There are still eight games to go this season. Eight games for something unlikely and remarkable to happen, but eight games nonetheless.
On yesterday’s Arsecast Extra James and I went through the remaining fixtures for Arsenal, Leicester and Sp*rs. You can listen to it here, it’s towards the end of part 1, but the best case scenario was that we’d finish level on points with that lot, while Leicester were champions by some distance.
At this point, Arsenal need a collapse from two teams, which seems improbable, so if I had to pick and choose one team to drop points, it would be Sp*rs. The alternative simply doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t think that makes me petty in any way, it just makes me an Arsenal fan.
Anyway, there’s a lot of discussion about change and the manager going out and Kroenke going out, and what strikes me about it is that there’s very little consideration to given to how that might happen, what the consequences of that might be, and what the alternatives are.
For some it seems the idea of Wenger going and a new manager coming in will immediately fix all the problems at the club. Haven’t won the title since 2004? New manager will do it! Get lots of injuries? New manager will fix that! Don’t compete in Europe? New manager will win the Champions League! Don’t spend enough money? New manager will splash the cash (he probably will, in fairness)!
Very little time is given over to the idea that, you know, things might get worse. For some that doesn’t seem to matter. Anything is better than Arsene Wenger and his consistent top four finishes; the frustration of the title being so near yet so far is just too much to take any longer. I do wonder how those so invested in being champions again will cope if we enter a Moyes/van Gaal era, but time will tell.
On the other hand, it might be something that improves and makes us better, but let’s not be blind to the fact that it has to be more than one man out and one man in. Arsene Wenger’s role at Arsenal, woven so greatly into the fabric of the club, is such that if you asked any modern manager or head coach to come in and take over all the responsibility he has, they’d run screaming down the Holloway Road regardless of how attractive the pay packet or the transfer kitty.
The entire structure would need to change. At the very least you’d need to appoint a Director of Football and the staff associated with that role. A ‘Head coach’ is what you’d be looking for, the days of a traditional manager, who casts his eye over all aspects of a club, are pretty much a thing of the past. Wenger is about the last of those legacy managers, and when he goes, there’s a vacuum.
Scouting staff, coaching staff, admin staff, not to mention the ongoing and very real need to revamp the board of this club. Ken Friar, with his years of service to Arsenal, and Ivan Gazidis, are the only men with genuine football experience or knowledge. Mr Friar is 81 now, he’s given his best years to the club already, while Gazidis is surrounded by people who know little about the game.
Where is the knowledge of, and passion for, Arsenal Football Club? Who is there that knows the modern game, the way it’s developing, the talent that exists throughout the world that might make this club better and more competitive? Not just on the pitch, but in every aspect. Sir Chips is simply a figurehead. The gruesome twosome of Stan and Josh Kroenke? Yeah, right.
Like him or not, when Wenger goes, he takes with him a vast knowledge of the game, the people, the players, the operators, the nuances of football, and that’s something that has to be replaced in some way. You simply can’t operate at this level of the game without it. Maybe he is outmoded to some, but his experience is unquestionable and at this point invaluable. Also, believe or not, he’s still hugely respected in the game, if not by some sections of the Arsenal fanbase.
In November 2012, Ivan Gazidis told the BBC that when commercial deals that had shackled us since the stadium build were renegotiated things would start to change:
As we look to the next two, three years we will have an outstanding platform on which to compete with any club in the world. We will have catapulted ourselves into the elite clubs on the European scale and that, for us, has been what the last 10 years has been about.
Well, that clearly hasn’t happened. Is it that all down the manager not building a winning team or spending enough money? Or could it be that there isn’t sufficient will from the top of the club down to actually make it happen. Gazidis continued:
It will push the club forward and put us into the top five clubs in the world in revenue terms, which will be a fantastic position to be in.
If you read the latest Swiss Ramble report on Arsenal’s finances, we could have cash in the bank of over £200m by the end of the season. Yes, a fantastic position to be in, but for what? For building a team that can compete with the elite clubs in Europe? It doesn’t seem like that’s the plan. The only thing we’ve done outstandingly well over the last few years is horde cash.
Again, we can only speculate as to whether that’s simply down Wenger’s reluctance to spend, or some overriding edict from elsewhere, but if this was truly a club that wanted to jump up a level in terms of quality and ambition, the resources are there to have made significant progress. We’ve made some, but there’s been no leap forward.
In February 2004, Wenger said of the new stadium:
This club has such an illustrious past but today is one of the most important dates in our history. It has been a big target of mine to participate in pushing the club forward and relocating to a new stadium is a necessity as it will enable us to become of one of the biggest clubs in the world.
We know Wenger and Danny Fiszman were the driving forces behind the project. The manager’s desire to see it happen was to enable us to compete with the biggest and the best, and it’s clear that in terms of finances, after a difficult period, that’s the case now. And yet here we are.
Now, I’m not saying he’s blameless. There’s money there that he chose not to spend, and I think he will look back on last summer and have serious regrets that he wasn’t more ruthless in the market and in terms of sticking with certain players. However, there’s a no-risk culture at Arsenal now, and that’s something the current ownership are happy with. They don’t have any ambition for Arsenal to grow and compete properly with Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that risks helped bring about the most successful period in the club’s history. Fiszman digging into his own pockets to sign a brilliant but broken Dennis Bergkamp. The appointment of an unknown Frenchman from Japan. The capture of a 19 year old from AC Milan’s reserves. Sign Overmars despite a terrible knee injury. Put a Monaco centre-half into midfield. Taking a French international winger struggling at Juventus and deciding he’s going to be a centre-forward. Nick Sp*rs best player. Decide a £250,000 trialist is going to become your first choice centre-half alongside him, and go unbeaten.
Not all the gambles came off, but when they did … ooooof. Now, a manager who, over the years, has become more conservative and risk-averse is embedded in an organisation that is happy with the status quo.
A new manager is going to have to come in and deal with all of that, and do so without the yoke of power that the current manager holds. Stan Kroenke isn’t going to say boo to Arsene Wenger, but what about when someone without that leverage comes looking for more, for money, for the club to show actual ambition?
I worry about that. I worry that the KSE £3m consultancy charge becomes £6m or £10m or £20m. I worry that rather than reap the benefits of a new manager, the house of cards, supported by Wenger, collapses a bit. I worry that Arsenal will try and replace like for like, seeking another Wenger type when he’s basically unique in world football right now, and the odds of Arsenal finding another man to serve for 20+ years are nigh on impossible. I worry that we don’t have the right set-up to cope and it might take us some time to put that in place. Maybe my glass is half-empty on this, but I don’t think so.
So, to conclude, I’m not saying don’t change or don’t talk about change. I think if there’s a better man out there to do the job, then let’s go for it, but let’s open our eyes to the fact that it’s not as simple as handing Arsene a P45 and changing the name plate on the manager’s door.
It’s a whole lot more complicated than that.
Finally, just a quick thing: if anyone who was in Barcelona last week has any footage of that rickety, dangerous, ramshackle bridge we were all made to go over to get into the stadium, can you get in touch? thearseblog at arseblog dot com, thanks.