Time shows us that despite the dusty, oak panelled libraries of Arsenal history, the allusions of grandeur, the Marble Halls, the doorstop sized books with tales of trophy wins, Arsenal have always had an air of comedy about them. Slapstick lurks beneath the chapters of our voluminous encyclopedia.
The pages detailing Chapman’s successes contain a lesser thumbed paragraph on Dan Lewis’ brand new goalie shirt and how it cost Arsenal the 1927 F.A. Cup Final. Bertie Mee’s crowning moment may involve the iconoclastic image of Charlie George sprawled on the Wembley turf. Mee may choose to forget Ian Ure’s under hit backpass on the same patch of grass in 1969. Michael Thomas has an equal and opposite Nayim. “Would you belieeeeeeeve it?!” is genuflected by Barry Ferguson’s fringe furrowing fingers.
No Arsenal boss has been immune from the charms of farce. Even George Graham, the strict, po-faced stepfather of Arsenal managers, lost his trousers in an updraft against Luton in 1988. However, in Arsene’s reign, pub car park slugfest style affairs, such as the one against Fulham on Saturday, have become almost routine. 5-3, 4-4, 3-3, 5-2 and the like have become regular score lines.
The last few years have essentially been one manager’s struggle against the issue of balance. This season has been the perfect microcosm in that respect. We either tighten up in defence and sacrifice our scoring touch. Or else we become attacking free wheelers again and explode like rat bags at the back. I believe arse2mouse used the “whack-a-mole” analogy a few weeks ago, which is apposite.
Repeat showings of the same episode have led many to wonder if it is time for a new scriptwriter. The fanbase is still split fairly precariously between those that trust Arsene Wenger and those whose patience has expired. This division was neatly encapsulated in the stands on Saturday. As Berbatov rolled his penalty into the net, a large section of the North Bank began to sing “We want our Arsenal back!” only to be met with instant resistance in the shape of a camouflaging cry of “Come on Arsenal!”
It’s a combustible situation sitting amongst Arsenal fans nowadays, but I still think Wenger is highly thought of generally speaking, despite the maelstrom of opinions. He is rarely directly implicated in the choreographed howls of frustration. Which other Premier League club goes 2-0 down at Old Trafford and starts singing derogatory songs about the CEO in response?
There is a protest march against the club upcoming, the organisers of which are at pains to point out that the manager is not to be implicated in their disquiet. Surely the arch irony here is that when Kroenke first became involved with Arsenal, one of the chief anxieties revolved around him overly interfering with Wenger’s work! Orchestrated calls for the manager’s head have not occurred. Not inside the stadium at least.
A lot has changed in a short space of time at Arsenal. All of the popular suggestions for re-invigoration have been exhausted. Compared to 2008; the owner is different, the CEO is different, the playing staff is almost entirely refreshed, the backroom staff is different (from coaches to medical staff). Yet the same scenario persists in spite of Arsenal’s revolving door. There is only one constant.
The question as to whether you want the manager retained or replaced comes down to how you evaluate our recent performance. Are we overachieving, underachieving or about where we should be? To be honest, I’m not sure I even know anymore. However much I try to extricate myself from the tangled web of emotion and view it objectively, I find it difficult to get that perspective. I don’t think I truly will until Arsene’s successor has his feet under the table and we can assess his performance.
Ones spectacles become fogged by bored disillusionment when any individual has been in power for a long time. Personally, I don’t think much will change for the remainder of Arsene’s tenure, however long that is to be. We’re still seeing the same, basic defensive errors. We’re still lamenting injuries to Diaby, Rosicky and Gibbs like it’s some kind of unforeseen contretemps.
The question also arises around expectation. What can Arsenal fans reasonably demand? You have to apply soccernomics to the conundrum. Given the competitive environment, 3rd place is the most we can reasonably expect. To finish above both Manchester City and Chelsea consistently – even leaving United to one side – would require a managerial miracle. (To that end, it must also be said that finishing lower than 4th would constitute failure. How you apply performance in cup competitions to the formula is a contentious and ultimately subjective equation).
If there’s a managerial miracle worker out there, I’m all for signing him up. I’m just not convinced that, in the long term, a new man would achieve results in excess of the ones we’re experiencing. The journey may be different, but I am still to be convinced that the destination would change. For all the scepticism around Arsenal’s ‘prosperity is just around the corner’ bluster, the environment will alter soon.
Nobody knows how effective Financial Fair Play will be, but it doesn’t have to be enforced in a draconian fashion for the scales to swing N5-wards. Next season, each club will trouser around £35m upfront in overseas TV rights. Chelsea and Manchester City are going to have to bank it to comply with FFP. Make no mistake; neither club intends to flout the regulations wholesale. They both have strategies to meet it which will include shoving that money under a mattress. For Arsenal it will be almost entirely disposable.
I can already feel your eyes rolling, but this is the fact of the matter. Loopholes there may or may not be, but it’s reasonable to think FFP will have some effect, at least. The question then becomes whether you trust Arsene Wenger when those tectonic plates begin to shift. Will someone who has chosen to leave £70m gathering dust in a vault suddenly get itchy cheque book fingers? Has leaving that money been part of a deliberate strategy? Again, I’m just not really sure I know at the moment.
The debate is circular and complex, even if you have it with someone considered and reasonable. (i.e. Somebody that resists acronyms and insults). As you can probably tell by this sinuous rambling, I’m something of an Arsene agnostic at the moment. It’s an uncomfortable position for a habitual know-all like me. But there is no shame in being intellectually dissatisfied.
Not knowing precisely how the universe got here doesn’t mean you have to believe that a beardy man on a cloud conjured it from nothing. Who knows? Maybe there is a hirsute miracle worker out there who can cry “Let there be light!” and turn one of Chamakh’s ribs into a decent centre forward? But at this point, I’m minded of Lou Reed’s weary sign off in his 1967 signature piece ‘Heroin’, “And I guess, that I just don’t know. I guess, that I just don’t know.” LD.
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