It’s never easy being an Arsenal fan, but the last year or so has been particularly taxing, even for the staunch optimists among us. I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles over the past couple of weeks and have been surprised at just how much opinions have changed. It’s really interested me because I seem to be very much in the same boat, as my supporting position, if you will, has also shifted recently.
I’ve always resented this need to segregate our fans into pen-like categories with lame acronymic titles. Why should anyone who raises any hint of criticism being branded a doom-bringing WOB? Equally why should anyone trying to pick the positives from a bad performance be a naïve, deluded AKB? In the harsh, complex reality of life, only zebras and penguins are black and white, we should know by now that there are far more than 50 shades of grey in-between.
Frankly, I don’t trust this board as far as I can throw them. I don’t want to sound like NWA or Public Enemy and go all activist on you with some ‘Fight The Power’ rally cry that we should unite and bring down the evil fat cats, but it very much looks from the outside looking in that those at the top are the ones most responsible.
Maybe that is a blinkered, narrow-minded view, however. Many people have made the point this week that we’ve made plenty of adjustments that plenty of fans demanded without any real success. There have been changes at board level with Gazidis and Kroenke coming into more prominent roles, although quite what the latter does except threaten to bleed the club dry I don’t quite know. The physio staff blamed for our perennial injuries has changed. Pat Rice, often derided as something of a weak yes-man has been replaced by Steve Bould with the promise that our defence would improve. Judging by the fact we conceded three at home to Fulham or five against a half-strength Reading side, it evidently hasn’t. The personnel on the pitch has been changed umpteen times since we last tasted any kind of tangible success. The only constant has been the manager and simply nothing’s changed since the move to the new stadium.
Does this mean it’s time to replace Arsène Wenger? I don’t know. I still think he’s a very capable manager and deserves immense credit for keeping us in the Champions League for the last thirty-eight trillion years. But where are we going? It’s Groundhog Day; we’re stuck in a perpetual state of déjà vu. I don’t think we’re going to fall out of the top four this year, simply because Spurs and Liverpool are so poor and Everton won’t have the strength or consistency to keep this form up until May. But equally, there’s no chance of us even competing for the title. The performance at Old Trafford a fortnight ago was as depressing as they come; as it proved the magnitude of the gulf between ourselves and Manchester United. They’re so far ahead it’s frightening. We can forget about going toe-to-toe with them and, naturally, we’ve got no chance of realistically competing with the bankrolled likes of City and Chelsea.
What’s going to happen in the summer? They’ll all get stronger because that’s what the top teams do. United missed out on the Premier League title by the smallest of margins, so they went out and bought the best striker in the league. Will we match their ambition? No. We’ll probably have to cave in and, yet again, sell two of our best players who, much like the fans, are sick and tired of this club going nowhere. Criticise his statement all you want, but you’d be foolish to deny that van Persie was right. We might reinvest the money generated from the aforementioned sales but it will, of course, be on inferior players. We won’t buy the other striker we desperately need because it’ll ‘kill’ Benik Afobe. We’ll make do by trusting these same injury-prone players.
That’s what we’ve done for so long – we’ve made do. We’ve just taken a series of punts in the hope it’ll all be dandy in the end. Well it’s not. You can’t rely on Vito Mannone, a man the manager publicly admitted he was willing to sell. You can’t have the likes of Marouane Chamakh on the bench; a player he blatantly doesn’t trust. You can’t have the likes of Denilson and Sebastien Squillaci, those literally offering nothing to the club, stuck on the wage bill. We didn’t buy a proper, top quality keeper and just hoped that it’d be alright with Manuel Almunia between the sticks. We sold Gilberto, Lassana Diarra and Mathieu Flamini in the space of six months and didn’t bring in a single replacement. Since his departure, Alex Song has come under some criticism from Arsenal fans but, whatever your opinion of him, not replacing him because you’ve got Abou Diaby, a man who can’t play more than three games on the bounce without getting crocked, is absolutely bonkers.
I don’t think it’s Wenger’s fault per se; he did claim to be looking for a replacement. So why didn’t we get one? Did the board not give him access to funds? Or were we not willing to pay a tad over the odds to secure a player? I’m sick of having to make do and mend, it infuriates that Betway and other bookmakers are pricing Midfielders higher to score goals than our strikers I’m sick of having to make do and mend. This isn’t World War II.
We’re far too reliant on certain players; particularly the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta. The latter is particularly important to our aspirations and, judging by last weekend’s rare shocker, he may well be suffering from being overplayed; an element of this vicious circle we’ve created in that we clearly don’t trust the players we have in reserve. What happens if one, or Dennis forbid, both, are out for six months? I don’t even want to contemplate that. Yes, injuries are unfortunate, but relying on Diaby and Kieran Gibbs – both fine players, don’t get me wrong – to stay fit for the duration of the campaign was simply never going to work, and yet again we’ve ended up with egg on our faces.
We’re told 2014 is when this grand, self-sufficient plan all comes together. In addition to Financial Fair Play, which may or may not have a profound influence on our European rivals, new, more lucrative commercial deals will come into effect meaning that, along with the significant pile of cash that hasn’t been spent in the transfer market, the manager will have access to, to coin a tabloid buzzword, something of a warchest that will allow us to compete at the top once again. But, to reference Chuck D once again, don’t believe the hype. Why are we so sure this’ll happen? Wenger has only ever really had access to capital he’s generated himself by having to sell the likes of Fàbregas, Nasri, van Persie and Song. By all accounts we currently have £70m sitting in the bank, gaining minimal interest. That hasn’t been touched, what’s to say that’s all going to change in 2014? Is Kroenke really going to allow that money to get away from him? I highly doubt it.
Coincidentally, I believe Wenger’s contract is also up in 2014 so there’s every chance a new man could come in. But as for the present, is there anybody that could do a better job? With our limited resources, probably not in terms of the transfer market. But our current players just aren’t performing. Is Wenger tactically astute enough to shake things up now we’ve become so predictable and one-dimensional? Perhaps not. Does he have the capability to motivate his players in the same way that many of counterparts do? I don’t know. I’m not saying we should follow Piers Morgan’s advice and get Harry Redknapp in but, for the first time for me personally at least, I’m beginning to question whether Wenger is the right man for the job. Ultimately, however, there’s no ideal candidate on the market, so we’ll just have to hope he can continue to keep us ‘afloat’ and at least relatively competitive.
My other reservation with this 2014 thing is that I don’t like the future. It can be a scary prospect. What if Spurs get taken over by a Russian/Arab billionaire tomorrow? Chelsea and the Manchester clubs will undoubtedly get stronger, as will other continental giants. My fear is that, even if this promise of a massive budget does indeed come to fruition, it will probably be too late. I suspect we’ll have fallen too far behind to recover.
A win in the North London Derby would provide some serious respite. It won’t make the problems go away but we’ll all feel an awful lot better. After some horrifically tame performances this season, most notably the one at Old Trafford, let’s hope the boys are up for it. If they can’t motivate themselves for a game against Tottenham, what hope is there for the rest of the season? Do us proud, lads. An unfavourable result may see things turn especially ugly.
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