And interestingly too, he does not rule by fear within the dressing room, with hairdryer style treatment mercifully rare or used sparingly.
As ex-defender William Gallas attests on the single occasion that he can remember, "It was in 2009, when we played against Liverpool. He was shouting at us and we were 1-0 down. After his speech we went back to the ground and we won. Everybody at the time was shocked, but it worked!"
However, for Arsenal legend Ian Wright, Wenger's lack of aggression means "Players that are strong characters have taken his kindness for weakness", in the sense of treating the manager like a "soft parent" even if they retain a fondness for him.
To his - and by wider extension, the club's - credit (or detriment depending on your point of view), any players that have become unsettled by lucrative offers from elsewhere have been allowed to leave rather than festering in the Arsenal squad. And in many cases, their careers either stagnate upon departure or fizzle out quite quickly - bar the occasional exception.
But it is when Wenger leaves that things at Arsenal will be interesting. He has built that current squad and how many would be quite so tied to the club once he departs?
Ozil and Giroud's words may give a clue.
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