the weather in Dublin this morning is like the Arsenal mood. Grey, miserable and drizzling slightly with a chance of heavy rain later in the day. The first two were probably sufficient for the description but there you go.
There is a fairly widespread acceptance that Saturday’s display against Blackburn has cost us our chance of the title. Of course there are still games to go, anything can happen, we have to play United etc etc, but it would need a turnaround of epic proportions now. Winning every game from now on and hoping United slip up doesn’t seem very likely at this stage.
When the final stage of the season has approached we’ve been found wanting, and not for the first time. If it seems familiar it’s because it is and I fully understand all the frustration that’s out there. I understand that there are a growing number of fans who feel it’s time for a change of manager. They believe that unless something changes we’re destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over. If Arsene won’t change then Arsene should be changed. I get that.
What I don’t get is the viciousness that seems to exist between Arsenal fans. Fans of this great club. I know online discourse allows everyone a voice, and that’s great, but people are so enraged they just forget simple things like manners, decency and common sense. Like the chap on Twitter who said he’d rather finish 12th than continue to finish in the top four every year. Really? Try finishing 12th and see how you like it. Maybe his point was that would force change but it wasn’t very well made.
The idea that Arsenal fans should be part of one faction or another is annoying too. An attitude of ‘You’re either with us or against us’ seems to exist and that’s not right. You can still have some faith in Arsene Wenger whilst acknowledging that he’s not some kind of flawless deity, that he does make mistakes and bad decisions, or you can want a change of manager without hating him or castigating the people who still have belief in him.
You read about how we need a clear-out this summer. Yes, we need to move some players on and bring some new ones in, that’s absolutely right. Yet even that goes into the realms of madness when people talk about 15-16 players coming or going in one summer. When has any club, ever, done anything like that? You can’t even do it in Championship Manager, let alone real life.
Yet if you were try and dismantle that you would likely be attributed some kind of acronym as if that were a reasonable argument. I know it’s difficult, especially in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing result, to step back and think about what to say, what might be constructive, but I wish more people would. Bile and vitriol achieves very little. People rarely react to that in a positive way.
And what’s struck me, particularly in the last few seasons, is that this perceived gap between Arsenal fans really doesn’t make any sense. Ask most fans if they feel the club could have done with a centre-half and maybe a goalkeeper last summer and they’d agree. How those sentiments are expressed seems to be the main issue. Most of us wanted him to spend, most of us would agree he’s as stubborn as a mule, and you’d need to be off your rocker not to be unhappy with the way things are going and the late-season slide which threatens to get worse.
I know football is passionate but there’s a difference between passion and hatred. There’s a difference between constructive argument and outpourings of outright hostility. If some people feel that’s the way to go then that’s up to them. I just don’t get it.
That’s not to say it won’t have an effect. The club can’t be blind to it. It wasn’t a majority who booed at the final whistle, but nor was it a small minority. Nor can they be blind to the fact that during the Blackburn game there were countless empty seats. The tickets may have been sold, the ubiquitous 60,000+ attendance announced, but with price rises coming next season there are warning signs there. I’ve often said that spending money is not a guarantee of winning. I still think there’s enough evidence to show that’s true.
However, spending money can, amazingly enough, improve a team. It can provide the fans with a lift. It can re-enthuse people. It can convince them that after a number of Groundhog seasons that there’s a willingness to change things. Maybe the frustration comes from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. “If only he’d spent in the summer” etc.
And for me that’s where the real debate should be. And it should be a debate. Can Arsene change? Can he accept that some of the current crop have not lived up to the high hopes he had for them and need to be replaced? Can he address the imbalance in the squad in terms of potential and experience? Can he go out and spend the money needed to refresh this team? If he can, my belief is that he should stay. If he can’t, then maybe it is time for a change.
He’s hinting at things already, and was asked if this group had gone as far as they could:
I don’t know. I want to finish the season and then we’ll see. At the moment, we are more concerned by the short term. I don’t think it’s time to talk about the decisions I will have to make about players. It’s not the moment.
With eight games to go it’s definitely not the time to write off the career of a player you’ll have to play, but there are players who must know their future at the club looks uncertain. Guys who haven’t played much, like Rosicky, Eboue, Denilson, and someone like Arshavin who was unceremoniously hauled off on Saturday despite being one of our better players. That smacks of a manager who has made his mind up about a player and the decision is unlikely to be positive. Gael Clichy pulled out of contract talks last week and was nearly sold last summer. Time up? Almost certainly.
Clearly Arsene can’t call time on anyone’s Arsenal career between now and the end of the season. Whatever issues there might already be about motivating them would only worsen if he did that. Yet he must know he’s facing a major job this summer to add some spark to his squad. And back we go the debate about whether or not he can, or is willing to, do what’s necessary.
Arsene’s a fantastic talker, an immeasurably interesting man to listen to, and we’ve heard all the right things before about strengthening the squad and sorting out the issues that exist. This time, however, I don’t particularly want to hear him talk. I want to see decisions being made, some of them may be very tough, but they’re necessary if we want to make progress.
In the meantime, however, there are eight games left to play. A lot can happen. Some of it might be good, some of it might restore some faith, and it could get worse. The title is no longer in our hands and the only thing we can do is hope that he can get something out of them for the next game.
Short-termism, I know, but it’s all we’ve got right now.