Blog Chairman, Consolsbob, has dragged himself away from the grandchildren and the taverna to write today’s programme notes
I did hope that I wouldn’t need to write this post. I shouldn’t need to. Nothing I will say isn’t self-evident, nor will anybody read it and feel better informed. Since the end of the transfer window in January, it’s been obvious that it would be this summer that would tell us a lot more about the ambition and direction of the club.
Several months ago, a few of us started to write of the feeling of an end of regime at Arsenal. Arsène Wenger seemed out of ideas, energy or just out of sympathy with the notion of building a side able to challenge at the very top. Then, a few things changed. A good end of season run saw us scramble over the line, into fourth, by the skin of our teeth. The determination of the players and the abandonment of ‘tippy tappy’ delivered the oft stated bare minimum achievement for the club.
Then we were told of the new financial clout of the club and our ability to sign the very best. A ruthless streamlining of the squad followed. Places were made available and the wage bill cut. Action, it seemed, to build a better, stronger squad was imminent. All the noise coming out of the club raised hope and expectation. We were going to challenge again. Arsène was going to deliver a sunset victory for his empire.
There were doubts and doubters. We had heard similar statements from the club several times before. Arsène also contributed the odd statement about his belief in the squad as it stood. Had we been here and heard it all before? As my Manchester Utd supporting stepson put it, “Are you going to sign anybody? If you are actually trying to get a few top players you must hope that Arsène is kept well away from the process”. He was right, I was. That didn’t seem very likely though.
However, links were made with a number of very good players. Bids apparently made. Tentative agreements maybe reached in one or two cases. We were told that the club was ‘active’. Nothing more happened. Arsène’s reported statements became increasingly concerning, even, at times, risible. Linked players moved but not to Arsenal. A bizarre saga developed over Suarez. And the weeks and months passed by. As they did the sands ran out on any hope that there was a sensible transfer strategy being successfully delivered.
The first match of the season arrived and all the faults of the team last year were evident again. A demoralising defeat after a bright start with poor defending and few chances created. To complete the awful feeling of having been here before, there was another press conference that saw Arsène say all the things he usually says, a revival of the referee conspiracy theory and an injury crisis that saw a striker and a midfield player finish the game in defence and a threadbare squad remaining for the vital ECL qualification matches.
It is now clear that there are serious problems at the club. We all know the theories and we all know the excuses. They don’t matter. Incompetence or complacency govern at Arsenal. Either the club had a transfer strategy in place by the end of last season and spectacularly failed to deliver it or it didn’t have one because it really was felt that ‘we were good enough’. There are a couple of possible variations on these scenarios such as an unwillingness to pay what other clubs demanded, and got, from other clubs but basically someone or more than one someone is incompetent or the club is complacent. Neither can or should be acceptable to fans. Nor, I would argue, can the former be acceptable to the Board and owner.
We know that the club and the corporate entity that share the name ‘Arsenal’ are not by any means the same. Corporate plans may or may not include building a winning team. Fourth may well be good enough. We don’t know. Fans, apart from those who have become engaged in the Grail Quest of the Arsenal balance sheet, are interested in the success of the football club. We want to see the best team possible turn out in the Red and White. Almost no one would want to risk the sustainability of the club. Few see that as a concern for Arsenal now. There is no glory, no Charlie prostrate on the Wembley turf, no Tony smashing in a shot to seal the Title, in a healthy balance sheet.
Incompetence? That would be the Chief Executive, the Manager, the transfer negotiating team or a combination of them. Incompetence would constitute a failure to have an effective transfer strategy at all or a failure to implement it. Complacency would be the owner and/or Board believing we are good enough as we are or that the fans will continue to accept a team that is struggling for a top four place for season after season. Complacency could be the manager deliberately undermining the transfer strategy because of his personal beliefs or ego. The latter would also show incompetence on the part of the CEO for allowing that to happen. Another ‘c’ word comes to mind here, contempt, for the fans, that is. Another ‘c’? Careless. Careless of the chance to build on what is a decent squad, careless of the opportunity to inspire and unite the fan base
Do I know if the club is incompetent or complacent? No, but it is one or the other. The test will be the response at the club. Incompetence should lead to organisational and staff change. No sensible Board or CEO could allow incompetence to remain uncorrected. If its complacency then things will carry on as they are until events force a change. In business, as in sport, incompetence and complacency will both quickly earn their true return. Failure.
Will activity late in the window change that view? No, I do not believe that any movement now could be the end product of a proactive strategy. Nothing that even the club have said suggest that to be so. Momentum, goodwill and opportunity have been lost.
Time for change.