Earlier in the week Chairman Peter Hill-Wood said that while he’d obviously like Arsenal to finish in the top four, it wouldn’t be a ‘disaster’ if that didn’t happen.
Obviously he was talking about it from a financial point of view. The implications of playing Europa League instead of Champions League are obvious. Instead of gobbling and supping from football’s top table, we’d be picking up leftovers from the table right beside the gents. The Chairman’s point, however, was that we’ve been sensible enough to build that provision into our financial planning.
Some might say it shows a lack of ambition. It’s just common sense really. And we had the exact same situation and the same information in the final year at Highbury. When a top four finish looked dodgy for quite some time, we were told that we’d be able to cope financially. In the end the famous lasagne and an 80th minute West Ham winner by a certain Yossi Benayoun ensured it didn’t become an issue. But even back then we had that provision built into our financial model.
Yesterday, at his press conference, Arsene Wenger was asked about finishing outside the top four and his answer had nothing to do with finance or our ability to cope with lost revenue. He went at it ‘footballistically’, to coin a Wengerism. He said:
For me, not making the top four would be a disaster. Because I want to play with the best. We want to play in the Champions League and anything else would not be good enough.
And I agree wholeheartedly. We discussed this on yesterday’s Arsecast and although I’m the sort of person who can generally find a silver lining from most situations, I just can’t do it for this. Finishing outside the top four would be horrendous. Financially, footballistically, futureifically. Obviously we lose revenue, it makes it difficult to retain certain players who have decisions to make about their future, and it makes it very difficult to attract the quality of player who can get you back in there.
Look at Liverpool, they have spent an absolute fortune on players (I know it’s been boosted by the £50m they got for Torres) but if they finish top four I’ll eat my hat. The consequences are obvious and all pretty much negative. Of course, if it happens we just have to get on with it, but clearly Arsene Wenger knows how difficult it would make things. Yet those who might suggest that his stark warning about it being a disaster is a message to the board, to provide investment perhaps, seem to be wide of the mark.
He talks about the need to get our injured players back rather than be active in the transfer market, saying:
If the players come back, we are strong enough. If we do not have the players back we will struggle.
To me it seems something of a gamble to hinge our top four finish on an IF. And an IF that seems to have plagued us continuously in recent seasons. And on buying players:
Football is not a supermarket where you go in there and say give me a left back please, and a right back and a centre back. We have to find players better than what we have.
You cannot buy a player every time you have an injury: where do you finish? England is bankrupt, the whole of Europe is bankrupt and everyone continues to spend like nothing happened.
Yet Arsenal are not bankrupt, Wenger says as much himself. I know what he means about transfers and bringing players in. There is a perception that it’s easy, when it’s not. It’s not just a transfer fee but wages, bonuses, contract lengths, impact on squad/players already at the club and more. But it also strikes me that Arsenal have, from time to time, made it look a lot more difficult than it actually is.
And yes, IF we get Sagna back with no complications, Wilshere back with no complications, Vermaelen back and fit for the rest of the season (I think his talent lets people overlook his brittleness in terms of injury), Gibbs back and fit for the rest of the season (unlikely, let’s face it), while at the same time suffering no injuries to the existing players who I’m sure are now being stretched in and out of that red zone like nobody’s business, then you can see how that group of players could finish top four.
It’s a lot to ask though, isn’t it? It’s sort of like when all the planets align themselves every 60 years or something. And for this reason I’m concerned greatly about our ability to ensure Champions League football. Arsene has some interesting things to say about referees and decisions but I do wonder how productive those comments will be. Let’s be clear, he’s not blaming refs for our results, just saying he wants the right decisions to be made. And I don’t know how any Arsenal fan who has watched our recent games can have any argument with that.
Yet the very nature of the world we live in, the way one small point is picked up and run with by a crisis loving, sensational media, there’s a danger that this, rather than our real problems, will become the issue. Yes, we’ve suffered some poor decisions recently – Wenger’s point about Pires v Dyer is spot on and I can get behind that 100% – but we’ve suffered more because of our own performances and limitations.
There’s little point going over those limitations again, I spoke about them earlier in the week, but when they’re that obvious, when the team is struggling and when there’s some money available to boost the squad, I find it hard to understand why Arsene is so reluctant to spend it. Europe might be bankrupt but surely Arsenal’s sensible financial model means that we can take advantage of that. If other clubs are barely keeping their heads above water, why can we not then test their mettle in the transfer market? We need players but they need money. And I’m not talking about spending money we don’t have, simply making use of what we do.
Anyway, at the moment it’s hard not to look at our situation and be fearful. All that could change on Sunday. We could beat United, we could start getting those injured players back, we could go on another decent run. Teams above could drop points. We could finish top four. Yet it does feel as if we’re leaving too much to chance and not being as proactive as we could be. It’s one thing to miss out on the top four having given it everything we’ve got to get in there, it’ll be another entirely if inaction and unwillingness to use our resources to the full are the deciding factor.
Back tomorrow with a preview of the United game which is now very much in the ‘must win’ territory. Have a good Saturday.