More from ArsenalAndrew (@luckietwit), a follow-up to this post that should have been with you sooner but for once, my slack-jawed incompetence has worked in my favour since it means I get a day off. Seasons greetings to all.
I have rarely, if ever, encountered a storm enveloping any club, of the scale and complexity as the one that threatens the current well-being of Arsenal Football Club.
Perhaps the closest has been on-going outrage that besets the asset stripped side of Manchester although the winning habits of Fergie & Co have so far prevented the Glaser led administration from getting a real commercial hiding. As a general rule, when football clubs experience trauma, the causes are relatively straightforward and the immediate consequences tend to be mercifully brief, even if the longer term outcomes haven’t always been so favourable.
The hideous decline of Leeds United, one of the biggest clubs of the 1970′s, was rapid and in their case, the legacy of that disaster has proved catastrophic if one takes the view that the lower divisions do not a suitable home make, for an institution with both lofty ambitions and a history to match.
Compared to Arsenal, however, the events that subsumed an over-ambitious outfit from Yorkshire were relatively simple, as their failure to maintain an EPL presence combined with the sale of key players to their biggest rivals (any bells being rung here?), saw a collapse in club fortunes that was as swift as it was brutal. At the time, outside of Yorkshire, any road, few mourned.
If it is possible for a club such as Barcelona to enjoy an extended ‘love-in’, at least with the media, then it follows that the fractious nature of Blackburn’s relationship with its fans may fairly be described as a ‘love-out’. Whilst the rejection by the fans of Steve Kean was a public crucifixion, the real subject of their ire remains the club’s ownership. The wedge that has been so firmly driven between the club and its supporters is such that one wonders whether the relationship between the two sides will ever be quite the same again, even assuming an eventual change of ownership. The toxicity of the last few years has become sadly embedded – seemingly baked into – the very culture of the club and its followers.
Shiny stadium aside, and ignoring the record breaking antics of your so-called Invincibles, combined with a style of play that was admired the footballing world over, not to mention a collection of medals and trophies sufficient to make the followers of most clubs weep with joy and gratitude, where did it all go wrong for you?
That a footballing colossus of a generation should now be the subject of an inquest of McCarthyesque viciousness from sections of the club’s own fans is not something that can easily be ignored. As a significant swathe of followers on a daily basis ask in the requisite ‘Pythonesque’ fashion – ‘What did Wenger ever do for us’, others delight in finding ever more imaginative sticks with which to try to beat both manager and club.
That there are now long-standing followers of one of the most stable clubs in world football who now sincerely feel that a form of asset-stripping is being conducted by the club’s management, is largely the outcome of a perceived failure to invest in the retention of a succession of key players.
There are plenty others for whom the routine autumnal slump in form has become the lightning rod down which years of frustration at failure to convert close run campaigns into hard silver now grounds itself on the shoulders of a manager starting to look more than a little beleaguered, at least in their eyes, and those of their unlikely bedfellows of the media.
But it is the sheer multiplicity of those sticks coming so readily to the hands of the critics of the club that is the cause of the greatest wonder – all of which combine to create victims of us all in the scale of the shock and awe currently enveloping Arsenal.
The draw at Bradford didn’t merely lead to an undignified and disappointing cup exit. It became yet more evidence of the supposed falling out between the Manager and his No 1 coach. The giant-killing outcome was the game of their Bradfordian careers for the players of yet another former EPL club that has flirted, seriously, with financial extinction. And further evidence that Wenger has not only bought badly, but clearly, in the eyes of some, lost the ability to coach his sides, to boot (literally).
So where DOES Arsène and the club go from here?
Or does it even matter anymore?
Has the relationship between the club and its followers become so toxic that ONLY a change in ownership will (with an option on a change of manager) be sufficient to prevent real long-term damage – a la Blackburn – being done to that relationship?
Truth is, no-one knows for sure.
In my own head at least, I was one of the last to believe Robin van Persie would be allowed to leave the club in the summer. That he went to my least favourite club on the planet was simply a generous helping of salt to a wound I and many others always feared might come back to haunt the club. This fear was in no small measure due to my own ignorance of what the contributions of Giroud and Podolski would likely be. At the very least, the departure of RVP meant that those two HAD to hit the ground running. As did Cazorla in his role as replacement to Cesc. And one of either Rosicky and Diaby HAD to stay fit in order to allow the successful bedding in of Arteta to continue, and for our midfield to be able to drive the team forward, as youngsters such as Wilshere and Ramsey continued their own rehabilitation and development.
The doubt that currently surrounds our ability to exploit a relatively ‘easy’ run in to Xmas, is testament to the failure of much of the above to have happened.
As the summer transfer window closed and Arsenal’s own door of inconsistency opened, my gut feeling was that we were – and remain – a midfielder light. There had been sufficient speculation linking us to new players to make me think Arsène was quite possibly trying to get in at least a backup for Diaby and/or Rosicky. So for months now I have been anticipating the arrival of at least one maestro.
That Theo has not been developed into his apparent dream role as centre-forward combines with the evident failure so far in the ability of either Giroud or Podolski to truly lead the line. So, certainly since the international break, I’ve been anticipating the acquisition of a marquee signing, to join the maestro.
This is where I think Arsène WILL go from here.
But I also think they need to go further. Much further.
For many years I have despaired at the club’s commitment towards its public relations. At the last AGM, I heard Ivan Gazidis describe our commercial department as (ironically) under developed, at least in comparison with that of Man U’s. It was confirmation that my long-standing anxiety regarding the club’s failure to exploit PR had at least some justification. If they hadn’t fully cranked up the Commercial Department, what hope the Press Office?
In my view, Arsenal do not today ‘just’ need one or two key new players.
They also need to re-engage with the fans and the followers. For the good of the club – and quite possibly their own personal survival, Arsenal must proactively seek out ways in which, without prejudicing the commercial interests of the club, they can present their side of the Arsenal story. And to do so on a regular basis, and in this to be, if you like, consistently consistent.
Why the slump in form? Every season?
What kind of players are we interested in? Who is coming through the ranks and where might they fit into our plans?
What do the numbers actually MEAN, how do they REALLY add up? Explain, please, at least some of the devil in the details, at least in the round, if specifics relating to player salaries are too ‘delicate’ to dispense.
What of our supposed cash pile?
Some of these are tough and difficult questions. But they are all legitimate concerns. They gain their legitimacy from the extended failure of the club to garner actual silverware, regardless of how close we may have come in recent years.
So, Arsenal, if we actually DO know where we should go from here, is there any danger you may take us?
Some of us think there is an end of era feel to the season.
If one accepts that the era of unquestioning loyalty to both manager and club has likely come to a close, few would or could argue. It is a mark of Wenger’s achievement that such an era could have lasted as long as it did. Almost uniquely, in the history of the game, in fact.
Whether this narrow definition of ‘era’ is valid depends largely on welcoming changes to the club, both on and off the pitch. Too few voluntary changes could ultimately lead to the risk of the enforcement of too many, and the sound of babies being thrown out with the bath water would become the most unwelcome sound of them all.
It takes immense courage to lead, to know when to stick or twist. Despite his no doubt many faults, absence of courage is not one of Arsène’s failings.
Whether the rest of the club’s leadership is similarly endowed is possibly open to debate.