Archive for Analysis
It feels like I’ve been away for ages and trying to get back into the groove at the Stone Cold Arsenal Towers is going to be a project in itself. Nevertheless, it was a good break and glad to be back.
I tried a time tested strategy of “staying away from the news” while tending to matters at the reservation; but I fell foul of those little USB things you plug into the side of your laptop and connect to the ether that is cyber space.
In between the hogwash that was Xavi Hernandez’s crusade to get his knees capped because of his bullshit about Cesc, Rapha Benitez getting a cool £6m while on holiday before taking the reins of power at Internazionale, and the English football establishment getting paranoid about England playing some South African Platinum team in a friendly; I did manage to get into the groove of the 2010 World cup.
To tell you the truth, I’m really excited and will be stuck to the telly, radio, web and anything that will give me up to date material on all aspects of the World cup. However, one aspect does sadden me, and that is the role played by the media in the systematic and negative portrayal of Africa as a cess pit.
I read an interesting report last week from Tom Cargill, the head of the Africa Programme at Chattam House, UK’s premier think-tank on International Affairs. IN this report, Cargill points out that the ‘West’ must change its approach to Africa and stop seeing it as a basket case that needs aid and development.
He urges the west to emulate the model taken by the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) who are engaging with Africa as trade partners and stimulating growth and the local economy. Africa has vast resources which the BRIC countries want to tap into, and many more like South Korea are also joining the party.
My belief is that the ‘Aid And Development’ industry (for that’s what it is) is a self serving, patronizing, neo-colonial sector that is run by the self interests of folks who have mortgages to pay, kids to take to school, debts to service – and you know, a livelihood to maintain. Suggesting that they’re in it to ‘alleviate poverty’ is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Without poverty, the industry dies – it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
The notion that a sector structured on a top down Neolithic approach to interacting with hundreds of millions of people from the continent that they say is “troubled” is a disturbing one.
I don’t know what is more dangerous; the misguided self righteousness of those in the sector who operate with the view that it’s their destiny to “save Africans from themselves”, or that there are people who think that the hopes and dreams of an entire continent lay firmly at the hands of two ageing rock stars in Bono and Bob Geldof.
I digress…but the point I’m trying to make is that I so agree with Tom Cargill in the view that we should move away from patronizing neo-colonialism and treat people like human beings. I mentioned his report because of the parallel I can draw between western governments and aid agencies, and the western media’s portrayal of Africa in general, and more recently, the build up to the first World cup being hosted in Africa.
It can’t be a conspiracy because a conspiracy suggests that there are people with a sinister view who have an agenda that they want to see through and they want to hide it from the rest of us.
The way the media has operated is far from conspiratorial, it’s criminal in itself. Fuelled by a substantive dose of ignorance of the highest order, an engrained culture of always looking for the ‘negative’ in anything to do with Africa, and an almost relentless determination to promote scare mongering and sensationalism.
I was listening to Jacob Zuma yesterday during his press conference, and I tried to recall a previous world cup where a sitting president has taken the pro-active view of “spinning” the country. It was masked as a lot more, but the bottom line is that President Zuma had to “spin” South Africa.
You don’t need to ask yourself why, just pick up any paper or tune into any report about the build up to the games and the usual suspects crop up – security concerns, terrorism threats, ‘African’s are too poor to afford tickets so the world cup is already a failure’, threats to the ‘western’ teams and their fans. You name it, you’ll find it in the most sickening and twisted reporting that should have some authors quartered for the crime of prejudice and ignorance.
I should know better really, but it still get’s to me. It’s not like South East London during the day is any safer than down town Johannesburg. We even have folks in sleepy towns now going ’postal’ because of whatever reason.
Imagine the reporting we’d be subject to if someone in South Africa went ’postal’ a week before the tournament.
The truth is that South Africa is more than capable of hosting a global event – as they’ve shown with their hosting of the Rugby Union and Cricket world cups in previous years. It’s just unfair to suggest that England fans are on their way to a cess pit (for that is the impression they give).
South Africa like many others in Africa is a beautiful country with breath-taking views, a rich culture, and a vibrant and growing economy. Perhaps more focus on the celebration of the football game and the continent will be more productive.
Mainstream media is bad enough in its negative reporting of Africa, and I shudder to think of sports journalists indulging in something they know little of.
I would hope that the reporting and journalism is focussed on what happens on the pitch. I can’t wait for Friday when Carlos Vela and his boys kick off against Bafana Bafana.
This is the final piece in this particular series. It maybe that you haven’t agreed with anything I’ve said, or only parts.
What I find strange is that Wenger seems to have divided people so much, that there are so many levels of feeling from; “I think Arsene’s made mistakes, but I think he’s the man for the job”, all the way down to people wanting him out now.
We are all Arsenal fans after all, and what I tend to find when I’m talking with fellow Gooners is that people will take an opposing stance to whatever is being said. It’s like a family member being criticised, we can do it, but no-one else can.
Before I complete my final case study, I would like to say that I don’t think Arséne is perfect by any stretch, there are things which I wish could be slightly different, but then I think two things; firstly, I’m an Arsenal fan and my first job is to support the team (to the END of the game), secondly, what manager does get everything right?
What manager is capable of a better job? What manager could have steered Arsenal through these delicate few years, continuing to establish crucial Champions League football, and also ensuring the youth set up is second to none?
My final argument covers what I consider to be the third major criticism of our manager.
Arséne Wenger – The Loser
There are two strands to this theme.
- Has Wenger “lost it” i.e. has he reached, or even past, the natural limits of his tenure?
- Does he have the capacity, ability & focus to return the team to winning ways after 5 years without a trophy?
It is hard to garner how popular these opinions really are, there are a lot of Arsenal fans in the world, and the internet is a place where extreme opinions and dramatic headlines catch the eye and flourish.
Plus, more often than not, it is not those who are moderate in their feelings that are heard, it is the ones shouting loudest. A good example of this is the headlines surrounding Cesc’s supposed transfer to Barcelona.
So has Arséne Wenger lost it? Has his capacity to coach and manage this side into a consistently competitive team gone? Is his vision clouded to what requires tweaking, where major surgery is needed, and what needs demolishing and starting again?
Previous Arsenal sides are often cited as examples of what this team lacks. Tony Adams’ name is obviously one which carry’s tremendous symbolic significance to all Arsenal fans. However, having already touched upon one sacred cow with the Invincibles (see part 1); I think it is important to also put this comparison into context.
The double winning side of 1998 contained some true Arsenal legends, Tony himself of course; Steve Bould, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Ian Wright are the most obvious figures.
However, all these players were significant members of an Arsenal team that went from cult heroes in 1989 and miserly winners in 1991 to years of mediocrity (finishing 4th, 10th, 4th, 12th and 5th before Le Boss came in, after which, we didn’t finish out of the top 3 until 2005/06), dramatic European Cup wins aside of course.
A lot of Arsenal fans use this period, or the barren spell in the eighties as a badge of honour almost, like they’ve earnt their stripes. Which they have of course. Had Arsene Wenger not become manager after this time, what would have really become of the club?
My point here is that although those players were outstanding competitors, they were by no means perennial winners. It was Arsene Wenger who tapped into and augmented this spirit, prolonged careers and harnessed little known reservoirs of footballing poise from players with a reputation for the more prosaic aspects of the game.
There is a relationship between great players and great coaches which often brings great success. A happy medium between the maturity, experience and bloody mindedness which was present at the club (along with a Dutch genius) and the innovations and vision of Arsene brought that period of success.
The playing squad was not in a position to have won without Le Boss at this point, even with Dennis, Tony et al. This is one of the reasons why Tony Adams’ goal against Everton that sunny day in 1998 is such a special and iconic moment, all that went before it was a contributory factor to make him standing there, arms spread wide with the sun on his face such a magical image in the history of Arsenal football club.
So, if such vaunted legends are capable of such failure (not necessarily my opinion, I am using this merely as a point of comparison), is it not possible that the current squad could turn around their fortunes too? There are parallels with the current side, which although probably only coincidental, do cast an interesting parallel.
Both squads had two league wins in three years (’89 & ’91 and ’02 & ’04) followed by a significant drop off in title challenges.
There is of course no definitive answer to this question until Arséne either wins the league, or leaves the club. I wonder though, should he not achieve anymore silverware, what his legacy will be perceived to be in some quarters.
But really, just how broken is this Arsenal team, and how much of its lack of achievement is down to Mr Wenger?
There are so many examples of clubs to illustrate the pitfalls of being a high profile club which has found itself in trouble, and slipping down the divisions. Leeds United, Nottingham Forrest, Newcastle United all immediately spring to mind. There are no guarantees.
Blackburn have faded from title winners in 15 years to being Sam Allardyce’s latest collection of brutes.
I have already stated that I think the future of the club has been managed impeccably, and it is hard to have a rational debate with those demanding success who do not take into consideration the historic changes which have occurred in this period. I think expectation is to a certain extent a more pressing problem than actual accomplishment.
So, we ask, having steered us through this step, is Arsene Wenger the right manager to take this team to the next level and lift a trophy?
This “5 years without a trophy” business is not a valid argument to me. How long are we prepared to wait? How long should we be prepared to wait? Just how successful an Arsenal are we entitled to?
Very simple answer here, we are not entitled to any. Even the argument about a club the size of Arsenal is not built on particularly strong foundations. We are blessed with a wonderful history, but, we are the third most successful club in England.
We do not have a great record of European cups, and there have been long stretches of little or no cup wins of any description in recent memory.
In the same way, why should England go into each World Cup with such a weight of expectation on their shoulders? They won it once, 44 years ago, as the host nation. The fact that England has some excellent players makes them contenders, but not tournament heavyweights of the likes of Brazil, Italy or Germany.
Of course one such successful club is currently living out a cautionary tale before our very eyes. What will become of Liverpool in the next few seasons should serve as a very chilling reminder to all Arsenal fans how different things can become all too quickly.
Perhaps you are one of the people who feel a different manager will have an impact. They could perform a little spring cleaning and bring in one or two new faces. Much like Scolari did at Chelsea, who then went on to…….get sacked.
There aren’t many examples of managerial change closely followed by success. As much as it sticks in the throat, Jose Mourinho seems to be the only real candidate who you could say would change the fortunes of a team on the cusp of greatness. But at what cost?
Real Madrid have twice engaged in excessive spending with a considerable lack of triumphs in return, and how many managers have come and gone in that time?
Personally, this is the crux of the matter. Just how important is it to you to win? How important is it to you how you win?
How much satisfaction would be gleaned from a league title brought with the roubles of an owner who cared nothing for the club, won by players with no loyalty to the club, played in a style in total contrast to the ethos of the club?
If the answer to the above is; I don’t care, then you either won’t have read this far, or we are never going to agree on this point.
I would infinitely prefer for Arsenal to win the league having built internally, played wonderful football, on a shoestring budget with a squad full of players who have been at the Arsenal for years.
Its comic book stuff. There is no fan in the world that could have any criticism of such a magnificent accomplishment. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but what’s wrong with that. I don’t watch football to be bored to death, I watch football for exactly those moments of mercurial wonder that you don’t get in everyday life.
I want to be inspired, I want to be delirious with joy, I want to be proud of my team, I want to be sat in my seat so happy I’m laughing after Cesc has just skipped through the Tottenham defence from their kick off to score. I want to sit down over a pint with my family and friends after a game and eulogise over another master class from RvP.
If we can’t enjoy these things, week in week out because we “haven’t won a trophy for 5 years”, then why are we going to games?
The teams you remember, the famous team’s people talk about for years afterwards like Barcelona last year certainly, or the Ajax teams of the 70’s & 90’s, the Champions League winning AC Milan team of 2007 was a poor relation to the team of the late eighties.
Anyone remember the horrendously boring final between Milan & Juventus in 2003? There aren’t just winners and losers; there are a great many shades of grey, degrees of victory. That is why we watch the games rather than just check the results page each week, or even at the end of the season.
Football has that capacity to be a truly great spectacle, and there are games which have supposedly amounted to nothing which stick in the memory. The Czech Republic against Holland in the last European Championships was a classic.
The style of a team can be as significant a legacy as its silverware, perhaps even more so. Holland 1974 anyone? How many teams have a reputation that they can’t shake? Weren’t we the victims of that not so long ago, or now even, as a team of foreigners who don’t like it up ‘em?
How will this Arsenal team be looked back upon?
As I said in the opening passage, I don’t think Arséne Wenger is above criticism, and he openly discusses the area’s he feels could have been improved upon. Season after season.
He is not a victim of his own success; he is a victim of a financially skewed playing field, and increasingly impatient fans.
The commitment of fans is something which should be as open to doubt as those of the playing squad. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes to see fans leaving the home match against West Ham, 1-0 up with 10 men. Unbelievable.
Yet, I have seen a fraction of the criticism that Arsene Wenger gets directed at the fans who are only interested in supporting this team only under these specific circumstances;
- They win handsomely
- They do this within 85 minutes (I wonder if the matches were reduced to 85 minutes, these fans would leave at 80 minutes and so on)
- They sign loads of big name players, irrespective of financial implications.
I would like a fraction of the energy expended online to be focussed on generating a more cohesive fan base, who STAY TO THE END OF MATCHES (are these the same fans who complain about ticket prices I wonder)?
Maybe Arsenal should look into charging by the minute? We need fans who sing at games whatever the score line, and who actually enjoy the process.
Do any of you know fans of clubs who support less successful clubs? Ask them if they’d like Arsenal’s problems. Which situation would Liverpool fans choose I wonder? It’s a shame we can’t set up a blind taste test.
If choosing a club was a less arbitrary process, and we were given a breakdown of a clubs history, infrastructure, financial stability and playing style, how many people would choose Arsenal?
Sadly there will be no closure to the debate about Arséne Wenger whilst he remains at the club. Only a few years after his tenure will the fairest conclusions be drawn.
I don’t think anyone doubts his achievements to date (even the staunchest anti-Arséne fans gives this credit), but what absolutely must happen is that every single Gooner gets behind our team next season and that every single game at the Emirates is a cauldron of noise for 90 minutes.
For me, to be honest, Arséne Wenger is something of a personal hero and a true gentlemen, I feel that the least he deserves from the remainder of his time with us, is the peace to continue the good work he is doing, the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labour (with the group of players coming through and the loosening of the purse strings), a fair level of criticism without unreasoned condemnation, and unremitting support during games.
The future’s bright, the future’s Red & White.
Following on from the first part of the case brought against Arséne Wenger about the “dismantling” of the Invincibles, the second part is a discussion of his “youth project”.
Arséne Wenger – The Gambler
So, again we find another phrase which is becoming synonymous with Arséne Wenger and his stewardship of Arsenal. Arsenal currently boast the youngest squad in the league I believe, and I hear this used as a double edged criticism in several circles, both from fans and press coverage.
The principal concerns for those who seem less than convinced that this is a fitting way to run a club of Arsenal’s stature and ambition are that;
- The club should not be used as a pseudo crèche for developing footballers learning the difficulties of playing in the Premiership (as well as the other competitions) the hard way, whilst the fans suffer
- Younger players are incapable, or cannot be expected to achieve success at such a tender age as they lack experience and also the familiarity with the sensation of winning trophies.
What can be in no doubt is that the club has placed a dramatic emphasis on youth development over the last few years; this is not a particularly new concept under Wenger’s tenure.
However, whilst the stadium move has been the major focus of the clubs resources, along with the associated property deals, it has been necessary to place a keener focus on the players coming through the ranks.
Whether or not it can be considered an experiment to have taken this approach doesn’t follow however.
Is it that Wenger always intended to run the club in this manner, with such supposed frugality, with such stubborn zeal for his puritanical vision of his youth players playing Wengerball? These casual accusations levelled at him for taking such risks with our club, I don’t feel take into consideration several factors behind the scenes, and require context.
For starters, I don’t feel that this method of management is any more experimental than the “Galacticos” of a few years ago, or even the current set at Real Madrid. Or than what is going on at Manchester City, with the accumulation of a layered team of mercenaries (Adebayor & Robinho for example) and nearly men (Bellamy, Santa Cruz, Wright Phillips)?
Spending big is no guarantee of trophies, any more than a change of manager is; it is not a good way of generating a team ethic and a sense of solidarity in the squad. also I don’t feel that it allows for fans to really connect with the players and create a rapport the way we have with van Persie or even Eboue for instance.
In my opinion, the worst consequence of assembling a squad in this fashion is how it continuously damages otherwise excellent, or promising talent. So many decent players wasted years at Chelsea during the initial phase of arrivals. Wright-Phillips again, Kezman, Shevchenko, Glen Johnson and Crespo spring to mind, all otherwise good players.
I don’t think footballers of this quality can suddenly become bad players, just perhaps ones with no confidence. Or perhaps ones with bad attitudes.
One argument that has value is that many of these players who have much to achieve in football, have signed contracts which far outweighs their contribution to the club as yet. This needs to be considered against the backdrop of modern football. It does grate that a player of 21 can play a handful of games, and not seem to produce much by the way of effort or even skill sometimes, can be so extensively rewarded.
However, the club is producing swathe after swathe of talent, not all of these players will be good enough for the Arsenal, but it is important that the club has first refusal on the players who are of the standard and that it profits from those who do not make the transition to the first team squad for whatever reason.
I believe we have made handsome fees for several players from the academy in the last few seasons, Arsenal have ex-youth players at most of the clubs in the Premier League; Chelsea, Bolton, Birmingham, Aston Villa, Tottenham for example, as well as those in the Championship, and on loan. I would be very interested to see how many Arsenal players will play top level football over the next few years compared with those of other clubs academies.
So the contracts awarded serve two purposes; to keep the talent we have from being tempted to ply their trade for massive wages elsewhere, to ensure that a transfer value is retained in the youngsters who eventually leave.
A further point to consider is that Wenger HAS spent money in this period, since the stadium move Tomás Rosicky, Eduardo, Aaron Ramsey, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, Andrey Arshavin & Thomas Vermaelen have all arrived for a combined value of around the £55 million mark. Granted we have sold, but these aren’t exactly the spending habits of a penny pinching old scrooge.
What they definitely are not, is comparable with the expenditure levels of the clubs immediately surrounding us. And there aren’t many, if any, examples of a club as well run, and secure as ours amongst them. Quite the contrary as we all know.
The lack of experience is a more complicated issue. Sol Campbell’s reintroduction to the squad has certainly been of enormous benefit. But then, hasn’t Silvestre won a trophy or two? The Chelsea team that won the league in 2005 wasn’t entirely peppered with seasoned winners. I think this comes more down to character rather than experience.
As another example, I feel that Vermaelen is a considerably more combative, competitive and a much more positive influence on the team than Arshavin. At the moment, what sort of influence does someone like Arshavin have on a player like Diaby for instance? Is his experience and age of benefit to a player like Diaby who is capable of wonderful displays of midfield play and attacking flair, or his is minimalist approach a poor example to be setting?
I think it’s hard to say conclusively that bringing in experienced players is unquestionably what this team needs. All our major performances are young; Cesc, Song & van Persie are our key figures, along with perhaps Vermaelen now and Clichy. All are young players, all with some experience now, all with very bright futures still ahead of them and all will be key to the success of the team over the coming years.
What people are really asking for is players with a winning mentality, and this is not age dependant. The most conclusive example of this is displayed in the efforts of players such as Lionel Messi, and probably more dramatically, Wayne Rooney. He didn’t learn to be so driven from anyone; he is just simply that sort of player.
Really, the “youth project” has to be seen as a side effect of the stadium move rather than something that was always the intention. It is often used as an accusation that Arsene is playing games with our club, risking nothing himself. But he isn’t risking the clubs future at all, and that is the key counter argument to this point.
Ivan Gazidis said it himself when meeting the Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST) last Monday. He and Le Boss could be heroes for a year or two, but we wouldn’t be thanking them in 4, 5 years time. By that he means that this would jeopardise all the hard work that has been done to keep the club stable.
The real risk is that Arséne Wenger has stood up for something, shown an ideal to be followed, and in an environment like the Premier League or the Champions league, that is an achievement in itself.
The Premier League is scattered with pragmatism, clubs trying desperately to cling onto top flight football at any cost, characteristics that I think Arséne might refer to as “negative aspirations” – wanting to avoid something, rather than wanting to attain something.
Perhaps in some cases, this is completely valid. By no means am I suggesting that all clubs must try to play attacking football no matter what the cost and risk all that they have worked to establish. What I find frustrating is watching teams play with no ambition, with no intention to create, only to smother.
Liverpool are currently the most depressing example of this, a club that has spent so much money, and has players of genuine class reduced to being on the receiving end of a huge “HOOF!”, every time one of their players launches a ball speculatively forward.
This, I think, is the really wonderful thing about the “youth project”. There is now a football philosophy built into every level of football at Arsenal, and it is of high tempo, technically adept, creative play.
A style of football that has been in the ascendancy for some time (both at club and international level), regardless of whether or not it is winning football, because winning is a side effect of doing something well. This applies to anything we attempt in our lives, from something as simple as cooking a meal to what we do at work, music, film, and all sports.
Arsenal’s “project youth” benefits the club in so many ways; it will soon benefit our national side immensely, which has been exposed horribly on several occasions against the likes of Spain or Brazil. I know I’m a better footballer now for watching Arsenal play.
I don’t know who it was, but there was a historian some years ago asked about the impact of the French revolution to which he replied “it’s too early to tell”. I think this is the case here, I don’t think Wenger is playing his own egotistical games with the club, and when success comes in the next year, 5 years, 20 years it will be in no small part because of the vision of Arséne Wenger.
Join us in the next instalment of this series when we demystify the accusation that Arséne Wenger has lost the plot.
In recent observations, I’ve suggested that the best signing Arsenal has made in the last 2 years was that of Ivan Gazidis as Chief Executive. It’s usually hard to notice progressive moves made by any new head honcho within the first year as different organizations adjust differently with change of leadership.
Gazidis however, has made tiny strides in securing some quick gains that have earned him some serious political capital both in and outside the club. Whether it’s the ’Arsenalisation’ program currently taking place, or the introduction of a high powered commercial team to focus on maximizing brand Arsenal around the world; Gazidis’s impact is slowly but surely setting in.
Without diminishing any gains Gazidis may have made in different quarters around the club, my sense is that the Arsenal CEO has had two significant roles this far, and during this critical time in Arsenal’s development, I believe that he has the most crucial role to play as a facilitator and enabler.
Firstly, I believe he has acted well as a counter balance and check to the inevitable power that Arséne Wenger wields at Arsenal. It’s not a secret that very few, if any people find themselves courageous enough to challenge the influence Wenger holds over the technical side of the club’s affairs.
Wenger in a lot of respects has earned the authority and right to his leadership and his record and achievements speak for themselves. However, since the departure of David Dein, it’s been clear that Wenger has seriously missed a reliable aide and confidant to share the load with and to assist him in the very critical task of seeing the wood from the trees.
A question has been raised as to whether there’s anyone at Arsenal who can pull Wenger aside and provide an alternative opinion. Take Pat Rice for example, is he capable of saying to Wenger, ”Actually, I think you should revert Song to central defence, and let Denilson hold the fort with Diaby and Cesc in midfield because the opponent are ball players and we’ll have a better chance this way”.
Part of the problem for the Arsenal board is that the balancing act of keeping the club as strong as it is with a move to a new stadium, as well as keeping the squad competitive year in year out is a very precarious and even career threatening job (if the manager fails).
In Arséne Wenger, the board have possibly one of the few managers in the world who is able and willing to take on such an audacious job with a hand tied behind his back. They recognize this and they will bend over backwards and kiss Wenger’s ass to ensure that he is happy.
None of them wants to contemplate the alternative scenario of having another manager who is not capable of operating at this elite level without screaming for big money in order to survive, let alone challenge. The point is that even now, but more so in the last 5 years, very few managers of a world class calibre would have agreed to do Wenger’s job under the same conditions.
The key challenge is therefore one of continuing the arduous task of keeping Wenger happy, supporting and encouraging him, while walking around with a big stick just in case. The man with that unenviable job has been Ivan Gazidis, and let’s face it, it’s not an easy job by any means.
So far, Gazidis has shown that he’s a class act, but now more than ever, he needs to earn his corn by helping steer Arsenal through this last mile that is proving elusive and challenging for this squad.
He needs to throw his full weight (well – the weight of his office and the furniture in it) behind the manager, while being comfortable to pull Wenger aside and apply the right amount of pressure at the right time; all without rocking or sinking the boat and losing the significant gains made this far.
He needs to be able to bitch slap Wenger at the same time as holding an arm around the manager’s shoulder and smiling with him in encouragement at the realisation of Arsenal’s audacious vision. When difficult decisions have to be made or supported, Gazidis needs to be able to tell Wenger to go to hell in such a way that the Arsenal manager looks forward to the trip.
More importantly, Wenger needs to feel and believe that he has a friend who not only supports him through this challenging patch, but can be a trusted sounding board and critical voice that will help move the club to the next stage.
That is why in my view, Ivan Gazidis has the most important role at Arsenal during this precarious period that demands that Arsenal turns its massive potential and stability into championship results.
This responsibility is somewhat related to the second key task that I think the Arsenal CEO has. This is the task of acting as a referee to the various protagonists on the board and the power play that is going on.
More often than not, it’s hard to know which side of the bread the different Arsenal board members are buttering. Not that we can control the eventual ownership of the club if the shareholders involved choose to swap around their stakes.
The thing is that this sort of high stakes poker has an impact on the rest of the club and the fan base in general. Gazidis has a key role to play here in keeping all the parties talking and keeping them focussed on what the operational issues are and how they will be impacted by their shenanigans.
He has already done this in many ways like insisting that he will continue to talk to all parties and try and keep the harmony; but again, playing referee in such a scenario is an unenviable task.
As we go into a summer with much promise of investment in the squad, Gazidis must exert his influence to ensure that the club has the best chance of starting the season with a strong squad capable of challenging. He must steer the board to achieving the right balance between debt repayment and squad investment.
He must support Wenger in whatever the manager feels needs addressing, while applying pressure on him to make the difficult decisions. Most importantly, he must take responsibility for steering the club in a direction that serves our interests long term, and not bow down to the pressure of popular culture and emotion of the day.
As another season concludes, the clouds gather over N5, less hope than before previous seasons seems to be prevalent this time though. It is hard to gauge the overall feel amongst fans, so extreme are interpretations of the status, potential and future of our club.
A full range of predictions are available, from Arsenal being well placed to be a super power for the next decade, through being a work in progress right down to the thoroughly disgusted and exasperated fans who feel that a substantial change is required in both the squad, but most significantly the manager’s position.
There are several charges laid at the door of Le Boss at the moment by those dissatisfied with his performance over the last few years.
I shall deal with them in a semblance of chronological order. I don’t imagine that there were too many dissenters around 2004, I think the rumblings seem to start at the end of the Invincibles side.
Wenger – The Dismantler
I have read time and time again in the sports pages and on blogs the phrase “Wenger dismantled the Invincibles”. A hugely successful team, a team that made history of course, full to the brim of winners, of athletes, of strapping six footers. Of players that understood what it was to play for the Arsenal. And certainly they were.
However, Mr Wenger saw fit to take this team of men at the peak of their powers and scatter them to the four winds, to Spain, and Greece, and the west and east ends of London, the south coast, even put them out to pasture.
Is this really a fair charge? Even a sensible one?
In order to really analyse this criticism, let us take the main figures in that ’Invincibles’ side, case by case;
His time was up early in the 2007/08 season after a couple of costly errors saw Almunia given the goalkeepers position. Firstly, this was now three seasons after the unbeaten run, and Jens was now 38 years old, I think it’s fair to say that his time at this level of competition was drawing to a conclusion.
Given that in that season we put up a considerable title charge, I think we can say that (at the time) Almunia was worth his starting place.
Sadly, Lauren’s time at Arsenal came to a close after a huge amount of time out with a knee injury, and left in January 2007 for Portsmouth. At the time Eboue had featured prominently in the run to Paris in 2006, and in my opinion looked a phenomenal prospect at right back.
Since then of course we have also had Bacary Sagna join the team, and he certainly has been solid, if not always hitting the heights of his first season.
There really isn’t much to be said here. I certainly don’t think Arsene can be held culpable for this departure in 2006.
Well, perhaps now he’s back and been a real injection of fighting spirit as well as putting in some outstanding performances (his goal celebration at Stoke will stay with me as an iconic Gooner moment, where the players and fans are in total empathetic harmony), this could be perceived to have been a massive loss.
However, at the time, I feel that the club treated him well. I’m still not entirely sure what was at the root of his loss of form, I believe he was having personnel problems. Gallas was brought in that summer, and at the time this seemed more than adequate replacement for a player who seemed to be on the wane.
A substantial profit has been made on a player who it is looking very much like we got the best years out of. A real Wenger find, a right midfielder transformed into a calm centre half, who never really asserted himself, but was a superb player to have alongside a more naturally gifted defender.
His timing & commitment could be outstanding at times, and he is a player I thought would finish his career at Arsenal. The big money came knocking, and the chance of a final payday as well as the disharmony with Big Bad Billy G saw Kolo skipping up the M1 with a certain Mr. Adebayor.
This of course has seen Thomas Vermaelen take over at the back, and he certainly looks like a significant improvement.
Freddie is another player in this list, who was into his twilight time at Arsenal when he left. He participated in the first season at the Emirates, but had been injured consistently for some time, and had certainly lost some of his “mojo”.
Alex Hleb, was starting to produce some fine performances, and gave the side a capacity to beat a man in a fashion we have not had consistently for some time. A fabulous dribbler of the ball, although infuriating at times, between him, Eboue & Theo we had cover on the right side when he left in 2007.
In my opinion, Bobby Pires is the only member of the ’Invincibles’ who left too early, directly as a result of club policy. So many times the season after leaving Highbury I saw the ball roll diagonally, and fruitlessly past the far post, exactly where super Bob would normally be gliding towards to steer it home.
His reception when we played Villareal last year was incredible and deserved and I feel warmer than those extended to Vieira and Henry for this reason. Both Henry and Vieira had courted moves, and this took a little sheen from their return. Tomás Rosicky’s addition to the squad tempered the loss, but Pires’s quality and value to the squad was a big gap to fill.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that Patrick left at a good time, the previous summer’s wrangling over his transfer didn’t sit well, and although he has seen some success since he left, most people will agree his impact on games was diminished.
Who can forget the game against Juventus when he was disposed by Pires of all people? A sublime tackle that was the origin of a passage of play that led to Juventus chasing shadows before Cesc Fabregas slotted in a peach of a goal from just outside the box.
After Pires, I think Gilberto Silva was the only other player who maybe would have been of benefit to keep within the squad. With the clumsy manner of the captaincy being given to Gallas coupled with the energetic rise of Flamini, I think his days were numbered at the club.
Well, there was a wonderfully symmetrical sense of destiny with Dennis choosing to hang up his boots to coincide with the retirement of Highbury. Certainly his playing time was largely reduced, especially with Reyes still looking to be an excellent attacking player, and also Adebayor arriving and having a minor impact.
As with Vieira, Titi’s courting episode with Barcelona the previous summer had meant this wasn’t as crushing as it might have been. It even seemed the season afterwards that his presence had been a hindrance.
I remember on several occasions in his final year with us, he looked disinterested, although he was still producing the goods in bursts; his demeanour can’t have been a positive influence in the dressing room or on the pitch.
So overall after Vieira left having lifted the FA Cup, another 4 players left/retired in 2006, 2 in 2007, and by the start of the 2008/09 season only Kolo was left. Most of these players were the wrong side of thirty at the time of departure, and although valuable experience was undoubtedly lost, it is worth noting that after Henry left a substantial title challenge was registered.
I would say that the departures after the 2007-2008 season were more damaging in a way, losing Matthieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra, Gilberto Silva & Alex Hleb meant that only Cesc Fabregas remained of that midfield after Rosicky succumbed to the early stages of his injury problems.
I would never wish to seem that I am rewriting history, or bad mouthing former players who gave us all so much success, and played for the Arsenal with outstanding distinction. I am merely using these points to illustrate what I consider to be an injustice towards the manager.
Saying that he dismantled the Invincibles almost implies Arséne Wenger is some sort of saboteur.
The ’Invincibles’ team had peaked together for all our benefits, but sadly it faded together too, and the gradual disappearance was rather more organic than sometimes reported.
In the next instalment, we’ll examine the next charge laid at the feet of the Arsenal manaager, Mr. Arséne Wenger the Gambler.
The season’s practically over and these are my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the unacceptable about The Arsenal.
My sense is that Wenger’s accumulated goodwill is at levels that will not endure another season like this one. 5 seasons of development is ample and it is time the results start justifying the investment.
I rate our goalkeeper situation and the alarming inconsistency of this squad as being unacceptable.
Manuel Almunia, admittedly, has had his moments but I don’t believe he will ever be the worthy goalkeeper of a side aspiring for honours. He simply doesn’t have what it takes in my view. Stand-in? yes; First-choice? No. He doesn’t, and can’t, command the defence adequately to do the job at this level.
I don’t think we have time or money left to invest in Lukasz Fabianski’s development either. On balance, he simply hasn’t acquitted himself well enough when given the chance, to justify further investment.
He’s young yet, and I think we’d do well to let him find his feet at a lower level. If he does make it to the top eventually, fair play to him. I wish him well, but not at the Arsenal as things stand.
I’m also sceptical about the competence of our goalkeeping coaches. Since David Seaman we haven’t been able to spot, recruit, and develop a top class goalkeeper barring, in flashes, Jens Lehman.
Fabianski, it is claimed, was among the most sought after young goalkeepers in Europe when we signed him. Is his present predicament, therefore, simply a case of the individual losing it? or is it a consequence of inadequate coaching that shoots both the young player and the club in the foot?
The inconsistencies are another big worry. It bothers me that this team alternates between repeatedly snatching late winners under pressure to remain in the title race, and turning up like stale soda water, as they did against Spurs and Wigan, in the face of opportunities to enhance their chase.
The performances against the latter teams were a disgrace. All teams have an off day at the office; Championship sides, though, don’t have them when a title is up for grabs. The team let Wenger, the fans, and themselves down criminally.
It is less that the title eludes us yet again, but the manner in which we let it slip that hurts. It should never happen again. Our lack of defensive nous and our epidemic injury woes are the bad aspects of our situation.
If we do wish to emulate Barcelona we must first learn to play well off the ball, regaining possession with minimum delay regardless of where on the pitch we lose it. The idea was best expressed by, I think, Neeskens who defined total football as “attacking from the back and defending from the front”.
That, I’m afraid, doesn’t come naturally to players, or indeed teams, and requires relentless and meticulous training to manifest. It is my view that Wenger relies on recruiting players with flair and intelligence and letting them sort situations out for themselves on the field.
This team, barring that run to the Champions league final in 2006, has never shown consistent and sufficient defensive nous. I cannot claim. either, that there have been encouraging improvements in the interim. Season after season the same lament, “Naive defending”, does the rounds. Sadly, after a couple of seasons, it isn’t naive anymore; just incompetent.
Whether it involves hiring a specialist defence coach, or simply revamping our training to better address this persistent deficiency, this is a problem that needs to be urgently remedied.
All the above, of course, don’t count for much if we continue to suffer injuries at the rates we’ve recently endured. While Robin Van Persie, Johan Djourou and Tomas Rosicky have been the sad poster children of the chronically injured bridage, we also seem to lose key players, repeatedly, for short stretches of the season.
I cannot remember when our first choice selection uninterruptedly played a significant stretch of the season together. This invariably leads to inconsistency with some player or the other inevitably taking time to find his feet and hampering the squad’s performance levels. Eduardo, this season, comes to mind.
Yes, the Crozilian was a victim of assault, but the logic holds for injuries generally.
What the reasons are for this isn’t yet clear, club releases notwithstanding.
Without progress on this front, developments and improvements elsewhere will count for nothing. We simply cannot afford to have key players on the sidelines for prolonged, or repeated stretches; neither can we afford to have younger players like Djourou, on the treatment table when they should be gaining experience on loan.
Lest you conclude I’m a hopeless pessimist, here’s what I find heartening about our present situation.
A core of talented and feisty players and financial stability that’ll inure us to the financial troubles that seem certain to dog the world over the next couple of years.
In Fabregas, Vermaelen, Nasri and, injuries permitting, Van Persie, we have a core that rivals any in world football for skill and feistiness. In Sagna, Clichy, Song, Denilson and Eboue we have a supporting cast that unfussily sets the stage for the stars to display their wares.
I don’t need to remind you of the pack of promising youngsters waiting on the wings either. With judicious additions, and better coaching, therefore, I think we are very well positioned to turn out a team that belongs with the very best, and is likely to stay that way for a long time to come.
Other points to consider are: Diaby is hellishly inconsistent; the goalkeepers I’ve already dealt with; Rosicky and Eduardo have yet to find their feet after long lay-offs; Gallas’ plans aren’t clear yet; Arshavin is skilled but does he buy into the project? Sol is on his last legs; Silvestre earns a good pension; Walcott, Vela and Bendtner remain promising but not finished articles.
Key purchases, and revamped coaching, I reiterate, are the key factors. Wenger suggested this season would be the test; I think the next one will. Important things have been cruelly brought to our attention this season, and Wenger is too intelligent to not have taken note.
I believe he will react to the crushing disappointments of the season decisively, especially given he regarded this season as the test.
I end on the high note of our finances. The rumblings in the “Club Med”, and the unwillingness of the candidates campaigning for the English Prime Ministership to detail their plans to reign in the unsustainable fiscal situation locally, should have alerted our readers to the perilous state of the world’s financial system.
I do think Greece marks only the prelude in what is going to be a serious and painful rebalancing of the world’s financial infrastructure. Finding credit on flimsy terms is going to become impossible as banks are already faced with potentially fatal losses.
Credit availability and terms for our more leveraged brethren in football are going to be punishing over the next 2 years, and I will not be surprised to see more teams do a ’Portsmouth’. Football, like much of the global economy, went into a manic phase gorging on easy money and blind optimism. Such lunacies don’t last too long as recent newspaper reports make clear, and Arsenal is best positioned to withstand the inevitable corrections.
Greece, and Portsmouth, I repeat, are just preludes. The European banking system, and therefore access to credit are deeply imperilled. A cleaning of the Augean stables will be forced on entire economies in due course.
Roman Abramovich’s excesses marked a decisive wrenching of football from financial reality, and Arsene Wenger deserves enormous respect for keeping us competitive, without breaking the bank, in the face of such excess.
Having a squad of relatively young players is a benefit too. Unlike Chelsea, we won’t be forced to sell aging high wage players at low prices, or invest heavily to replenish our squad; A few key signings should see us through.
We will, I think, have our payback in the next 24 months, going about our task without worrying about debts, wages, bankruptcies etc.
Before I end though, football fans, regardless of persuasion, must delight at Fulham qualifying for the finals of the Europa League.
Roy Hodgson’s dignified personal conduct, and the organization and endeavour he has instilled in his team make excellent examples for the game. Here’s to more of his ilk. Well done Sir.
There you have it then. My reflections as this season draws to a close. Do share your views in the comments too.
Much has been said about the new 25 man squad rule with all of its veiled attempts at protectionism. Pick any newspaper or read any football blog, and the big story over the last few days has been the squeezing of chuffers at the Premier league table to force a new squad system with the ’home grown’ bias.
So the Premier League chairmen had a gentleman’s agreement and shook hands on it. That’s what they say, but is it even legal?
British Airways executives and Virgin Atlantic bosses famously had dodgy telephone conversations to try and fix ticket prices that begun with ”This conversation didn’t take place….”, and it’s not surprising that they’re in the dock staring down the barrel of a long stretch as a guest of the state.
An extreme example, but a valid one nonetheless illustrating that all the best will of the industry at protectionism, may not be necessarily legal.
Richard Scudamore, the Premier league CEO is quick to point out that the benefit of such a system will help promote youth and increase the chances of ’home grown’ players (whatever that actually means) making it through the ranks. If ever there was a veiled attempt at protectionism…well
There’s a small matter of a European Law though, that prohibits restriction of trade and for all intents and purposes, is open to interpretation. All it takes is for a good lawyer to prove that this rule actually restricts the movement of players in some shape or form within the EU.
It’ll only take one player to get a raw deal when they’re shipped off to another club they don’t want to go to in order to accommodate over 21 year old players.
The truth is that if I tried in my company to implement employment restrictions on the number of men or women, the number of over and under 25s, the number of gay or straight people, the number of disabled people, the number of black or white people, the number of ugly or beautiful people, the number of fat or thin people, or the number of parents and non-parents; I’d actually be in remand waiting for a jail sentence for crimes against employment law.
My sense is that there’s too much money at stake in football for such a rule to go unchecked, and I suppose I have a bigger problem in the overarching message about protectionism that this rule breeds.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that such a policy acts to ’save’ indigenous football as it provides the message that the foreign influence in the EPL thus far has inherently impeded local prospects. I said this as much in our ’How English Is the English Premier League’ series.
Local prospects have a bigger problem than the global nature of the EPL. It’s a much deeper rooted problem that is a nightmare for the English FA to deal with and is the reason why I submitted that England will never win the world cup until the establishment comes out of the stone age and change their paradigm and mindset about the game from top to bottom.
However you look at this though, Arsenal is more equipped than any other EPL club to cope with this protectionism rule. The work that the club has done over the last few years has ensured that we have the best crop of talented and experienced under 21s in the top flight who can readily supplement the 25 man squad.
My sense is that it will only be a matter of time before the ruling is challenged by someone who is pissed off by it, and it won’t just necessarily be a player who’s nose is left out of joint. I wouldn’t put it past a club decimated by injury and having few options to cope turning to the courts for recourse.
Either way, the situation makes the job of hacks that much more difficult. It’s amazing how every year, the silly season starts earlier as the media shit stirring goes into full effect. I have a theory that editors systematically bust the balls of sports writers (well, at least those with balls) to come up with any sensationalist nonsense about player transfers.
I get bemused when I hear the term ’linked to’ as in a player has been linked to Arsenal, or any other club for that matter. Who the hell links these players if it isn’t the same bunch of hacks who sit in Fleet street pubs all day concocting transfer rumours to fill news columns. Their fantasy transfer stories are usually based on video game experiences and have little to no bearing on the reality.
I particularly like the articles published as fact that don’t even have an author’s name and is tagged as ’by Football Correspondent’ or ’by Staff Team’. And they also quote an inside source as the origin of their hackery attempt at a story.
This 25 man ’home grown’ player rule will really rack their brains this time as speculating on transfers won’t be as straight forward as it’s always been. It’ll take a bit more thought and creativity.
I know for sure that in my line of work, if I constantly published the amount of faecal matter that we see in the tabloids promoted as fact, I’d be out of a job every time round. I do wonder whether these guys have a modicum of respectability when they look in the mirror after a day of concocting news they’ve peddled to the world as fact.
What most people don’t realise is that other journalists around the world take these stories as fact and rehash and republish them cementing the rumour and innuendo as credible news.
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