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So where do we go from here?
There have been endless words written on the current state of Arsenal Football Club in light of it’s loss to Swansea on Saturday. The calls for the manger to step down, retire or be fired reached fever pitch. The board has been castigated and vilified ad infinitum. The players for their part have to some extent remained unscathed because many feel they just aren’t good enough.
The one curious thing is that very few people are lumping them all together. They focus on one area rather than looking at the problems in their entirety. The problem with that mindset and calling for the ‘fix’ of whichever problem you’ve latched on is quite simply, fixing one, won’t fix Arsenal at all. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the players, you fix the other two in an isolated manner then the trouble will likely continue.
Last year we discussed in January Arsenal being a club at a cross roads. We talked about how the supporters were getting noisier, the direction of the club becoming more convoluted and a manager seemingly unable to get results from his team.
Then the run from February to the end of the year came and many were thinking that things seemingly righted themselves. However, as this season showed that the “success” of last season merely painted over the cracks.
Therein lies the fundamental problem. Year over year since 2005 we’ve papered over the cracks. And each year the corresponding spackling has not been able to hold. The run into to end last season merely masked the issues at all levels of the club.
It’s time to take a look at what we can possibly do to move on.
I am an equal opportunity offender and I believe that when looking at the problems that ail the club, you have to look all over and what better place to start then the top. Looking into the dusty, oak (or cherry) appointed board room and you will see a prehistoric relic of Arsenal of yesteryear.
High up in their gilded tower led by a Chairman (in title only), the board hardly look like the model of an organization designed to take this club forward. If you thought the prudence (I’m being polite here) of their financial approach is something born from the move to the Emirates, you only need read the first chapter and a half of Alex Flynn’s great book Arsenal: the Making of Modern Superclub, to know that this approach is not new. The club has always operated in a (let’s be less diplomatic) – cheap manner.
However, they were blessed with someone on the board who, while he made some questionable judgment calls – playing at Wembley, brought in Kroenke AND Usmanov, the Bond scheme, presided over the knocking down of the North Bank – still had the foresight and vision to drive the club into the future. David Dein is 70 or so now. A lot of fans are yearning for him to come back because he was the perfect foil to Arsene Wenger and allowed Arsene to focus in on just the on the field product. They are still friends and still discuss football. He reportedly still has the hunger and knows his football.
All very true. But is going back wise enough to go forward? The game and its management is no longer in my opinion for the stoic and those beyond a certain years. They are too easily locked into a mindset of “my way is the right way.” And while some may still contain some verve and vigor for the modern game its time that a new generation of younger, hungrier executives be given their shot.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Who are those executives? Ivan Gazidis? No disrespect to Ivan but he hardly seems anything but someone able to toe the line. He doesn’t strike me as one who will challenge the status quo and frankly discuss matters with the Arsene. No, he has always struck me as a company (read patsy of the board). The times require new energy but again the quandary is where do you find it? Especially those with love and ties to Arsenal? Because while the game is moving beyond the old boy’s club, its history and tradition should not be sacrificed for any cause.
In addition to the executive additions, the board and management need to stop placing profit above all else. The club’s self sustaining model is admirable. Noone I know of finds any fault with the club’s desire to be self-sustaining. What is problematic, is that the board hang their laurels on it and only it as some achievement that supersedes all others. And while there may be a point, supporters don’t want to hear about it in PLACE of winning.
They don’t want to hear about it when the policies that make us self-sustainable have only hurt our on the pitch performances. They sell their assets (players) like any company looking to promote financial health to their investors. They laud the success of the finances but ask the employee who was laid off because his company needed to show a profit how he feels about his company’s success? It’s probably the same as an Arsenal supporter who sees the clubs best players sold off to seemingly “make a buck.”
This has to change. Financial prudence and self-sustainability is good. We welcome it. But it cannot be the be all and end all of the football club. The desire to be financially sound has to be with one goal in mind to ensure the club competes for a TITLE not 4th place. We’re not going to rehash the perceived lack of ambition. But you get the point.
Until the club management gets hungrier and readjusts its priorities any adjustment below this level is only a further band-aid. Nothing changes at Arsenal unless the board changes.
Arsene Wenger is the most public personification of Arsenal. He is responsible for what we see day in and day out. He manages, trains, and selects the squad. He oversees the scouts and directs and signs off on new additions.
Additionally, he is not unquestionable and blameless for the problems at Arsenal.
He is stubborn. On the surface he seems unwilling to change his ways in spite of all the problems. He blindly believes in players that continue to show poor performances on a regular basis. And he either willingly or via coercion continues to support the board’s stance on operations.
I’ve been amazed at how people still defend Wenger to a hilt. The blind eye that people are willing to give him is still amazing in spite of the increasing case against him. To say that he should escape the public examination of the club currently underway is to live like a child with fingers in their ears screaming “nah nah nah nah I can’t hear you.”
But the fact remains that it increasingly looks like Arsene cannot muster his team. He cannot come up with a plan to get his team motivated week in and week out. While the players bear some responsibility it is the manager who has put them in the right place to get motivated for each game.
If you look at this season alone, since the Chelsea match when things turned sour, he hasn’t been able to or wanted to make changes to address how teams play us now.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have tactically been found out. In the past one or two teams would dare to try and play Arsenal by applying such tight pressure. Now, everyone does it. And now Arsenal seem unable to handle it. And Arsene seems unwilling to address it as the squad just goes through the movements and with each passing game the result gets worse and worse.
Additionally, Wenger has failed to address the most pressing need this squad has and it’s depth. On the surface the first XI and some of the reserves are apt and able to win things. The problem is that because of a lack of depth within the squad when players get overused and break down there is no suitable replacement to give them a spell. Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla and others all are struggling to maintain their legs due to continued playing time. They look it. Maybe, just maybe they’d have the gas to out run or maneuver an opponent if they had the legs for it but right now they all look lethargic and slow and it falls to the manager to address it.
The selling of Song, also looks criminal to the extent that it was predicated on the health of Abu Diaby. Oh joy. Arteta has shifted into a DM role and it’s not his role. It’s not really Diaby’s but if he were able to stay healthy, he’d fill the role better. But Diaby’s health is always a question mark so not having an outright DM in the squad who could replace him is a glaring mistake for Arsene to take into this season.
The talk of replacing him has picked up. As Tim over at Arse2Mouse opined after Saturday, the match had an almost surreal tenor to it as it took on the feel of an the beginning of an overture to the end of Wenger’s tenure. You can read Tim’s perfectly written piece here: (http://www.arse2mouse.com/post/36976072277)
The problem with replacing Wenger is, if you don’t make changes at the board level, the operating conditions don’t change. And no matter who comes in, placed with the shackles and lack of vision of the Etonian Woman Hater’s Club,, the likelihood of success is still narrow. You simply can’t change one without changing the other.
However, Wenger shouldn’t be spared criticism. But he shouldn’t be singled out as the overriding problem at this club – he is just another of the symptoms of a larger disease.
As I mentioned the players seem to the ones most often spared the blame for what is going on at Arsenal. But is that fair?
They cannot be blamed for operating conditions. They cannot be blamed for the lack of managerial preparation of the team. However, what they can be blamed for is their seemingly lack of accountability and heart for the 90 mins they are the pitch.
Take the 2nd half of the Swansea game at 0-0 only one Arsenal player seemed to me to understand that the club needed a spark – Jack Wilshere’s game in the second half was an attempt to put the team on his shoulders and well – they didn’t come along for the ride.
When teams are up against it, it usually takes a display of heart to move them along. Unfortunately only one person attempted to show any heart. The rest seemingly looked lost and disinterested perplexed that their opponent would dare challenge them on the pitch.
The problem is that to gain that kind of fear, you have to play in a way even when you are tired, that demands an respect you. The last time Arsenal did that – against Man City at the Etihad. The played City with all the heart a match of that level requires and were unlucky for it. That heart is missing and has been missing since then.
Additionally, the lack of leadership we have discussed previously is still glaringly obvious. The players who are leaders aren’t stepping up. Now, that may change. Word is that Steve Bould spent 42 minutes calling out the entire team and basically saying they’ve let the club down.
Hopefully the Bould effect we were talking about at the beginning of the season has a new affect – getting the players to stand up.
So Where Does that Take Us?
None of the fixes are easy. The problems are systemic. Its like a cancer that has metastized. You may be able nick the visible part of it but the other underlying issues remain and will only return and likely be worse.
On the surface, only player attitude has the ability to make immediate and identifiable adjustment. But the other issues as we’ve said are still prevalent.
I admittedly (and here is where I will get crucified) believe Arsene is entitled to try and fix this season. Replacing him now does nothing but likely hoist further chaos on a club already mired in it. I do believe it’s right to question him. He is shouldn’t be unscathed.
But for me the most immediate place I want to see change is, the board. If the direction the board takes were adjusted and they approached the game as it currently stands in the modern era, then maybe the ills and cracks would be permanently fixed. Until that happens nothing will change. As sad as it to say.