If your first reaction to the news of Aaron Lennon’s mental health issues was to wonder what footballers have to be stressed about, have a word with yourselves. Mental health does not respect wealth, pays no heed to social class and laughs in the face of everything you hold dear. When there are problems, they have devastating effect on families, loved ones and friends. It’s no laughing matter at any time and not an issue made any easier being splashed on the front pages as some comedy totem, especially when the government is butchering NHS mental health care budgets.
I hope Aaron Lennon receives all the care he needs in these difficult times and beyond.
The summer is not so far off. In a few weeks, Arsenal are free to sign any player in the Premier League, not that we will. Even under normal circumstances we wouldn’t be that pro-active and these are far from normal circumstances. Inexplicably, the club has still not confirmed the manager’s position, even if everyone expects him to sign a new deal. It is so typical of Kroenke-era Arsenal and we’re not the only ones; Colorado Rapids supporters feel our pain, they share it.
Let’s be honest, none of us expects a strong and decisive summer from Arsenal. We have no history of it that I can recall. There are bursts of activity but all too often, we leave it to the last minute thanks to the inferiority complex developed during the building of the Emirates. A club less suited to financial power you could not wish to find.
Fundamentally, the structures at the club are undermined by the individuals setting the direction. It’s stale, blinkered and unreceptive to football’s new age. Commercially, we lack bite and don’t care enough about winning. Puritanism pervades every aspect; win but only in the right way otherwise it’s better not to win at all. Well, we’ve got the last bit down pat. Sadly, every passing day chips away at his reputation; it’s going to be a long time before the shadow of a man who stayed in the role to long, is lost.
The club is in a mess of its’ own making. Reports continue to push the virtues of Marc Overmars as director of football although Robert Pires made no secret of his desire for that role. Sorry, Robert, but not at Arsenal right now. The same arguments against an inexperienced manager hold for a director of football. Another ‘yes man’ is not what the club needs; there’s no creative friction in a dictatorship, no matter how benevolent it may try to be.
At the moment, Arsenal need a root and branch change, beginning with manager and coaching staff. Fresh input and ideas; Ferguson might not have wanted to refresh his staff every few seasons but he had to and United remained fresh. No matter the change in personnel, they didn’t become stale until the Scot decided on a glorious hurrah instead of leaving a squad with longevity. We’re in that position without the glory, certainly in the Premier League. It may yet come in the FA Cup.
However, when you look at the squad, it isn’t one I can envisage staying together. I expect Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud to be sold this coming transfer window. A left back is clearly a target and in all honesty, if Marseille want the French international, £10-15m seems a good price for a player of his age and ability; he’ll score a hatful on his native turf.
At this moment in time, there’s seemingly little value in Mesut Özil at the reported salary he is negotiating. He’s a fabulous player but a man in the wrong time at Arsenal unless we invest in heavily in players of a similar stature. He isn’t going to drag us out of a rut; he’s not that kind of player. Theo Walcott is the same; a very expensive substitute with no future in any side playing 3-4-2-1.
It’s easier said than done but when you see Real Madrid’s wage bill is 10% higher than ours with a 50% uplift in turnover, it’s hard to claim we’ve got that side of the business right yet. My suspicion is that there is a far wider gap between the top of their payscale – the level below Ronaldo – and the bottom. Players at that end know they must earn the big increases, it won’t just come to them. Arsenal on the other hand, are soft touches. We’re too concerned with giving them the incentive before delivery.
If Arsène stays, the turnover of players is pointless. The same handbrakes will be applied in every aspect of the game they are now. Sadly, we’re a club which has a manager whose life outside of football is empty, as he freely admits. He won’t let go, control will have to be wrenched from his grip.
And that is the saddest thing of all.