Troubled times or big opportunities for Arsenal?
The name of this Blog is, in large part, a reflection on a great Arsenal footballer revered by many, who, together with Arsene Wenger, helped to introduce the concept of playing a wonderful style of football, which has become the epitome of The Arsenal, a club dedicated, under its much maligned manager, to the ethos of the beautiful game!
How appropriate then, that this summer, a statue of the great man, Dennis Bergkamp, will be unveiled to stand alongside those of other memorably magnificent servants of the club, such as Thierry Henry, Herbert Chapman and Tony Adams.
In the eyes of some fans, however, these statues have also served to point at what they see as being at the very core of the problems the club has experienced in its recent fallow years. Namely, that the statues tell the tale that these superb players were far superior in quality to those currently available at the Emirates.
Given this focus, these fans have extended their acerbic criticism to include the owner, the medical and coaching staff, and indeed the man responsible for the recruitment of today’s players, the coach, Arsene Wenger.
In truth, when we consider the likes of Sol Campbell, Patrick Viera, Marc Overmars, and Robert Pires, and many others, who brought us three League Championships, and four FA Cups, while playing stunning, enchanting, one touch, fast paced football, it is difficult to deny that there is a case to answer.
With the construction of the Emirates Stadium claiming most of the available funds, it was comforting to believe the claim from Arsene that he was building a new team, based on youth, which would provide the nucleus of a great team that in a few years would be title-winners. Sadly, this aspiration has fallen short, and project youth has left us short of the top quality players necessary to win the major competitions.
Each time Arsene has cobbled together a team which looked to be moving in the right direction, we have had our crown jewels in Fabregas, Nasri, and, most especially, Robin van Persie snatched away from us.
The ire of the fans has increased each time a promising team has been decimated by losing key players in this way, or with the realization that new blood from the youth teams, with notable exceptions, has simply not been good enough.
The dream of winning a title has become ever more distant, with Arsenal slowly descending down the elite latter; until now they are desperately trying to hold on to fourth place in order to qualify for the Champions League, with the attendant status, prestige and money that brings.
There is no shortage of advice for the manager from desolate Gooners.
They have erupted with demands for a more consistent defence unit, and the immediate recruitment of a big commanding centre back, and preferably one who can at least get up a canter when needed. No, no, say some, what we need is a big beast of a defensive midfielder to support Jack and Cazzor! Don’t be silly, say others, what we need to do is strengthen the forward line, or at least make sure we play players in their proper positions!!
Of course, others, and there are many of them, say the whole squad needs to be rebuilt from the goal keeper upwards.
These voices of despair have been counter balanced, to an extent, by the voices of reason — that is from fans who know that such root and branch restructuring can never be funded by any club without an oligarch benefactor.
They recognize that although Arsenal has two major shareholders who are billionaires, neither of them have ever invested in the club directly, other than to pay huge sums to acquire the shares of the previous owners, which only lined the pockets of those individuals.
That said, many fans and ex-players take the view that the current squad are not very far away from being a good side, although still a long way off being a great side, but they feel the basics are there, especially with a midfield containing Wilshere, Cazzorla, and Rosicky.
So who is responsible for the decline in quality of our team, and the dispiriting realization that they are just a shadow of the truly great Arsenal teams of ten years ago?
There are as many theories as to who or what is the culprit, because, as a club, Arsenal rather secretively keep everything ‘in house’ and Arsene Wenger is not prone to complain, but the obvious question that needs answering, is whether or not he has been given the financial support he needs, even though we have often been told that substantial money is available, if he needs it.
At root, the stadium project has sucked up Arsenal’s cash resources, and it would be difficult for any business to take on that sort of financial burden without it causing problems elsewhere. Viewed in that light, how can it be argued that Wenger has not done absolutely brilliantly to keep the club in the Champions League over those years, and with hopes growing that he can still do it this year, too.
Of course, Wenger is not off the hook, in terms of partial responsibility, because it seems he is at fault, in the author’s opinion, for failing to be as efficient and professional in recruiting players of the required quality, or, as also seems to be the case, for perhaps failing to move quickly enough to buy players that did become available, only to see them being gobbled up by the ‘big’ spenders because of apparent hesitation, on his part, for decision making.
This contrasts poorly when we take in the fantastic signings he was responsible for in his early Arsenal career, by the use of a meticulous and wide ranging scouting system, and it has long been accepted in footballing quarters that Real Madrid, Manure and subsequently Chelsea scouts were detailed to creep around and stalk the Arsenal scouts to see who they were looking at!
Unfortunately, over time the footballing world has become ‘smaller’ and hidden ‘jewels’ are now known by the scouts of all the major clubs – and, in the final analysis, money talks.
One of the old chestnuts brought up from time to time, alludes to Wenger’s reliance on David Dein, and how much Arsene has missed his adept handling of the club’s transfer business. It does seem that this is a task Mr Wenger still dislikes and is probably unsuited to, whereas Dein revelled in the cut and thrust of dealing with the selling clubs and the greedy, grasping player agents. Let’s be clear, Dein’s day is done, and there can be no justification for bringing him back, but it does highlight a poor piece of management by Danny Fizzman and the rest of the Board of Directors that they did not replace him at the time.
Arsene is rightly renowned for his ability to take good-ish players and make them great players, and take great players and turn them into outstanding players and also to produce fantastic teams that played to these strengths.
But unless his transfer strategy changes the outlook is not so promising, and with owners and a Chief Executive who know nothing about football, the fear is that there is no one to quietly advise him or simply tell him he must change. Time will tell on that.
I have left until last the statement of the obvious, and that is that the team with the best players always win the trophies. And the clubs who have the teams with the best players are those with the most money available to buy them.
The dreaded spector of the elephant in the room cannot be avoided, when trying to apportion the ‘blame’ for Arsenal’s slow decline.
Wenger was probably initially confident of remaining in the elite group when the oligarch owner of Chelsea first appeared, and for a time this seemed to be a reasonable hope. However, the rapid influx of commercial money into the coffers of big spending Manure which helped to fund player acquisitions, followed just as quickly by the huge outlay on players by the new oilygarch owners of Man Shitty, made it obvious that a hole had been shot in Arsenal’s hopes of competing as an equal in the transfer market, and by association has seriously damaged our chances of winning trophies.
Still, hope is not lost, Manure have still got a massive debt that needs annual servicing, and Chelsea and Shitty are totally dependent on the goodwill and continuing support of their iniquitous sugar daddies, and let us not forget that not only have the UEFA FFP regulations begun to bite, but the Premier League have also introduced strong FFP regulations of their own, effectively capping the transfer and salary spending of clubs to what they bring in from football related revenue.
Arsenal with their self sustainability model, and low debt ratios are not subject to the same pressures as these clubs. However there still needs to be a huge increase in our efforts to boost sponsorship revenues, and this in turn might see a very different marketing operation in the future, with Arsenal spreading their wings and visiting North America and Asia far more frequently.
Look! Having a healthy balance sheet is not in and of itself what Arsenal is about, it is just a means to an end. In order to have a successful business, you have to have a successful football team and, in recent seasons, Arsenal seem to have lost sight of that simple precept.
The fans have mainly stayed loyal, even though there is a general disappointment that Kroenke and Usmanov appear to see the club more as a personal investment vehicle waiting to be harvested.
Now is the time for the owners to shake themselves out of their self imposed silence and torpor, and get back to remembering that Arsenal is a great FOOTBALL club, and within its very substantial means, it should get back into the business of investing in players, and in reaping the rewards of winning trophies, which will consequently improve the worth and wealth of the club, to the benefit of both the fans and also the owners, as a result.
I have high hopes that despite all the unfounded criticism of Arsene Wenger, and Arsenal’s current turmoil, that we will come through these troubled times with all flags flying.
Ask yourselves — how many Premier League clubs are fortunate enough to have such a strong financial base, and also have such a superb manager, ready to go into the next season with all guns blazing?
Written by: Red Arse.