The change Arsenal needs to make above all else

I get the feeling this could be a long week.

A pattern has emerged recently that after major disappointment the club goes into a kind of lockdown, a media silence ensues and we’re drip fed bits and pieces via Arsenal.com. In some ways this isn’t a bad thing. I know I wasn’t alone in finding the timing of some articles a bit hard to take. So this week there’ll be no:

DIABY IS THE NEW FITNESS KING

or

SQUILLACI : THE TACKLE MASTER

or

CHAMAKH : I’VE BEEN DELIBERATELY A BIT RUBBISH LATELY BECAUSE ROBIN WAS DOING IT ALL ANYWAY

So while that kind of silence will be golden, it means something has to fill the gap, and that, I suspect, will be a raft of opinion pieces on where Arsenal went wrong, who we need to buy, who must be sold, and a load of general speculation about the manager, the club, the fans, the board and pretty much anyone involved with the club in any way. So, when in Rome and all that.

The manager has already said he’d look to spend in the summer:

We have to strengthen the squad where it needs and make the right decision on that front. It is always in my mind every day.

And, as much as he ever has, he’s acknowledged a weakeness in his team:

Defensively we have been too frail this season

Some might suggest that’s a criticism of his defenders alone, it’s not. Defending is not the sole preserve of the back four. So much solidity can be achieved by hard work from the forwards and the midfield. That’s not to say we can’t improve the defence itself, the much vaunted idea that we need a leader and an organiser does have plenty of merit, but it’s a team thing. I’ll point you to Barcelona as an example – they have good defenders, not brilliant ones by any means, but the team’s work ethic means they’re incredibly hard to break down.

Adding a Gary Cahill (and I use his name because it’s the only one anyone’s using) won’t solve the problem. Adding a better left back, for example, won’t solve the problem. It might make things slightly better but as long as the team’s attitude to defending as is laissez-faire as it is is then you could have a back four cloned from Baresi and Adams, O’Leary and Maldini, and still have problems. This is what I meant yesterday when I spoke about how changes in personnel aren’t the be all and end all.

A quote about his principles has, I have to admit, sparked some response from fans. Only the news of Phil Collins retirement filled my box more quickly. Arsene said:

If someone can convince me that the principles are wrong I am ready to change, but I feel we try to play football the proper way. I think if something is wrong in our team, it is not the principles in playing our football.

Personally, I don’t think it’s the system or the style of play that’s an issue, but that we don’t quite have the players to make it work on a regular basis. When it does click it’s magnificent but this season you could count on one hand the number of times the team has really got it together. I’ve got no issue with attacking football based on a possession game but I think there are tweaks that could be made to make it better.

We go back to the defensive side of things again. I know it’s a hard comparison to make, but look at the Invincibles. A solid defence meant that we could attack better and with more confidence. If it broke down we had players who could defend, who were organised and who could get us moving again. That back four conceded 5 goals fewer than Chelsea that season, 9 than United and 12 fewer than Liverpool who finished in 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

And as good as that back four were they were aided and abetted by a team that worked hard all over the pitch, that hunted in packs, that allowed the opposition no time to settle, and who worked so hard to win games. And to me that’s where the real change must come this summer. A change of mindset. Personnel are needed, no doubt about that, but it has to be drummed into the players who remain that to win anything, from Carling Cup to Champions League, you have to work hard.

For me, the biggest mistake we’ve made in the last few years is the contract situation. Our wage bill is as high as Chelsea’s or United’s, teams who have experienced players who have won titles and cups. They have been rewarded for their success. We have a squad of players who have been rewarded for being at Arsenal and for the fact the manager thinks they have the potential to be great players. Nothing more.

On the one hand I understand it. There’s a level of protection required. If you’re developing players you don’t want to educate them, let them gain experience, and then have them bugger off somewhere else when they’re maturing and reaching their peak. On the other hand, if you’re giving players massive wages and paying them because you think at some point in the future they’ll be worth that money then it is a huge gamble, and I think it’s one that hasn’t paid off in many cases.

While I’m sure there are all kinds of bonuses and incentives built in, if you have a huge basic salary it has an influence on how motivated you are to achieve things. If a larger part of your package is built around success and winning trophies then surely that’s a better way to do it. ‘They have too much too young’ is a bit of a clich√© but I think that’s the case with some of the players. Of course not all of them base their football career around money but not every player’s objective is to win things, not every player is as self-motivated as they should be.

Look at Armand Traore. Offered first team football and a permanent move to Benfica but he wouldn’t accept it because the salary was half of what he was on at Arsenal. Fair enough, you might say, and there’s a world of difference between England and Portugal, but what does it tell you of the culture at the club when a young player, barely good enough for the first team, is on money so high they turn down first team football at a club with plenty of history and prestige? A perfect example of how money is the primary factor in a career.

The other issue then is that if you decide you want to move these players on it becomes extremely difficult. Ok, so you want to sell Denilson this summer. Who is going to pay him the ¬£3m a year he’s on at Arsenal? How do you broker a deal? I’m told the transfer fee we got for Eduardo last summer was negligible, simply because Shaktar could not pay a fee plus pay anything close to the wages he was on at Arsenal.

And it’s not just the big players who are on big money. Think of the usual suspects, the names everyone says should be moved on this summer, all of them are on very healthy salaries at Arsenal that other clubs will struggle to match. It might well be a case that we let some of them go but you can be sure the fees will be ‘undisclosed’. We’ll have paid them over the odds and because of that we won’t get anything approaching market value for them. Would players Bogarde us, refuse to move and pick up their money? Who knows, but it’s possible, I’m sure.

That’s what’s going to make life difficult in the transfer market this summer. I’m pretty sure we can find the players to bring but with the 25 man squad rule we have to clear the decks a bit. We are, quite literally, going to have to cut our losses with some players if we want to sell them. Times are tight, clubs across Europe are struggling financially, nobody can afford big fees + big wages. Certainly not the level of clubs you would expect some of the candidates to be moving to.

As I said, I understood why this happened, but I think it’s created a culture of complacency and too many players operate in a comfort zone. They don’t burn to win trophies. It’d be nice but at the end of the day they have a lovely time at Arsenal and the money’s great.

Speculate all you want about which centre-half or left back or striker we’re going to buy this summer, but unless that culture changes, unless winning becomes the most important thing, where failure is not tolerated and excused, then we’ll make the same mistakes.

Just with some shiny new players making them.

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