Well, here we are.
The precipice. The edge of the cliff. The end of the line. The point of no return. Or any other tried and tested cliché that describes how close we are to losing our minds at how the team is playing.
For a while now, we’ve been waiting for a sign as to how this team will develop. And despite a mixed start to the season, it was tempting to believe that beating our local rivals 5-2 AGAIN was that sign. I’ll be honest here, I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to Arsenal and I always try to convince myself that the glass is always half full instead of half empty. But last night, that glass fell to the ground and smashed into a million pieces.
We send out a full strength side, versus a club that plays in a division three levels below us, in a cup tie that players during the week had indicated was a big deal to them. All the signs before the game indicated that we wanted to win that game, yet all the signs during the game suggested otherwise. In our biggest game of the season so far, a quarter-final of a competition that represented our best chance of ending a seven year trophy drought, we played our worst game of the season, in a season littered with below par performances. We got exactly what we deserved from last night, and that was nothing.
Now, these are the spoilt utterances of an Arsenal fan used to drinking from the cup of Invincibility and unable to accept even the vague possibility that we won’t win every game. I hope that we win every game we play, what fan doesn’t, but I sure as hell don’t demand or expect victory after victory after victory. Losing is as much a part of sport as winning and every loss should be scrutinised so that lessons are learnt. But if it was clear to all that despite losing a game, the team did everything in their power to avoid defeat, then I can accept losing.
I don’t ask for much from a player wearing my team’s colours, other than to give as much effort as I would give in their place. I’m not asking for them to care about Arsenal like I do, that’s not realistic. If they want to win because it’ll improve their public profile, that’s fine. If they want to win because they want more money, that’s ok. If they want to win because they’re trying to prove a point, that’s good too. I don’t care why a player wants to win, I just want them to want to win. That’s all. And I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.
The whole point of professionalism is to incentivize people to do a job. If someone pays me to do a job, I’m going to try to do that job to the best of my ability because that’s what I’m being paid to do and I’d like to be paid to do it again. That seems pretty logical. Yet how many times this season have we seen players for our team not try to do their job to the best of their ability? All too often would be my answer, and last night was the best example of it, as we saw our team out-fought, out-worked and eventually out-performed by a team vastly inferior to ours. This cannot be tolerated any longer as a brief blip, this is a serious problem and it needs a remedy.
In a way, last night’s result was exactly what the club needed, as it’s now clear to everybody, whether you think that Wenger should stay or not, or whether the board should sell up or not, that immediate measures are needed if we are to return to being competitive in the near future. And thanks to both a healthy bank balance and renewed shirt sponsorship deals, the excuse that says we don’t have the funds necessary to bring top names to the Emirates is now redundant. The money is there, and we’re about to find out whether the club wants to spend it or not. And maybe more importantly, we’re going to find out who decides whether it gets spent or not.
If it’s down to Arsene Wenger whether we spend big money or not, (For what it’s worth, that’s my current position.) then we’re going to find out in January about what his plans are. We need someone that can score goals, and badly. We’ve scored two goals from open play in the last six games. TWO. We need wingers who can actually cross a ball well on at least a semi-regular basis. We need midfielders who can do more than just run around the centre circle and pass the ball sideways. We need a goalkeeper that can make Szczesny nervous about his place in the first team. And, most of all, we need players that we can rely on putting in a shift in every game instead of being content to be in a fourth place team or lower whilst on £60,000 a week.
Do I think Wenger is capable of identifying these players with a sizeable budget at his disposal? Yes, I do. Do I think Wenger is capable of holding his hands up and saying “I need to make drastic changes to a team I built and trusted”? I’m not so sure. This club has been forged in his vision and anyone in that position would find it hard to admit fallacy. Athletes and people engaged in high-level competition are always super-confident in their own ability and are mostly lacking in self-awareness when things are going wrong. Arsene Wenger will be no different in that regard. Last night should have opened his eyes as to how far short of where he wants the club to be, that being at the top. Now we’ll get to see if he thinks the same. If he does, then it’s fair to expect a pretty busy January transfer window.
But what if he doesn’t? Then this is where we’ll find out exactly what priorities the board have placed as to the running of the club. If the club are as ambitious as they claim to be, and Arsene refuses to buy players on the premise that the team is good enough, then they need to step in and tell him otherwise. If they’re so keen to inform him that Samir Nasri had to be sold because of the financial implications of turning down £25million as opposed to keeping him for one more year in the hope of persuading to sign a new deal, then they should be just as forceful in informing him that this team isn’t good enough and that there is more than enough money to buy who he wants.
If he refuses, then the only course of action would left available to the board would be to tell Arsene that his services will no longer be needed once the season is over. Under no circumstances should he be fired now, and Arsene should be allowed to present his departure to the public as his decision, as that is the least that a man that has done so much for this club deserves. But if the club is indeed interested in winning over anything else, then intransigence now cannot be tolerated, as seven years without a trophy will soon become eight, then nine, and more.
But what if the board decided that spending money now was not in their interests? What if, as many suspect, the board is happy with the direction of the club as it serves the interests of Stan Kroenke to keep as much money in reserve as possible so that it can be siphoned off for his own gain later? This will lead to more signings based on their value for money as opposed to their ability to help us be competitive, which has contributed to us being in the position we find ourselves in now.
Let me be clear here, I have absolutely no issue with an owner running a club for profit, on the condition that the owner does his utmost to help the club win. That’s all. If we have a team that is competing for trophies on a regular basis, then the owner is more than entitled to the profits of such endeavour. It’s when the ability to make a profit is prioritized over being competitive that we should be concerned over the direction of the club. And for a while, we’ve been unsure whether this is already happening. But not any more.
That is why last night’s result is a watershed moment for Arsenal. We are about to find out once and for all what the long-term vision is for this club, and how the people that make these decisions think we should proceed. If Arsene invests significant funds into the team in January, then we’ll know that both he and the board want to win just as much as we do. If he doesn’t, and he’s replaced in the summer, then the board can claim to be concerned about winning over finances. But if he doesn’t, and the board does nothing, then we’ll know once and for all that the club is nothing more than a piggy bank for a billionaire to dip into when he needs a new ranch.
We’ve waited for years for a chance to find out if the club cares about winning as much as we want them to. And while last night’s game was horrible to watch, its result has provided us with that chance to find out what lies in the future for Arsenal Football Club. All we can do now, is hope, and wait.------------
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