Downward Spiral Needs A Lift
There is a palpable sense of shock around the world of Arsenal at the moment. How can a squad of talented players, that has essentially been together for a number of seasons, be so out of sorts? Surely they cannot still be affected by the results at Wembley and Newcastle last season? How can the manager and staff have not resolved the ‘crisis’ by now? How can the support so easily lose faith.
A feeling is emerging in the pit of my stomach that something extreme and drastic has to happen to shake everyone out of this cycle of downwards descent. Seventh circle of Hell? This lift has plummeted way past that one, we at 17 and counting.
Inevitably the attention has now turned to Arsène Wenger’s future as Arsenal manager. The argument polarises the Arsenal support like no other, not even the relative merits of any players can bring about such ferocity in belief. With the worst start to a league campaign in half a century following swiftly on from the worst finish to a season in goodness knows how long, Wenger has not ducked the issue, simply dealt with it via a sidestep that Martin Johnson would have liked to have seen more of yesterday.
There is a smugness about either side of the debate, feelings that simply fail to recognise that is an emotive argument, one where it is impossible to provide the answer beyond doubt. There is no irrefutable evidence that supports either case, no tangible proof that one set of beliefs in correct. Both sides rely on history yet not accepting that the past is no indicator of future performance.
To retain his services you accept that the past record of the man is going to be repeated. To dispense, the recent history will not change. Nothing about the future in either, simply belief. Each side is too entrenched to see the merits of the argument put forward by their opponents, too contemptuous at a personal level. Many invite that abuse willingly; their views should be ignored.
This debate though, cannot be nor should it be. And the argument that no-one can replace the current incumbent is simply vacuous.
Those who demand Wenger’s removal can point to the poor form as ultimately the reason for his dismissal. In football, that is the only argument which brokers a man’s future. However, the focus is on the Premier League because to include Champions League results blurs the issue. The defeat at Blackburn and the struggle against Swansea confused by the wins over Udinese and a draw in Dortmund. Performances? A matter of opinion as to how well the team played, difficult to introduce into the mix when results are the yardstick.
Simply shouting the loudest or being adopted by a populist journalist does not make your argument any stronger or more coherent. Indeed, there are times when I feel the proposer of such action believes they are onto a winner whatever the outcome. Manager sacked? Obvious to everyone including the board. Wenger resigns? Even the man himself agrees he should go. New manager in and finish is higher than 17th? Higher than when Wenger left. Wenger stays and Arsenal do well? We’re all Arsenal fans together, Wenger listened to us and made the changes. We’re the reason for the improvement.
At once each argument is credible and credulous.
It is the same for defenders of his regime. Departures will mean a weak board or a man who deserves more respect hounded from office, improvements in results are just someone capitalising on the squad gelling. Another top four finish under his management is vindication of his beliefs and ignoring his critics, who know nothing of football anyway.
It is all too familiar and in both cases, misses one simple point.
There is credulity that the board has allowed the past half a decade to pass without reacting. KSE has not improved matters but there is no point in treating them as if they are some outsiders wafting in rather than accepting that they have been one of the decision-makers in recent years. These are crucial foundations of where the club is today.
When the stadium was proposed, all involved knew transfer funds would be tight. Investment in the squad would have to be organic until the entire property portfolio was disposed off and extracurricular debt repaid. Then money would be there to invest in the squad on an annual basis. Incidentally, this happened in the summer albeit a lot later than most would have liked. Masking the spend by claiming net transfer revenue is the surest way to defeat your own argument.
The key to all of this is simple. Wenger was tasked with keeping the club competitive in the period, he did so, exceeding their expectations with finals, semi-finals and title challenges which ultimately faded in two seasons.
The board were able to concentrate on financial matters because the manager delivered their targets. They are not going to dispense with his services at the first sign of hardship. Nor should we assume that they are not asking questions, there is simply no evidence of this being the case.
There is no denying problems exist at the moment. The squad is 17th in the Premier League and in a dire run of results stretching back six months. The summer break did not clear the hangover from last season, simply topped it up.
Wenger needs to find something to change, something fundamental. This is the toughest season of his managerial career, certainly at Arsenal if not elsewhere. Whilst there is an element of the team needing to gel, there is a clear problem organisationally, one that Arsenal has rarely had in the past twenty five years. A change of coaching personnel was mooted in the summer, perhaps a breath of fresh thought is needed.
Whatever it is, the current set-up is not able to translate its thoughts into action on the pitch. Somewhere in the collective’s head, the theory is falling apart.
Key to all of this is time. Whilst this form is not just five games old, the season is. Talk of changing manager to me is premature at this point. Two of the last three Premier League results have been shocking and some reactions have distinctly showed signs of that. Shock is the only way to describe matters.
Those under 40 years of age won’t remember the last time an Arsenal team nervously looked over their shoulders at the end of the season. Believe me that was mediocrity. This season will finish nowhere near as bad as some will tell you. Unless a change is made on the pitch, it will finish nowhere near as good as it should.