“If you want to be a big club, you have to act like a big club.”
Thierry Henry’s words about Tottenham apply eqully to Arsenal. During his post-match press dealings at Stoke, Arsène laid bare the extent of his problems. “We have 33 players at the moment,” he said. “And that’s too many players.”
When Lucas Perez completes his loan move to Deportivo La Coruña it will be 32. However, that still leaves a quarter of the squad to be moved on.
That’s a huge number but the players you don’t want to leave are the ones likely to do so. Manchester City rumours continue to swirl around Alexis Sanchez while reports this morning place a believable £125,000 per week offer in front of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. If he signs that, he’ll be the first of the ‘contract rebels’ to put pen to paper.
Alexis isn’t going to sign a new deal; it’s been obvious for some time. Saturday’s performance underlines nothing changed with the renewal of Arsène’s contract and the prospect of a title challenge is as remote as ever. I don’t believe Mesut Özil will renew yet either. From January, he is able to talk to foreign clubs and I suspect that he will wait to see what offers are out there.
While Huss Fahmy struggles to salvage the current wreckage, the prospect of the 2019 expirees must fill him with horror. That list is even longer: Ramsey, Giroud, Cech, Ospina, Walcott, Welbeck, and Monreal. Yes, you’ve read that correctly: the first and second choice goalkeepers have their contracts ending in the same summer. On the plus side, he won’t have the convoluted dance with Team Walcott. I expect Theo to be sold in the next twelve months such is his diminished status.
The rank amateurism of previous years continues to haunt us.
Henry’s observations around the building of a new stadium resonate because everyone left, himself included. Players are financially secure from one contract. If you assume Ox earns £125k per week for five years, that’s a gross salary of around £32.5m. It’s little wonder that players talk of winning the Champions League and Premier League as being important.
We’re in a pickle when it comes to delivering either. The squad, weighted down with players whom the club won’t use unless desperate, desperately needs refreshing. Arsène believes more than three players arriving each summer unbalances the group. Well, unbalance them; shake them out of their complacency and comfort zones. Arouse their pride and passion for the game.
When Alexis displayed his displeasure at performances, Wenger rounded on him. Not for the Chilean the delicate ‘tippy-toe’ around we witnessed when Theo Walcott routinely held the club to ransom over contracts. Alexis was publicly criticised by the manager and that was the cue to embolden sections of the support to do the same. No player is bigger than the club; no player is bigger than the manager.
The question for Arsenal comes down to money. Cash reserves are thrown around like no tomorrow as a stick to beat them with and there is some merit to that. Arsenal, risk averse and conservative, need to shed that skin if they are to reignite the club. We’re a ‘good’ business for Stan but being a good business doesn’t make a good football club.
Financially, there are bigger clubs in England – and there’s no point looking abroad if you can’t conquer your own league – who can take risks over a longer period. The question I ask is whether a short-term risk, e.g. one transfer window, can pay-off in the longer term without damaging the business?
Squad Players To Move On
Looking at the next 24 months, we have 17 players whose deals end. Of them, the only ones who I wouldn’t want to lose are Sanchez, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Cech, and, Giroud. Yes, you’re surprised by some but there are three good squad players in there while Cech’s experience has to be good to keep around the club. I’d like to see him stay on as goalkeeper coach afterwards; a man with that knowledge shouldn’t be wasted.
So that’s 11 players who I’m not bothered by staying or going. They aren’t irreplaceable nor are they difficult to replace when you consider their role in the side over the past year or so. They are squad players, that’s it; I genuinely don’t see any of them forcing their way into the starting line-up, all things being equal.
Which begs the question: do we need to show our ambition as a club by having a major overhaul in a summer and aggressively targeting players whose presence would definitely improve us. It’s so simple on paper but persuading clubs to sell can be tough. No-one said it’s an easy task but another couple of players (central midfield – defensive and attacking) this summer could make the difference as well as a change in the manager’s philosophy on how players are used.
Not another change in formation but in flexibility of thinking. Discard reputations and appeasement; pick the best XI. Don’t unbalance the side or tell us that you played two left backs in the centre with a right back on the left because of a player’s dip in confidence. Why do that when Per was fit and Calum Chambers could have sat on the bench.
Stop picking the side to win over contract rebels; win matches instead. Act like a manager not a friend.
Fine Words Need Actions To Back Them
It’s not going to happen, of course. None of it will but it’s therapeutic to vent occasionally. Keith Burkenshaw criticised Spurs when he said on his dismissal, “There used to be a football club over there”. We could tweak it: “There used to be a big football club over there.”
Not at the moment. Big clubs have ambition and Arsenal, from the board downwards, don’t have any. Too many are too comfortable in their roles; too secure. That needs to change but don’t look for leadership from a board which claims that they looked for better managers than the current incumbent, but couldn’t find any. Ivan’s protestations that the Arsenal job is one of the biggest in football has a hollow ring to it.