You know what’s curious after a bad defeat, or even a couple of bad results? It’s that it seems to open a font of knowledge from which newspapers and journalists can sup and then pass on to eager readers.
Within hours, sometimes less, of it happening, with no time for anyone to have had a conversation of substance with anyone of substance, there’s all this info out there of such great detail and precision it makes you stop and wonder. For example, in the wake of the Milan defeat one high profile English paper suggested quite emphatically that two players were done and dusted at the club, while another’s career was hanging in the balance.
Fast forward to Saturday and both of those players appeared against Sunderland, as substitutes, while in the meantime another high profile outlet was telling us that the player who was in the last chance saloon was about to be offered a new deal. That’s odd, right? It’s almost as if they’ve simply made up stories using the weight of public opinion to drive and add credence to them.
After Sunderland there’s a story in the Sunday Mirror about how all of a sudden the manager has been handed a “WAR CHEST” and will be allowed spend a bazillionty million pounds on wages. I mean, it took two defeats in a week for someone to come to that conclusion? Or somehow the paper in question managed to get into the inner-workings of the board between 7.30pm and the print deadline?
Now, I know some journalists do indeed have good contacts at the club. I know the club also like to get information out there via these journalists, but when you see stuff like ‘Arsene Wenger has had enough of …’ immediately after a defeat you can be pretty sure it’s fiction. I’m sorry, but Arsene is not likely to tell a journalist, or a anyone who might tell a journalist, what his plans are for a player in these circumstances.
Anyway, it’s a small point but I always find it a bit annoying the way these stories appear and because of the timing of them there’s a desire to find them true. It would be nice to think that the “WAR CHEST” (haven’t heard that before, eh?) is there, and that the wage structure at the club will be done away with so we can pay the most overpaid people in society even more, but until I actually see evidence of it by way of signings and the like, I’ll remain dubious.
Meanwhile – and I suspect there’ll be much focus on this today – Arsene has done himself few favours by going down the old ‘fourth place is a trophy’ route. Speaking after Sunderland he said:
The first trophy is to finish in the top four. And that’s still possible. I believe finishing fourth is vital for us, so let’s focus on that.
Whatever else you have to admit that Arsene has added to the Arsenal lexicon in a way that will never be forgotten. ’4th is a trophy’ is right up there with ‘Like a new signing’ when an injured player returns, but I do wish somebody at the club would tell him how badly this particular aphorism comes across. While I think everyone gets the jist of what he’s saying, fourth place is not, never has been and never will be, a trophy.
It is, at best, an achievement. In fact, this season, more than any other, it’ll be an achievement and a half if we manage it, but when the club has just crashed out of two cup competitions in a week, competitions which provide a real and actual trophy at the end of them, to spout this again was as ill-timed as a Martin Taylor tackle.
I mean, I get it. It’s important, crucial, critical, essential and everything else, but is Arsene really that out of touch with what fans think that he can’t see how comments like that would go down? If we must reference fourth place it should be to say that is the minimum expectation for a club like ours, with the resources we have.
Maybe we have become spoiled, maybe we need to be reminded that our presence in the Champions League season after season after season is indeed a measure of consistency, especially when the manager has been working within certain financial restraints that other clubs have not. Yet as we prepare for interim financial results, and the expectation of a very healthy profits, questions will be asked as to whether those restraints are steel handcuffs locked to railings or some old twine that might be wriggled out of if one was in the mood.
And how do we tally Arsene’s statement that ‘finishing fourth’ (note: not finishing in the top four) is ‘vital’ for us with the club’s inaction in January. Clearly the Henry loan deal was an indication that we felt we needed something more in the striking department, but that was as far as it went. I realise Gervinho was away in Africa but what we say is seemingly at odds with what we do. If it is so ‘vital’ why do we not act like it is?
It seems as if Stan is flying in this week to have meetings, and while I’m sure the financials will be a part of it, there are more important things on the agenda. At a time when confidence in all areas of the club is being eroded – somewhat at odds with the fact the business side of things is going so well – the owner has got to show some leadership, to show that he has a real plan for this club and that things that need to change will change.
Concerns about his stewardship of the club are quite valid (Arse2Mouse has a good piece on this). Even if he is the hands-off type, content (and perhaps sensible) to delegate to people who may indeed have more knowledge and experience of football than he has, he is the majority shareholder of a club on the verge of a real crisis. I don’t use that word lightly, because it’s bashed out day in day out in the media for the smallest of reasons, but with a North London derby coming up and the general feeling one of discontent then it works in this context.
I’m not sure what exactly he can do. He doesn’t seem the inspirational type, not for him Churchillian speeches or chest thumping, but we need to know what the club are going to do about the place we find ourselves in. How long are we going to let the business side of things drive us, seemingly at the expense of the footballing side? But he’s got to do, or say, something.
I like Arsenal’s business model. I know many would love a billionaire to come in and pump in ‘free money’ but I don’t believe that’s right for us, and I don’t believe it should be right for any club for that matter. We are set up well, we make profit, we have huge potential with a big stadium, a massive fanbase, great tradition and everything else, but until it is made clear to Arsene, or whoever might be in charge of the football team, that those resources must be used to their fullest extent, then surely we’re doing nothing but making life more difficult for ourselves.
At this stage of a season, for a club like Arsenal, the focus should be on actual trophies, cups with handles and ribbons, and not figurative ones which drive people mad when they hear about them. So let’s see what this week brings, if the pressure is on the manager and the players, then it’s got to be on the owner too. As much as Arsene or anyone else, he’s got a part to play in putting things right.