COMMENT: Could this be it? Could this be the summer when we finally learn who really has been holding back Arsenal?
For most, it's been lost amid the top four scramble. But for the past two weeks, there's been a real game of brinkmanship between Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis - and it's all being played out in public.
Gazidis, the club's CEO, kicked it off a fortnight ago with his Q&A for a select few before the win over West Ham. Nothing official was reported, but some quotes did make their way to the public arena including his "catalyst for change" claim. You didn't have to read between the lines for that one. Gazidis, ducking, weaving and justifying another season of underachievement was laying the blame squarely at the feet of the manager. The Frenchman's reputation for being stubborn. Obstinate. It was just too easy for Gazidis to exploit - and deflect.
The chief exec's comments were put to Wenger last week - and he claimed surprise. Not only by Gazidis' "catalyst" suggestion, but even at the claim that a meeting with the board had taken place!
But the manager didn't end it there. Later in the week, as he was - again - pushed for news about Alexis Sanchez's contract, Wenger threw it all back at Gazidis and the board. Alexis wants to stay, he insisted, but it's going to get down to what the board are willing to part with to keep him... "I believe that he basically wants to stay at the club," Wenger said.
"Most of the time it's down to finding an agreement and the finances are involved in it, yes."
Voila! Over to you Ivan. But wait, there's more...
Because in this power struggle, Wenger unexpectedly received some help from not only Alexis, himself, but also another one of the club's contract rebels, Mesut Ozil.
"I think the club knows we need to strengthen," said the German. "When you look at our squad, it's not as broad as Bayern's or Real Madrid's. In the Champions League, that's not enough, especially against big teams because they have more breadth in their squad."
Ozil's comments came a day after Alexis hinted challenging for the top four every season simply wasn't enough for him.
"Looking at everything I've done in my career as a footballer, at all the titles, I believe that what's hugely important is motivation," said the ex-Barcelona man. "If a footballer is well motivated and has various things to motivate him every day, he will keep achieving his goals."
And this is where the rubber meets the road. For so long (his supporters would say 'too long') Wenger has been blamed for Arsenal's failure to shop at the top end of the market. 'The money's always been there', claimed boardroom sources, 'he just refuses to spend it'. Every couple of months, usually coinciding with a dip in form, these strategic high level quotes would appear - and still do.
But this season, with it all coming to a head, Wenger appears to have had enough. With his top four record in serious jeopardy. And the prospect of losing his two biggest names now a genuine reality. The manager is biting back.
You can see the "catalyst" comment clearly rankled him. And even beyond the past week, it seems Wenger is using his pressers to speak directly to the board.
"I am as hungry as when I first came," he said a fortnight ago, before adding, tellingly: “When you see what the club was and what it is today – well, one share [in Arsenal] was £400 and it is £18,000 today."
Now who could that be directed to...?
It's too simple to suggest Wenger is using these media conferences as a job application. He's bigger than that. His achievements warrant more than that. This is about leadership. About direction. And who really is responsible for the years of Arsenal's underachievement.
Gooners have been told - continually - that the money is there. That Arsenal can compete with any club in the world for the right type of the player. For those in Wenger's corner, they'll say he's achieved the nigh impossible, maintaining the club as a Champions League contender as funds were diverted into their new stadium move.
But now, finally, there's going to be some clarity. Alexis wants to stay. As does Ozil. But as Wenger warns, the board are going to have to cough up. Is the money there? And inside the boardroom, does the willingness to spend exist?
If it does. And both players are re-signed. Then the onus shifts back to Wenger. The budget will be available. It'll be up to him to spend.
Either way, there'll be nowhere to hide - whether you're in the dugout or behind the glass. And finally Arsenal fans will have clarity.