There’s not a great deal I can say about last night’s game against Shrewsbury. The lack of TV coverage and the dearth of streams meant I have, even this morning, seen the barest highlights. Going 1-0 down will have been a worry, getting back into the game and winning 3-1, with a pretty inexperienced team is encouraging, on the face of things.
Three debut goalscorers, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Benayoun, and two of them English, is an unusual thing, so perhaps it might provide a pub quiz question or two in the future, but beyond that there’s not much I can say about it. We won, we go into the 4th round and while a win in the Carling Cup against a League 2 side is no corner-turning moment, it’s a win and probably doesn’t merit any kind of serious analysis.
We played a young team with a mixture of young players and experienced players. We took a gamble and it worked because you could see some players, who we haven’t seen so much of like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coquelin, have done extremely well and that is positive for the future.
From reading around, and from the reports of those who were there, some of the players played well. Some of them didn’t play as well. Such is the nature of football. After a £15m move in the summer it was nice to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain catch the eye. I know he’s still very young but when a club as parsimonious as Arsenal spends that much (he must be close to our record signing after all!), it does bring with it a measure of expectation.
He scored an excellent goal and the manager said:
Oxlade-Chamberlain grew through the game and became stronger and stronger. In the first half he was a bit timid and suddenly he grew in stature in the second half. It was unbelievable. What came out, you didn’t expect it after the first half. He became stronger and stronger.
So, let’s hope for another decent draw in the next round, one which will allow a similar approach and provide a bit more playing time for some of the kids without the pressure of the Premier League to contend with.
With the results the way they have been recently there has been speculation over the future of the manager. To be fair, I think that’s only natural. Any other manager on this kind of a run would be questioned so why not Arsene Wenger? Yesterday, CEO Ivan Gazidis spoke at Sports Industry Group breakfast and then did the media rounds, backing the manager fully. He said there was no question of him being sacked:
That is a route we are not going to go down. If we get into short-termism we will do more damage to the club. He’s frustrated but very, very focused on putting things right and is as positively engaged as ever to drive the club forward.
He then went on to say:
Arsene Wenger is not broken. To see him portrayed as an idiot is damaging – not to him or the club but to the game.
Which sounded a bit melodramatic to me. On the radio here last night, Ken Early (the man who christened Lennie Lennie), compared it to an episode of the Simpsons where Marge gets felt up by her prom date, who says afterwards:
Marge, I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anybody about my busy hands, not so much for myself, but I am so respected, it would damage the town to hear it.
Is criticism of Arsene really something that damages the game? Surely it is the very nature of the game – when any manager goes through a bad time they are questioned. Wasn’t Alex Ferguson washed up and finished after three trophyless seasons? So why is questioning a previously successful manager whose team hasn’t won a trophy in 6 seasons and lies 17th in the Premier League with a goal difference of -8 beyond the pale?
It was a fatuous point to try and make and our focus should be on what’s damaging Arsenal at the moment, not for the foundations of football itself. I absolutely accept there’s a difference between analysis and constructive criticism of Arsene’s performance and some of the personal abuse meted out to him. That said abuse comes from Arsenal fans is shameful, but no manager, not a single manager in football, could not expect to be criticised if they were in the same position as Arsene right now.
What made the Gazidis comment even more unnecessary was the fact that Arsene himself clearly isn’t interested in what anyone else has to say about his performance. He knows its part of football. When it was put to him last night that the CEO’s words were tantamount to the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’, he said:
I must tell you something, I’m not bothered at all by all this speculation, not at all. I am completely focused on doing well. I can understand that people are unhappy and criticise but you know as well as I know people are very quick to go overboard.
When we do well, we take all the plaudits, so we have to take all the blame when it doesn’t go as well. When it goes well we must not completely believe what people say and when it does not go as well, we must not completely believe it.
He was then asked about the possibility of bringing a defensive coach like Martin Keown or Steve Bould. His reaction was a close as you’ll ever get to a ‘Shut the fuck up’, saying:
I just completed 32 years of coaching. I do not want to answer these types of questions.
He smiled but you could see the question clearly irritated him. I think we can take from the answer that such an appointment is nowhere near forthcoming. And if he’s being defiant then I can understand that. It might mean more work on the training ground, more focus on the defensive side of our game, and that might not be a bad thing. Ultimately though, it will depend on one thing and one thing only – results. It’s up to Arsene to get this team winning games again and that, more than the board, more than the fans, more than anything, is what will decide his future.
Away from the manager, whose next test comes at home to Bolton on Saturday, and back to Ivan Gazidis, and spoke about Stan Kroenke, saying the American would speak to the media, and we assume to fans, on his next visit to the UK. He then went on to speak about Arsenal’s standing in the game, saying:
The club is focused on a responsible, sustainable model. Football’s going that way and people are trying to get where we already are. We represent the future of football.
On the one hand I see what he means. We spend what we have, we are one of the only clubs in the Premier League that is profitable off it’s own resources and in a world where many football clubs are essentially insolvent there’s a lot to be said about the way we’re run. However, I’m not sure that football is going the way he thinks it is.
It looks as if Man United will be the next club to be swallowed up by the petro-cash influx into the game, immediately increasing their spending power, which will push up transfer fees and wages even further as they look to compete with their city neighbours and the other clubs across Europe that have this kind of backing. I think the gap between the haves and have-nots will grow even larger, the game will become less competitive as the super rich clubs dominate and via their high spending ways will continue to skew all the markets that others try to operate in.
Now, I’m not advocating a situation where Arsenal become reliant on one source of income to sustain us, that is surely no way to operate any kind of business. At a whim that funding could be removed and you’re in a world of trouble, but at the same time it’s a hard sell for Gazidis to make. We’re a club that is struggling on the pitch, can’t keep its best players and with the best will can no longer attract, or is unwilling to attract, the best players in the transfer market. Not that we were ever shopping at the very high end of the market but you know what I mean.
I think it’s important that we continue to operate within our means, that we generate our own income, but maybe we need reassess a few things and use all of what we have available to us. I know our commercial income is hamstrung until 2014, but at the end of the day we’ve got to be in a position in 2014 where we’re still attractive to the big sponsors. That will be dictated by the success of the team on the pitch.
I’m not suggesting that we gamble but when we’ve got £60m in the bank for investment in the team, I think we would be very foolish, under the current circusmtances, not to use it. I think we represent a future of football, not the future of football, and one would hope that the lessons of the summer just gone have been learned and learned well.
The team must be competitive, at the moment we only seem capable of beating ourselves.