Whether it be Westminster or the White House, a week is a long time in politics. Football is no different. UEFA and FIFA drag their heels in a way which causes envy in Brussels and Strasbourg. This week has been no different with tin helmets dished out by the receptionists at UEFA HQ in Nyon. It’s called the House of European Football, apparently.
The clubs are giving them stick on every level. From the smaller nations bemoaning the risible proposals for the Champions League from 2024 to Arsenal issuing a statement in support of fans for whom there and Baku is one of the more arduous trips to undertake.
In between, the club is still awaiting assurances on Henryk Mkhitaryan’s safety. The democratically elected, ahem, government of Azerbaijan and UEFA are both maintaining radio silence on this one. Some might say it’s karma, the universe paying us back for Auriergate. Nothing of the sort; this is about player safety and the equation ought to be simple. If the Azeris can’t guarantee Mkhitaryan safety, they forfeit this final and Euro2020 games proposed for the country.
UEFA is too spineless to act. They are keeping their heads down until someone pops up to say it is too late to move the match so Baku it is. Were it about Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, you can bet your bottom dollar that things would be different. But we are Arsenal and kicking up a stink is not our style.
It’s typically British to issue a strongly worded statement but frankly, we have no leverage, and don’t UEFA know it. We can’t pull out of the final nor will we play teenagers; the barrel is quite a comfortable perch for us to occupy, it seems.
Is A Strong Finish To The Season A Strong Start To The Summer?
Unlike Paul Doyle in the Guardian, I don’t think the Armenian is one of our top players. One of our top earners, certainly, and one we’d like to be shot of this summer.
Will we miss him? Perhaps. He is a useful sub and laid on a nice pass for Aubameyang’s hat-trick goal. Overall, however, he’s been disappointing this season. But it’s a final and Unai must have his best squad available.
If the Championship play-off final is the richest domestic match, the Europa League final is surely similarly positioned in European club competition? Must-win feels about the right level to pitch it at for several reasons.
The coming transfer window is one of them. Arsenal, according to reports, are set to confirm Francis Cagigao as head of recruitment on a permanent basis which closes that matter. With Edu’s rumoured arrival in July, the ‘recruitment team’ is in place. Or is it a posse? Is Raul that hip? If he were, our former ‘rock star recruiter’ wouldn’t be sports director at VfB Stuttgart.
Reality kicks in. Sven was ‘Ivan’s man’; Raul didn’t fancy the German as technical director and I doubt the real reasons why will ever surface. The ‘mess’, if that’s the right door, falls squarely at Gazidis’ door. He didn’t finish the restructure and left it to Sanllehi to sort out. Monchi determined Sevilla was a better project for him, dashing Arsenal’s hopes.
Appointing a technical director was widely seen as crucial to Arsenal’s summer. If Cagigao and his team carried out their jobs properly, that’s not the case. Huss Fahmy is the new Dick Law, not Edu. I recall reading somewhere and where escapes me, that Sanllehi has a different job spec for the technical director in mind.
What Is It? Do Tell! Do Tell!
The primary function is to co-ordinate all levels of the football club so that the XI’s all play the same way. This means, at the top, Unai must impose his own style of play on the first team. It’s fair to say he didn’t do that this season.
We lurched from a back three to back four without any real rhyme or reason at times. The key driver for that, I think, came from our lax defensive displays we dropped, particularly away from home. Yes, some of that is down to losing Rob Holding at Old Trafford, exacerbated by Hector Bellerin’s season-ending injury. However, we weren’t particularly solid prior to either of those events and Emery’s ideas floundered as he discovered how laid back our defenders approach to their jobs is.
That’s not to say the Spaniard isn’t without flaws as his record of substitutions which showed diminishing returns as the season progressed underlined. It’s one of the reasons why some are unconvinced by his appointment. The second season will be important in that respect.
But as a club, we have much to do if we are to move forward on and off the pitch. There’s something rotten if our transfer budget is set at £40m, increasing only if we win in Baku plus any sales. The poor state of play from transfers and contract negotiations in previous years is haunting us now. We’re paying some of the squad Champions League wages with a Europa League income. Wages, it has to be said, that even winners of the Champions League would blanche at paying.
Time Is Not Your Friend
Can we put it right in one year? There’s precious little evidence to suggest that improving our lot is a short-term fix. Indeed, looking at how we played this year, it’s likely to be another four windows before we’re back to being considered a permanent fixture in the top four, or at least challenging for it.
Liverpool are where we want to be yet before FSG took over at Anfield, they envied us. The Telegraph carried a piece on their takeover on Merseyside and contained this nugget:
One ex-Liverpool coach tells the story of being out for dinner with an Arsenal scout and discussing a player of interest. The scout called Arsene Wenger and within 30 minutes David Dein was on the phone arranging a meeting with the player’s representatives.
“I thought to myself, ‘they are quick. I wish we were able to do that,’” he said, ruefully.
How times change.
Dynamic owners is a fundamental difference between the two clubs. It’s claimed John W. Henry spoke with former Liverpool employees to find out what was going wrong at Anfield. There’s no sign of Kroenke being interested in understanding where mistakes were made on the sporting side. They are focused on the bottom line and increasing value in the club through the finances, not football.
They aren’t shysters like Gillett and Hicks but KSE is worse; parasitic, settling for mediocrity and uninterested in sporting success. If we win in Baku, it will be in spite of the KSE’s ownership of Arsenal, not because of it.