I am a fairly regular poster on an Arsenal forum that I have been an active part of for 13 years, and the only one which I spend any time one. It was set up in 1996, the early days of mass internet, by a massive Arsenal Fan, Steve Gleiber who had ended up in Australia, and formed an international community for a disparate bunch of Gooners from all walks of life. Sadly Steve passed away tragically young in 2005, but supported and maintained by friends and long-standing posters it lives on, with many of the same people regularly participating in this small online community that were when I first joined.
As well as drawing attention to a great online forum, I mention this because it is a place where many questions are asked that lead me to think the most about Arsenal, football, and frequently completely unrelated topics.
And sometimes the simple ones can be the most provoking. One fan in the US asked:
Everybody said we should judge Wenger after September 2nd. So what’s the verdict?
In some ways, asking a question that suggests possible black and white answers where only shades of grey seem accurate seems deliberately provocative, but it is a fair reflection of where the Arsenal fanbase has been over the last two or three years. Significant vocal minorities split between deeply entrenched opposing positions, while the rest of us float in the middle torn between the two.
The WOB (Wenger Out Brigade) versus the AKB (Arsene Knows Brigade) has increasingly turned into a grudge match, with those on either extreme instantly placing dissent in the opposite camp. With the waters increasing muddied in the last two years by the BSM (Black Scarf Movement) and the ever self-publicising AST (Arsenal Supporters Trust), the Arsenal fanbase has not only been swamped in angst (some more existential than others), but also has started to resemble the politics so aptly mocked in ‘Life of Brian’.
In addressing the club’s unarguable comparative decline on the pitch since the 2009/10 season (and perhaps since the summer of 2008), many Arsenal fans have been guilty of adopting that most ugly of modern social norms, blame culture. Who’s fault is it? Who do we blame? Who should lose their job? As if the developments at the club work in a vacuum of complete isolation from the rest of football.
The situation has not been helped by recent seasons of conflicting information regarding finances coming from the club, parsimony in the transfer market and complete lack of communication from Stan Kroenke. But then as we have seen this summer, publicising your means in order to placate the fans can compromise your negotiating position with competing clubs.
There is even still division among the fans now the initial excitement about Monday evening has started to fade. Some have described our new man as an ‘expensive frivolity’, and not being what was needed, and the increasingly prescriptive AST, misjudging the mood slightly, issued a statement bemoaning the fact that the club hasn’t spent all its cash.
The arrival of numbers boosting Flamini and Viviano have led to angry verbal clashes between fans of differing persuasions, with each side pouncing on them as ‘proof’ of their optimistic or pessimistic prejudices, and it seems there is as much vocal anti-club bias among the support as is the usual blinkered righteousness you normally see among fans (myself included).
Lest we forget, Victoria Concordia Crescit is the club’s motto. We’ve been rather lacking in Concordia of late. Perhaps this hasn’t helped the pursuit of Victoria? And frankly all that anger can’t be good for everyone’s blood pressure…
Going back to the original question, despite the excitement of Monday, it would be easy to find myself with more questions than I had before it regarding where I stand on the manager long-term.
This summer he’s failed in some respects and as it turns out over-achieved in others, thanks to the final 24 hours of the window. We are obviously short of a striker and a centre-half, and personally I would still welcome more physicality in midfield, and the squad still lacks balance. There also remains the long standing question marks over Arsene’s capacity to balance ideals with need when it comes to tactics and potential signings. The same old, same old would be the death nell for his reign in my eyes.
The Ozil buy is a potential game-changer. If this is the kind of signing we are looking to make, whilst holding on to what we have, it is impossible to view the club and manager in the same light as even a week ago. It may be moving the goalposts, but with this one signing, the club and manager have earned the continued patience of the fans. The excitement and satisfaction of out new number 11′s arrival is only enhanced by the pretty unequivocal expressions of shock and disappointment coming out of the Madrid camp. Cristiano Ronaldo being the latest:
‘The sale of Ozil is very bad news for me,’ he said.
‘He was the player who best knew my moves in front of goal… I’m angry about Özil leaving.’
It is however the quote of warrior defender and former Arsenal target Sergio Ramos that caught my eye the most:
It’s obvious that he is a special team-mate and friend.
‘I’ve always had a real ‘feeling’ with him, and it’s a shame. He’s a great footballer, unique.
‘Ozil would be the very last player who I would sell from Real Madrid, if it was up to me. I don’t understand this.’
It is impossible to know if this signing is a statement of long-term intent that is to be continued, or merely an opportunistic purchase to placate fans and players. We have been offered false dawns of varying sorts before. But crucially, it is a fundamental departure from our recent modus operandi, so at least represents a long overdue change in approach. So to my mind, we should be prepared to wait and see how it pans out, because at long last we are venturing into unknown territory. If we can keep people reasonably fit until January and then bring in a 20m+ striker in January, this could be our best season in a good while, not to mention the dawn of the approach that the stadium move was supposed to herald.
The manager has in my mind also gained some credit due to the recovery from the largely disastrous recruitment policy of the summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011. While we are undoubtedly light on numbers, we are considerably less encumbered by weak links. The squad is as unified as it has been in a long time, and is almost exclusively populated by honest professionals who seem to take a pride in representing The Arsenal, and enjoy their connection with the fans. The players added, Viviano, Flamini and Ozil are all in this mould too, and all have the desire that comes with being let down by other big clubs. We have seen far too many in recent seasons for whom 100% effort seemed an alien concept, and who seem to care far too little about the welfare of their team-mates.
The hope is that this apparent greater honesty, application and togetherness will make the team less prone to the collapses after bad results than in previous years. The fine run after last season’s defeat to Spurs is a case in point. Equally, the introduction of Steve Bould to the bench does seem to have shaken up the manager’s thinking a little tactically, and while still a little imbalanced, this side looks to be much more solid defensively and has returned to breaking with devastating speed.
As such, we appear to be looking to build from a better basis than we have been in three or four years, and as such the manager has to be given some credit. It doesn’t hurt that he has shown that he still has some sway by convincing Ozil to come to London rather than collecting a larger salary in Paris.
Either way – it could be worse…
Whatever our individual conclusions about the current state of Arsenal Football Club, we can take comfort that we are not as deeply entrenched in the distasteful politics of envy, fear and manipulation as some of our rivals.
As many of us had concluded, not least on here, and now so have the Daily Mail among others, Mourinho deliberately strung us along on the Demba Ba loan deal with no intention of letting the player join us once he had heard about the impending arrival of Mesut Ozil, as he feared that would elevate us to the level of competition if we were able to secure another striker. Apparently fees had been agreed and a medical arranged, but Chelsea waited until it was too late to start other negotiations to renege on provisional agreements
Clever and effective? Certainly. Petty and mean? Of course. Lest we forget, that is the modus operandi of both Mourinho and Chelsea. Ever since Roman’s roubles have appeared on the scene, they have been a club that buys players and sacrifices their careers, simply to stop the players being bought by rival clubs.
Apparently, not content with messing Real Madrid around with the Bale transfer in order to stop Arsenal buying Benzema or Di Maria before the North London Derby, Daniel Levy made personal phone calls to Madrid to try to convince them to block the Mesut Ozil deal at the last minute, a la Mourinho. Not only does this reflect his misjudgement that Real Madrid would ever see Tottenham as equal partners, but also the continuing obsession the lot down the road have with overhauling us, rather than looking at the bigger picture.
It is also entertaining to see that Manchester United’s transfer window was even more shambolic than ours, with failed bids for almost every playmaker in Europe, before settling on Fellaini for 4m more than it would have cost to buy him a week earlier. On top of the wonderfully bizzare story about rogue lawyers trying to muscle in on the proposed Ander Herrara deal, it appears United bid for Daniele De Rossi, Wesley Sneijder and Sami Khedira in the last couple of days (with bids so low even Arsene would be embarrassed), before being rebuffed in their late attempts to hijack the Ozil deal. It seems the Ferguson/Gill dream team is already being missed, which can only bode well for Arsenal’s capacity to be competitive.
So for the time being, lets count our blessings, and regardless of what happens, try to derive some pleasure from having an attacking midfield line-up that only Chelsea can compete with domestically. Results we have to hope for – one thing is certain, a team that already plays lovely football is only going to play even better stuff, and our new man will literally and metaphorically will be right at the centre of it all.
On a somewhat unrelated matter, a Chelsea fan has written a rather wonderful blog post about being his dispassionate observances outside the Emirates Stadium as transfer deadline day rolled on. It’s really worth a read.
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