Well, this is it. 90 minutes of match time and while there...
Arsenal’s trifecta of despair
Last season I wrote, in January to be exact, that this was a team, a manager (and board), and a fan base at a crossroads Fast forward to a year later and well, here we are again. Yes, my friends it’s our own Arsenal Groundhog’s day.
At that point last January we had just come off another loss to Manchester United (same geographic area, different color) and then, just like today, the questions are very much similar, except now they are more intensified. I was gutted by our poor January now and I am gutted now. As I wrote last year:
I’m gutted. I don’t think there is any other way I can explain how I feel after today. Actually it’s not just today it’s this whole season and in particular the last 3 weeks. Given how the season started out and the solid and focused work this entire team put in to get back to competing for the top 4 again, to have it all pissed away in these last 3 games absolutely is the worst feeling any supporter can have.
At this point last season we were talking about the rising disquiet among supporters but bravely saying we’ll be back because we are supporters and we come back because that’s what we do – we support our team. We get angry with them. We piss and moan about them but they are our team. And we get awfully defensive when idiot pundits, plastic supporters or non-supporters rip into us because they are our team.
I am of the mind now that many may not come back – not in the foreseeable future. Things have gotten worse than they were last year and even given the poor performances all around the league, Arsenal’s are especially poor for a team with its supposed stature.. The club collectively, the fans, the team, and the manager (as well as the board) are once again at a critical juncture of this season and the near future.
The need for action is glaringly obvious. And the cry for action is deafening. It is this loud, this angry and this frustrated because it’s pent up frustration of the last few years of behavior (by the club). Behavior that can be best put as ignorant of the issues facing the club. Moments of hope are fleeting as consistently poor performances and poor decisions outweigh any good achieved.
Here we are once again in a January fixed in another rut. Last season we were told it would be silly to drop points without a left back – because we had all of them injured. We were also told we were short up front and would need help. As we know, all that happened was Thierry Henry was brought back – nothing else. And while Titi’s return made us all feel good and things turned for the good in February, all that was achieved last season, merely painted over the cracks.
And now, pnce again we’re being told that if players of “exceptional quality” can be found we’ll dip into the market. It’s hard to believe right now that there aren’t any players better out there that are better than the bulk of the XI we have on the pitch or 6 on the bench.
Supporters will criticize. If you pay for a ticket, support the club through their many other revenue streams and do the many things you can do to support the club, you deserve to have a voice. And the criticisms are loud and clear. How much louder those criticisms WILL get is anyone’s guess? The displeasure being voiced by a wide swath of Arsenal supporters should be loud and clear to anyone involved in the on field product.
The manager and the board should make no mistake, the criticism is wholly directed at them both EQUALLY. Whether its sky rocketing ticket prices for a sub-standard product or poor decisions with regard to team make up, tactics and overall structure, neither the manager or the people who run the show should feel they escape criticism. (Brief diversion – criticism yes, abuse no. I’ve seen people call for Wenger to be killed, shot, hung, castrated and even Arsenal supporters calling him “that French Paedo C**t” – criticize but don’t abuse – ever.)
Rome if you will is burning. Should Arsenal fall out of the FA Cup in the replay against Swansea and/or lose at Stamford Bridge (a distinct possibility) the response to those events will be downright volatile. Last year, Gooners wanted to give Wenger the chance to see this out – to right the ship and steer the team into a solid finish. But where there was once a prevailing sense of goodwill, patience has run out. The frustration of the season is out there in full bore and for everyone to see. It won’t take much more to see a full blown eruption of hatred directed at the club leadership if things continue on on as they are.
Let’s be real for a moment – it is the worse it has been.
We have a trifecta of despair winding through Arsenal at the moment. We have the lack of vision and leadership by the board, a manager too stubborn and set in his ways to critically assess the misfortunes of his team, and players who in the new modern era of football lack the accountability to step up and take action when called for.
We’ve talked about the board ad nauseum. The fact that the poor performance yesterday was on the back of the whole £62 pound brouhaha only made their role in our misfortunes more evident. And while the argument of ticket prices can’t only be placed at Arsenal’s doorstep it is strongly relevant, when it is paying for the inconsistent dross that tries to live up the red and white heritage.
We have dueling billionaires on the club and no one seems capable or willing to do the right things necessary to try and return this club to greatness. We’ve applauded the financial sense in a time of monetary madness but financial sense shouldn’t be a singular train of thought in sport, where the end-result isn’t the bottom line of a ledger but how much you win.
The board need a leader. Someone to smack their heads together and either ship the pocket liners out or bang some common sense into their heads about what running a SPORTS ORGANIZATION is all about. It’s not BT or AT&T or a major banking firm where the bottom line is the only thing. But our club has lost its sense of itself and those that had that sense have either been pushed aside or sadly have passed away.
The gamble that was the move to the Emirates was a noble one and as much as I adored Highbury, its history, its tradition, and the stories that could be told, the the reason behind our move was sound. However, it hasn’t been as we were told and now without a doubt we are for the most part a shell of what we were and what we had hoped to be.
Leadership and vision if it were there would clearly tell us that the move was necessary for us to compete in the new environment looming even back then. It was clear we had people on the board then who saw what was coming. If the current crop of board members and owners had leadership and vision they would’ve told us the truth – “we will try and be competitive but this move will cause us temporary hurt for long-term gain.” I couldn’t have argued with that. Nor do I think many others would’ve.
Leadership would hold a manager’s toes to the fire for a consistent and growing lack of underachievement. Wenger is clearly a man who answers to no one and that is a failure by a board who is supposed to be running the show. Total power corrupts totally. Wenger is not a meglomanic but he clearly runs unchecked and that cannot be allowed to happen no matter how great the manager is.
Not a week now goes by that there isn’t a blog, a TV piece or newspaper article on the issues related to Arsene Wenger. We focused in on him last week. We don’t need to go back over all that again but what we want to pose to the readers is this –
QUESTION: Remove all the transfer nonsense, how much money he has to spend, ticket prices, Arse-speak, remove all that silliness and just focus in on the job he has done this season, is he doing his job successfully as a manager? I.E. – Is he getting the best out of the resources he has?
Now staunch defenders of Wenger will nuance their answer by saying you can’t do it without looking at the total picture of all 16 years at Arsenal. There is some truth to that but we have to look at the now. And the now is not good. It is not good in any way, stretch or form. And he has to be held accountable for that.
I still (and I know people disagree) contend that there are some very talented players on this team and he has either flogged them by being overly reliant on them thus hampering their ability to play at optimal levels or he simply is unable to unlock their true potential.
The most worrying part about Wenger, it is growing increasingly clear, except him and maybe the board, that the game has passed him by. Wenger was good for an era where players were accountable to each other and the team. The players he was blessed with up until 2008 (for the most part) took care to ensure they were all focused in one goal, winning at Arsenal. This allowed Wenger to focus on his strengths getting the best out of these players by being their father figure and helping them achieve when maybe others didn’t see the achievement in them.
Fast forward to today and professional footballers are devoid of any semblance of accountability to each other or to the team they play for. They are more worried about their Bentley, their WAG, their next big pay day whether it’s at the current club or the one with the big wallet. Wenger not being an authoritarian kind of figure is not one who is going to force that accountability on them because its not his style. Fergie is a master of change as times change but he has been and always will be the demonstrative head of his teams and he forces accountability on everyone. It is why I think that even when United are blessed with their poorest teams they achieve – because he drives them to it.
We all have our styles and one is not better than another. But Wenger’s clearly doesn’t seem to suit this era of football. Players love him of that there is no doubt. And that could be the problem. He is everyone’s mate/father-figure. And while that’s good to a point, it doesn’t help when you need to absolutely beat the living crap out of players for crap performances (hopefully you all know I am not talking about actually beating them).
Sadly, there is nothing to be done right now. A caretaker would do nothing to improve the club in my opinion there are too many faults. And it’s still possible Wenger could will the team on to at least get 4th. But if that happens and it’s a big if right now, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore what has happened for a better part of this season.
This group is often left untouched when it comes to criticism. But like the manager and the board they too bear responsibility for their actions.
For the better part of season now they simply have shown a lack of heart or desire. There are parts of each match that are beyond their control. The one thing that is in their control is their approach to the match itself.
Against, Bradford, the 2nd Southampton match, Schalke and both Swansea matches we seemed disinterested like we would rather take a stroll through the park than play a match. Last season we could fall back on a plethora of injuries as to why we were struggling. For the most part this season, we have been relatively healthy, except for players whom we really don’t depend on.
In my opinion only one player really escapes any criticism, jack Wilshere. On Sunday he tried as well he could to muster himself and the team. But its hard in this era of the self-centered player. They don’t follow except their own drum. Jack has been likened to a throwback and he is. He is of the mold of Adams, Keown Dixon and the others we often praise and hold up as examples of “the proto-typical Arsenal player.” Jack is the only one who senses the mantle that has been thrust upon him and has taken it. Sadly no one else seems to have done that.
The modern footballer can only be bothered in my opinion if it matters to them indivividually. At Arsenal they aren’t really challenged. They are paid well, so where is the incentive for them to actually be accountable. But still, at the base of every professional sports player should be will to succeed. Why that hasn’t kicked in is an enigma to me. Sure the manager has something to do with it but so do the players.
You simply cannot step on to a pitch and assume that you will win. You also cannot come out and wait until the 70th minute before you show any signs of hunger. A game is 90 minutes and while it does require one to pace themselves, the desire and hunger to achieve something should be consistent from the tweet of the first whistle.
Players cannot expect things from the club and not perform in return. Theo Walcott, who I want to stay at the club still has a lot to learn about being a pro and part of that is not disappearing when the chips are down as he did yesterday. He is likely to become the best paid player at the club soon. He has to now perform like it on a consistent basis.
The players need to step up and make a good accounting of themselves. Last season after the January loss to United, Robin van Persie and Szczesny reportedly read the team the riot act. Slowly, the team started to turn it around and it culminated in overcoming a 13 point deficit to overcome Spurs and qualify for the Champion’s League. This is what needs to happen NOW and the players need respond to it.
Alot of change rests within the power of the manager for sure, but the board needs to help him and the players need to step up or shut up. Some of the change needed cannot happen until the summer but some of it can happen now. We know the minimum expectations for the club – Champion’s League football. That minimum seems very much at risk right now. And look at the implications if the team should miss out on that tournament next season.
- Difficulty in attracting talent without the access to football’s biggest stage. You only need look at Liverpool for the effects of that. Sure they got Suarez but part of that was because he had a reputation for a bad attitude, but Pool also have gone into the English market and signed mediocre talent because they are not attractive to other major European players. This could be case for Arsenal should the miss out on the UCL, and
- Difficulty in developing new commercial deals. Again you only need at what Adidas had to say when they decided against re-upping with Liverpool. They said they would not sign on the deal Liverpool wanted because the style of football they played was not consistent with the big money deal they wanted. Sure, Liverpool got big money from Boston-based Warrior sports but let’s be honest it is a company that has links to the Liverpool ownership.
These things and many more stand to be lost if the club doesn’t do something. The squad needs an attitude adjustment and further jettisoning of the players who remain and constantly underperform. Additionally, players who can’t be sold and are talented but aren’t performing need to be held accountable by finding their playing time reduced.
I don’t want Wenger to go out like this. I want Wenger to wake up. I want Wenger to realize he is not bigger than Arsenal. Unfortunately I believe he thinks he is. I believe that he thinks he made this club what it is right now and we should all respect him and shut up about it. Unfortunately we have shut up for 8 years. We are all hoping and praying Wenger, the board and the players see the light but the product on the field is showing us that is unlikely any time soon.
This is an important time for Arsenal. We (all of us with a vested stake n the club) need to remember what it was like back in the halcyon days of that weren’t that long ago. We need to get back to when we delighted in making Fergie squirm, Spurs fans irate and the rest of EPL quake at the thought of playing Arsenal. Alas, right now Fergie shrugs us off, Spurs fans laugh at us and the rest of the EPL feels pretty good at going at us – the perfect Trifecta of Despair.
A Quick Word About Mike Dean
I am no conspiracy theorist but when you look at the fact that in 17 Arsenal matches Mike Dean has officiated in, the Gunners have only won once. You really have to wonder what the man is doing.
Frankly, I am torn on the Koscielny red. While it’s not clear that Dzeko had a “clear cut scoring opportunity” Dean seems to think he had. When you look at the kind foul, it’s something we see week in and week out and I can’t remember ever seeing it called a red. A foul? Yes. A penalty? Yes. A yellow? Yes. A red? Not that I can remember. My overall criticism is that Dean within 9 minutes inserted himself into the outcome of the match by pulling the red.
I’ve got no problems issuing the PK or even a yellow at 9 minutes in. But to brandish a red this early on influenced the match to the point that any valid analysis of the match can’t happen.
But it wasn’t just that red. It was a lot of decisions Dean made that seemed circumspect. The foul leading to the free kick for the first goal was suspect and certainly the red on Vincent Kompany looked especially harsh. On replay it looked to be a good solid tackle. Dean may have made the choice there to even things up but that’s not his role. His role is to let the match play out and control overly aggressive play (via yellows or reds if its overly aggressive.)
It was clear throughout the match to me at least that Dean loves the attention of being the ref. He gesticulates and mouthes off back to the players when they mouth off to him. And in the end when a ref starts wearing bright yellow boots you have to ask yourself what the . . .
Until next time . . . Stay Goonerish!