Captain’s Log: The Cross Of Changes
Club cap’n, Consolsbob, is here with his view on matters Arsenal…
This has been a bloody awful season so far for Arsenal fans. Defeat on the pitch, an intensifying civil war between fans, another injury crisis and the conviction amongst many that the team cannot deliver. Add in continued uncertainty about what is happening at Board level, a seemingly misfiring corporate team and dissatisfaction, in noisy quarters at least, with Arsène and we have the media’s beloved ‘perfect storm’.
Where did it all go wrong? From the ‘Invincibles’ to facing a tough scramble to claw our way up the league to maintain our place in the ‘Big Four’. A world in which Spurs and the ‘Pool are favourites to finish above us.
We have no idea how the season will turn out. The new squad will bed down, players will return from injury and others will recapture their form. Four trophies are still to be won; there is an awful long way to go. And don’t forget the ‘transfer kitty’, burning a hole in fans’ pockets, at the very least. We could yet have the last laugh come May.
The squad contains much that previous ones have been accused of lacking; Premier League experience, a socking great centre back and a dominant ‘keeper. But why we are struggling and why there is so much unhappiness around the club today? A proper answer seems worthy of a thesis rather than a post. Here’s a starter for 10 anyway.
The last few years have been very complex for Arsenal. Moving stadia brought issues with debt but also, less acknowledged let alone understood, Arsenal walked into the corporate world. Most see this as the ‘club level leaving early’ fans but, behind the scenes a new management body led by Gazidis and his team of financial and legal apparatchiks has changed the club for ever. Necessary perhaps but not the club of our youth any more.
This time has been one of takeover and boardroom ferment. A standoff remains with a major shareholder whilst there are rumours of argument between Arsène and the ‘Board’, which means Kroenke.
At the centre of any debate on Arsenal‘s woes, and haven’t there been a few, is Arsène. How could a man who won the double in his first season, built the Invincibles and the ‘Emirates’, who revolutionised training and dietary regimes in this country, established Colney and unearthed Vierra, Henry, Pires, and Ljungberg allowed the current state of affairs to come about? No club is more beholden to one man or has more power than he. Arsenal 2011 is Arsene’s club.
The first part of his tenure was glory all the way. Champagne football with an edge of steel. Only Europe remained stubbornly unconquered and we all knew that was just a matter of time. Then came the building of the ‘Emirates’ and the leaving of our much loved, but shabby, Highbury. We knew money was tight but Arsène kept pulling out plums. ‘Project Youth’ and Colney started to produce gifted players; performances promised another glittering era as key men left. We came close, oh so close, to achieving astonishing success. We didn’t quite do it; Abramovich, bad luck and a good dose of gratuitous violence foiled us.
Abramovich changed the nature of football. His bottomless pockets challenged the conventional thinking on club finances, casting into doubt the ability of the ‘Arsenal and Emirates’ model to succeed when the best players could be bought and cast aside to be replaced by even more expensive purchases. Later, an oil state with global ambition showed the chavs how it was really done. Players were, and are, collected like the cigarette cards of my youth.
It’s hard to separate out bad luck from the violence that was unleashed on our team by desperate and morally bankrupt managers. But the assaults on Reyes at Old Trafford stay in my mind amidst the cynical, rotational fouling that blighted many games.
Violence truncated the career of Eduardo and I count myself amongst those who believe that we would have won the league that year but for the assault on him. His injury and ‘that’ game perhaps mark a watershed from an Arsenal that was in its pomp to one that faltered and spluttered. Ramsey’s career and that of Diaby have suffered in similar ways. Momentum halted for them and the team.
Injury or ‘ambition’, occasionally stupidity, meant Cole, Reyes, Flamini, Diarra, Eduardo, Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, and Fabregas were or have been transient figures in a constantly rebuilding Arsenal rather than pivotal mainstays in the making in a successful team.
Near, yet so far, but this period, when the debt was paid down and we stayed challenging for honours at home and in Europe was a triumph for Arsène. A battle clearly won. Supporters could still see the ambition, there was still a rising curve even if this reflected profit rather than team strength. Profit meant future strength in the market and an ability to compete financially.
And now? For me the team lacks the ‘X’ factor that we have had for as long as Arsène has been here. It is that lack that has perhaps derailed the Arsenal train on the pitch. Our football has been geared towards excellence with a strong presence of genius and guile on the pitch that has awed opponents and allowed us to steamroller most opposition. Well, we used to, that awe has faded as the stars in our firmament have blinked out to be replaced by dimmer, less brilliant lights.
The times feel ominously similar to past regime change, both at Arsenal and other clubs. Fan dissatisfaction is evident but really just noise. The modern equivalent of shouts from the terrace at Highbury in the 80’s of “Morrow, you’re rubbish!” Louder, cruder, more shallow and, of course everywhere, but just symptomatic of wider society. Ignore. Ditto the media. The corporate thing though just doesn’t seem right. No control or real confidence, glib statements and a lack of substance. That is worrying. It doesn’t take long for organisations to go into tailspin. Things fall apart.
However, this is Arsene’s team, his Arsenal. He has chosen the players to buy and not to buy. Now there is money, not ‘oil money’ but money all the same. I do not believe that the current team is anywhere near the level of those early Arsène sides or even that of a couple of years ago. If this has been brought about because of failure at Board level, a spluttering senior management team, or an unwinnable argument over the wage structure, then I expect him to see out his contract honourably and leave. If however, it is of his own making then no man will be more aware of that than he. In that circumstance I expect him to put it right. The Arsène who has done so much for our great club will lead us back to where we are now used to being. If he fails, if his mojo is gone as some claim, then I suspect the future will be taken out of his hands.
At the moment he controls that situation. Power remains with him. Only failure can change that. The Arsène we have known will not fail. An intelligent, decent, honourable man and a manager of genius.
Posted on October 8, 2011, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 129 Comments.