Spineless! That was the lead title on the rear of the Daily Mail, Thursday 16th February 2017. Above the title, the leading line of; The verdict on Arsenal’s Munich capitulation. Arsenal had yet again lost another big match, however, they had not only lost they had been humiliated on the European stage as opposed to their domestic humiliations of the not so recent past.
Sadly this type of result is not uncommon to the Arsenal fan. Long gone are the days where the club enters a big match and a savvy fan has anything more than realistic anticipation of a defeat and hope that the players at least put up a fight and are not the laughing stock of rival fan’s and pundits through a mauling at the hands of the elite and foe alike.
Unfortunately, a savvy fan is also in its rarity. Arsenal fans, like the majority of football fans, look upon their club through the rosiest of rose tinted spectacles. Common sense and reality are seldom found in the mass majority. Fans believe that the club will win the big games or at least put up a decent performance, which very rarely happens. In fact, it could be argued that for the last eight to ten years, in the big games domestic and European alike, the club have been found to go wanting.
But who is to blame for this lack of cohesion? The finger often gets pointed towards the manager Arsene Wenger and then somewhat sporadically at the players depending on the performances of individuals on the day. Granted when it comes to team selection and tactics, Wenger is the one in charge and there have been times he is a slave to his own footballing philosophy and principals, having a blind faith in players not at the standard to cope with what’s being asked of them. The 8 – 2 defeat at Old Trafford in August 2011 being an example of this, a makeshift team sent out expected to play the “Arsenal way” in a match which turned into men against boys as the score line would suggest.
Despite this, though, Wenger is continually held accountable for big defeats with fingers pointing at him first. The players have been living a very sheltered life, hidden behind Wenger’s ancient philosophy and inability to tactically keep up to an ever changing environment. Something which can be seen accused at Wenger on a regular basis on social media opinion shows such as Arsenal Fan TV.
In an ever increasing financial debacle, football has started to slowly become boring and insistent upon itself, making me personally uninterested due to the importance it places upon itself in life as well as through media and social media. Arsenal Fan TV has become a highlight, watching regular fans (with rose tinted glasses) bemoan performances, results and the manager. The manager. A hotly disputed topic of conversation, from what I’ve viewed the majority want him gone, fed up with the lack of a title challenge over the past decade and no title to talk about since the invincible season of 2004.
These fan’s who shell out a lot of money and are entitled to their opinion, however misguided it may be and are entertaining to watch and a small insight into the average football fan. Average being the operative word. That being said however some of them do make valid agreeable points. One fan had said after the defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium that the league was over for Arsenal, due to Arsenal still having to travel to Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and have Manchester United visit the Emirates stadium.
A point validated by the manner of the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea on February 4th, 2017. Cue the moaning about the manager’s tactics and team performance. But in truth, this Arsenal fan expects nothing more than defeat in these matches. The fans moaning of Wenger was caught by Gary Neville, who branded the Arsenal fans disrespectful and started a debate over whether fans have the right to voice their opinions.
Whilst the bemoaning of Wenger has been rife on social media as well as mainstream media, the man very rarely holds the players accountable. If that statement is different privately to what happens publicly, the media is either not informed or prefers to point the finger at Wenger.
Football seems to have a short memory, granted there has been no substantive title challenge in recent seasons, but before the recent increase in television money, Wenger had to work with a shoe string budget, especially in the early Emirates years, selling a big named player almost every season for the first five or six seasons and replacing players with cheap imitations or players heralded as one for the future. The like of Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Alexander Hleb, Robin Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor all were sold. There are of course a few others such as the likes of Gael Clichy who also left to go to Arsenal’s supposed title rivals, making Wenger’s job all the more difficult.
When Arsenal first moved into their new home, they only had six players left over from the unbeatable season. These player’s also soon moved on either moving on to more competitive clubs or going past their sell by date and dropping down a level.
It was a much-publicized fact that in the Emirates early years, there was a lack of funding, or so the Arsenal board would have you believe. So what did the manager of the club do? He raided the lower leagues domestically and European in order to find the next up and coming players and build a squad. In all the angst against Arsenal and the manager, it seems it is forgotten that Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson all came from the English Championship and/or League One respectively.
Added to that the foreign imports of the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Oliver Giroud, and Yaya Sonogo all from lower level French teams in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 it is nothing short of a miracle that Arsenal have been qualifying for the Champions League so consistently.
It is therefore not surprising that with this mixture of promising youngsters, lower league imports and academy graduates that Arsenal have been obliterated in some top games and unable to compete or get a substantive result. There has been the odd result in the past two to three seasons against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea but seldom good enough in comparison to the feared invincible team of 2003/04 season.
Only in the past three to four seasons have Arsenal been able to spend bigger money on players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. In truth, only this season the 2016/17 have Arsenal spent big money on more than one player. The Arsenal board in this respect have not made Wenger’s job any easier, happily sitting there reaping the benefit of the most expensive season tickets in England, stating that there are transfer funds available to Wenger if he wants to use them. What the board doesn’t state though is if the players Wenger wants to sign are given the flexibility of the wage negotiation. Wenger very recently has hinted at this.
Therein lays the deep-rooted problem at Arsenal, the board. The board is happy to allow Wenger full responsibility for the blame, anger, and hate as long as it takes away the attention of ever increasing ticket prices and a lack of a title challenge. Whilst Fan’s are fighting amongst themselves over the manages position, the board will sit back and do exactly nothing.
The Arsenal board have sold the soul of the club, for nothing more than a few years of profit. Ivan Gazidis the Arsenal Chief Executive had stated in the summer, close 2015/16 season, that Leicester FC title-winning campaign had proven big money was not needed to be spent in order to win the Premier League. Mr. Gazidis had obviously not seen the results of the previous 12 years/seasons when the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea had spent multi-millions improving their squads in order to win the title.
It is the board that is unwilling to spend the money and the focus put onto Wenger for not buying players. At times he is responsible for tactical inept and poor team selection, but look further than the players and the manager look at the actions of the board. There is a lot of speculation over Wenger’s position as manager and he has actually been quoted as saying he will manage next season, whether that is at Arsenal or not he does not know.
Who will replace Wenger if and when he goes? Fans have their opinions and before he went to Liverpool Jurgen Klopp had been mentioned. Diego Simeone of Athletic Madrid, Thomas Tuchel of Borussia Dortmund and Unai Emery of Paris Saint-Germain have all been touted by fans, pundits and broadcasters alike. The sounds from within Arsenal, however, have had Eddie Howe heavily linked with the position.
Eddie Howe is a good manager and has an attractive style of play, no doubt of which would be suited to the Arsenal philosophy, however, he would be another pawn for the board, further constrained financially and dictated too. All it would prove is that Arsenal is no longer a football club with the fans interests at heart, but a business, an outing for tourists and a seat fire sale.
The board is about one thing, profit. But they have been blinded by greed and their lack of ability to support the man at the helm who is taking the brunt of all the criticism over results and transfer dealings. Looking at the squads Wenger has had to endure over the past ten seasons, there is not many other managers who would have the ability and tactical nous to play a style of football and still qualify for the Champions League guaranteeing the money the board so hungrily crave.
Fans talk about protesting against Wenger, walking out of matches at specified times. They are battling the wrong monster. The fans keep buying tickets and merchandise season after season, continually lining the pockets of the club. If the fans really wanted to make a statement, they would not attend matches, but this will never happen for fear of missing out, fear of the unknown and fear of losing a seat to a good spectacle. A way to combat this is very simple, keep your expensive ticket but refuse to go into the stadium and watch the match, show the board what an empty stadium looks like. Yes, they will still have the money for the time being, but once Wenger has decided to retire or step aside this could be the reality of the Emirates an empty stadium. The only difference post-Wenger could be the empty seats have not been paid for.
The board are on the fringes of flirting with disaster, for if they continue with their dishonest greedy money grabbing ways and keep looking for the cheaper imitation, the Emirates could soon become a desolate place. There will be no cheap imitation manager that can provide the adequate result of finishing in a Champions League position with an inept squad like Wenger has done for so many years now.
As and when Wenger decides his time is up, the next appointment will be crucial, a top accredited manager will need to be installed, one of whom has worked with top players and commands the respect and order deserved. Failure to do so could have drastic consequences. Manchester United being the example of how hard it is to replace a manager of substance and longevity and as seen in the post-David Moyes rein, no expense was spared for Louis Van Gaal.
The board, however, will do what it does best, look for the cheaper imitation and then make him the scapegoat. The only difference being that this manager would inevitably get sacked. When Wenger leaves, expect Arsenal to be lucky at being a top-six team at best and that’s if they are really lucky.
Of course, this is just an opinion of a fan not wearing rose tinted glasses, but if history is to repeat itself as it so regularly has the past decade, more doom and gloom can be expected. For the sake of the club and its loyal fans, I sincerely hope I am wrong. But for all those looking no further then the manager, it could be a story of being careful what you wish for.