I was spoiled for choice this morning. Not from a range of healthy options for breakfast or anything like that, just which lyric to use for the headlines. There’s a rich vein to mine with this morning’s thoughts. Mesut Özil’s reactions in the White Hart Lane tunnel yesterday left me wondering if I could pun my way through The Sunday’s I Kicked A Boy. Yes, I thought about it, I genuinely did but I didn’t go there.
Unlike Mesut, he went for his drugs test like a good little soldier. He didn’t want to because he was sick to the back teeth with losing and I suspect his own – and the team’s – performance. Mind you, if he thought it was bad after that defeat, choosing Diego Maradona after his 1986 ‘Hand of God’ moment and then putting Terry Butcher in the same room, was less of a good idea. In case you’re wondering how that’s Arsenal-related, Kenny Sansom was one of the other players as well.
Özil’s reaction might be the most heartening thing you read this morning although the bar is admittedly set very low as far as Arsenal in the Premier League are concerned. His frustration with himself, with the performances, with everything, ought to inspire some soul-searching on his part. I like the German as a player; silky skills, thoughts, pace as well but I fear he is already too far down the path of Nicholas, Marinello and a host of others to rectify his standing in the eyes of some: a huge talent but wasted at Arsenal.
Lead Inside My Boots
Perhaps that’s ‘wasted at Arsenal right now’? In big away games, he’s proven no more than a passenger but that’s as much to do with the team performance as it is with his own. For £42m, you expect a star to light up games, to lead by example and to take the bigger stages by storm. It hasn’t happened but if you look at our results in those games, other factors also affected performances. Pinning the tail of that donkey on Özil is harsh.
However, that doesn’t let him off the hook. Dennis Bergkamp was similarly gifted – probably more so – but his attitude sets him several levels above Mesut as a player. The Dutchman, unhesitatingly the best Arsenal player I have ever seen, possessed a will to win allied with a determined spikiness. He was rarely bullied out of a game in England. He could be, don’t get me wrong but not very often in the big games.
Crucially, he was a member of a better team, one where he knew flakiness wasn’t tolerated. Arsène had a dressing room of leaders who knew how to take care of the mental side of the game themselves. They were flawed; never succeeding in the Champions League is one example, losing the title at Leeds another. But never the consistent lack of strength we’re witnessing.
The frequency with which it surfaces suggests that it’s part of the club’s fabric, a manifestation of the culture at London Colney. Serenity is key to Arsène with former players suggesting the manager “shuts down” any aggressive criticism of players. That’s his style and with his history and power at Arsenal, that’s his choice. It worked in the past because of the likes of Adams, Keown, Vieira, and a host of others. That was their personality.
This dressing room is different; there are winners but not winners with Arsenal. FA Cups are great for supporters but players hold loftier ambitions. The Champions League is beyond us and getting further away; loftier ambitions never to be met. The biggest prize is set to elude Arsène nor is time on his side to win the Premier League title again. There are too many replacements needed for this squad to take the next step. If they were going to, this season was it. Runners-up last year, a positional improvement year-on-year, remains part of the rubble underfoot.
As a combination of people, I suspect it’s a good group for the manager to have. I don’t believe that it is serene with new age music floating through the speakers in all buildings. Yet the necessary friction for success is missing; you don’t have to be an insider to see that. There’s a collective responsibility but no accountability, and that’s a problem for the board and manager.
I know people think Arsène gets a rough ride but Arsenal are a weak business, as well as a weak football club. Financially strong but poor in every other aspect. There’s no need for micro-management; that’s different from strong management although the weak frequently confuse the two. Arsenal has absent leadership; Kroenke, Gazidis, all of them. The board leaves the manager to face the criticism on his own, never offering backing, just silence. Their problem is that now too many believe Arsène should walk away. There’s a proviso to that; it’s social media and our friends we talk to. For the most part, like-minded individuals and therein is the danger. However, blind loyalty to the manager is not the same as loyalty to the club. What’s good for the two are not always mutually inclusive.
Until Arsenal resolve issues off the pitch, on pitch is going to remain a shambles. The manager has no new ideas to take on board beyond those he finds outside of the club. It’s stale; bringing in a director of football, as welcome as it would be, is being touted as the panacea; it won’t be if that person is a Wenger acolyte. Unless the director of football ushers in a new era at the club, beginning with a major reshuffle of the coaching staff, he is only replacing Dick Law. As much as Dick is an issue, he’s not the most urgent problem to resolve.
So much needs changing that it is a huge problem, masked from the majority shareholders attention by continuing financial strength. My feeling is that he will walk away just before the rot becomes apparent in the financial statements. Kroenke, the sporting loser, is not going to be financial one.
To stop that, change needs to happen. The directors are not turkeys voting for Christmas so Arsène is the sacrificial lamb at their altar. The first change is always managerial in these circumstances and much-needed. When that has happened, we’ll see how many of the board need to go as well. My guess is that not all the ones who need to will do so.