Are Arsenal’s Priorities Wrong?

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Writing this post as I catch up with some recorded programmes on the TV, Britpop at the BBC offers a stark comparison to the end of the season. The race for fourth compares with the week Blur and Oasis went head-to-head. Albarn called it correctly when he derided Roll With It as “Quoasis” although had anyone retorted with “Chas and Blur“, they would not have been far off the mark; House In The Country was just as awful. Still, it’s better than be compared to Menswe@r. The truth is that both Arsenal and Everton – like Blur and Oasis – in their current form are a pale shadow of the better times both have enjoyed this season but at the end of the day, all the corporates care about are points and chart positions. Qualifying for – not winning – the Champions League is all that counts, seemingly that is the limit of our ambitions.

And that’s realistic as well. Arsenal’s love affair with European football is illusory at best. Sporadic moments of glory, some great nights at home and abroad but rarely troubling the engravers when they apply the craft to ensuring that the season’s winners are properly recorded. 1970, 1980, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2006; I don’t think I’ve missed anything in that list of finals, have I? Of course only two were winning but compared to other clubs who are disparaged as being smaller than Arsenal, it isn’t impressive, is it? Which begs the question, do we place too much store in finishing in the top four? Why do we care so much about playing in a tournament that we aren’t going to win?

The top four, a mark of success in the Premier League. It’s relative of course, but the consistency of those finishes is something that Arsène has drawn from the various squads in his reign. It’s something which should not – cannot be – ignored. Not even Manchester United have finished in the top four every season during the Wenger era. They might have won it more often but that’s not the point, their dominance of English football is over and like the clock striking midnight to end the day, the only certainty has been Arsenal in the top four. OK, so on some occasions it has been down to other teams throwing away their opportunity but the season is over 38 games as Everton – like Tottenham before them – have found out the hard way. It’s not quite enough to bring the bunting out but as a signal of consistency, there are few others who can match it.

European club football came too late for Arsenal’s Golden Era, the concept of the top clubs playing competitively appealed to the likes of Herbert Chapman and Willy Meisl but Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran took another two decades to bring the ideas to life. Comparisons to the past are vacuous, attitudes toward the competitions during the time since have changed and money has corrupted them to the point where the Champions League is so bloated that even the Europa League seems sunk. That may be true as far as English clubs are concerned but perhaps a more competitive Premier League will breath new life into it, certainly as far as these shores are concerned.

Perhaps that is the Europa League’s problem as well. Since the Champions League increased the number of competitors, the quality of English teams entering has diminished. The good sides are in the première competition, the also-rans playing elsewhere. A more competitive domestic game, ‘bigger’ clubs entering will raise its profile and whilst it can never be saved from its Thursday night hell, the media do not ignore the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and United when their games come around.

For me, the question is not so much about Arsenal winning the Champions League, I question whether we place too much store in qualifying. Yes, I understand the financial value and accept that it’s better to have an extra pot of money coming in than not. But that’s not much solace when the club continue to increase ticket prices, is it? I’m told that Champions League football is the reason we sign so many star players, as if their pay packet offers no comfort to not doing so and when their grandchildren ask them about it, will they be able to show them any medals for continued exits in the first knockout round? Some will even tell you that the top players will leave if we don’t qualify. There’s no evidence of that, the top players have left the club previously even when we have qualified.

The logic becomes even more blurred when the theory is posited that if Arsenal drop out of the tournament for a season, they will find it difficult to finish in the top four again. Ever. Which is undermined by Liverpool being on course to win the title this season. Their failure over previous years has nothing to do with not being in the Champions League, it has to do with the mess they have made of the cash available over the years. And don’t forget since 2005, they have been to the final of that tournament more times than Arsenal have in their history. And won it more often in that timescale, too.

Most of the problem doesn’t come with Arsenal’s routine failures although it is foolish that this does not play a part in the attitude. The format of the Champions League – and its little sibling for that matter – leaves me cold. At every turn the rich and powerful have ensured that their best interests have been looked after. Seedings are the root of the problem, contrived draw mechanisms such as preventing teams from the same nation being in the same group, also feed into the malaise. With so many teams involved, a group stage is necessary and let’s be honest, no matter how much better a knockout tournament is from a sporting perspective, that will never return. Dropping teams into the Europa League devalues both. A simple change to the format would reinvigorate; a free draw. No seedings, no national bars, just four teams drawn for Group A, B and so on. Some years, there will be mega groups but more often than not, they will be similar to that which we have now. Finishing in the top two confers nothing more than qualifying for the next free draw and so on.

With that kind of format, I could understand the prioritising of the Champions League above the domestic cups but that isn’t the format and I wonder if Arsène’s current list of targets is a bit arsenal about face. Finishing in the top four of the Premier League, yes, to maintain the status quo, to give the illusion of success, this is the priority in the modern game and to be honest, it won’t change now, it is too ingrained in the Premier League psyche to ever alter. Unless of course, UEFA change the qualifying requirements and then the shift in ‘success’ comes again.

After that, surely the notion of winning a competition takes precedent? This season’s FA Cup has shown what is possible and look at the welcome distraction it has provided to the problems besetting the Premier League campaign at the time. It left a feelgood factor around the place. The Champions League, if it goes well, could be prioritised higher when the two coincide in February and March time, adjusting as it has over the past couple of meetings with Bayern. The League Cup? The odd trophy every now and then never does anyone any harm and whilst the players value other competitions higher, when they count the medals once playing days are over they don’t ignore them, do they?

All the while top four finishes are achieved, it becomes a moot point but the Champions League leaves me cold at this moment in time. The monotony of high-spending clubs winning the tournament is never going to diminish, UEFA had the chance to curb that but blew it spectacularly knowing that it isn’t their ball so they cannot call the shots and nothing good will come from the situation remaining the same.

’til Tomorrow.

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114 thoughts on “Are Arsenal’s Priorities Wrong?

  1. yup
    i’ll go along with all of this..
    why would the club invest the extra millions it needs to climb up the pl ladder when the reward money is minimal difference to what we already get to finish 4th.
    we sold our soul years ago we are solely a business..you dont spend 100mil to make 5

    cl..very nice but its a complete fraud because 90 percent of teams who are in it arent even champions

    it would make it better if the winners of the domestics and the top 2 in the league qualified because then the teams would be there on merit..

    what weve done over the last decade especially isnt that amazing considering all weve done is taken advantage of the shoddy 4 team rule with 16 of the teams in our league not being good enough and the winners of the cups having to play in the thursday competition..

    its a complete and utter sham and i wouldnt give a toss if we didnt qualify for it because we dont deserve to be in it in the first place because weve not been champion of anything for ages and we are only in it to pick up our cheque and go home….

  2. The irony is, if you want to make money, there are better ways than owning a football club.
    Those who do invest tend to do it because they are actually passionate about the club.
    Sadly Kroenke isn’t

  3. Miami, I am Aussie… Born in Perth, now living on the Gold Coast via Sydney. I have spent a lot of time in New Zealand though. Maybe the most beautiful country on this planet.

    Where are you from and how long ago did you make the move?

  4. With all due respects, very wobbly thinking here.

    1) Without CL, 42.3m would not land us Ozil.

    2) Without consistent CL + success early on, Arsenal would have had a harder time securing loan and financing the stadium (not to mention the fanbase would be smaller)

    3) Priorities must be CL and title. FA cup is secondary and League cup we can forget about.

    I don’t think many fans here know how the dynamics of football work. They want top quality players but they are happy to be outside the CL. they want trophies but instead of aiming for the best, they adopt a defeatist attitude and go after less important domestic ones (does the FA cup guarantee Europe? that in itself is indictment of the importance and relevance to each competition)

    If Arsenal are (and we are not) punching high enough in the CL, it is an indictment that Wenger is not buying enough quality. It does not necessarily mean we are short in numbers but certainly we are missing a small but crucial margin of inventiveness and merciless finishing right up top.

    That we are consistently ready to challenge in top competitions will ensure a better opportunity to attract the best players to the club.

    Ask Spurs and Everton even Liverpool if they have had success staying in CL even with heavy investments or progressive managers?

    If Liverpool miss out on the title, well you’d say they have given themselves a shot at it next season. But if they have a chance at improving an securing CL this season when they have been without for some time, then why not us since we are already consistent in achieving 4th as a MINIMUM requirement.

    Skip out of CL to concentrate on the league. What if you don’t make the title even? Then where are we? not even with a 4th spot trophy. Down right daft.

    This sort of wooly headed thinking needs to be corrected.

  5. YW I just re-read my post at 1.53 and sorry, I can see where our dialogue derailed. The word ‘us’ should not have been in my statement about reaching the later stages of the CL. It was a typo on my part.

    What I was saying is that the competition reaches the type of competition you envisage but with more games due to more teams it will certainly be more lucrative to UEFA. Commercially my view is that quite clearly the case.

    But to JonJon’s point above the philosophical question on whether fourth deserves a place in the ‘Champions’ League is, well, pretty much as JonJon put it.

  6. Why thank you Henry B! And to you too!
    Thank heavens Monday has arrived – I seem to have watched everyone in the world kicking a ball in the wait for tonight!!
    Wonder how North is doing? I loved the image provided by Jonny neck deep in hookers and gin! Sounds like a good game of rugby to me!! :0)

  7. clock-end,

    You know what they say about rugby scrum halts – ‘he puts it in, I put it in, we both put it in together, we’ll be alright in the middle of the night putting it in together’.

    How the other half live! 🙂

  8. For me, we are not in a position to set the rules… time was it when we came 1st and second and qualified along with others that came 3rd and 4th… why is it now that we are 4th in the last few years we want to start pretending we do not appreciate being the the CL… We even reached our only final in a yr when we came 4th i think and were not even that far off from winning it!

    It is not to say we are not better off coming 1st (I really did expect us to win it this season – more that ever) but we will take what we have for now and aspire to go higher.. we will get back to trophy winning ways.

    AW has in the past bought the players he wanted, kept those he wanted, sold those he thought were past it…. it is in these past few years we have started to see us sell younger payers in their prime… I think we have come out of that phase are back to being in a better negotiating phase… I trust we will have a more fruitful summer than the last one and actually win da ting!

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