Thursday, September 29, 2022

Arsenal, Premier League champions of talking the talk, now need to walk the walk

So it’s official, Arsene Wenger will be manager of Arsenal until 2019, having signed a two year extension. It would be hard to find anybody who is surprised, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been a wide range of emotions expressed since it was rubber-stamped.

From anger to elation; disappointment to relief; serious pessimism to wild optimism; and pretty much everything inbetween. As I said yesterday, my feelings remain mixed. The timing felt right to go in a different direction, but wrong at the same time because of the way things are being run at the club right now.

As you would expect the whole affair was stage-managed to the Nth degree. There was no public press conference to talk about the reasoning. Instead we got an interview with Arsene Wenger who, I think, would probably have done a presser if that had been asked of him; and lo and behold, after months of silence we got a long, prolix interview with Ivan Gazidis who now, it appears, has plenty to say for himself.

We even heard from Stan Kroenke who in four sentences (no interview) said more than he has done about the club in years, if ever.

Wenger said:

I love this club and I am looking forward to the future with optimism and excitement. We are looking at what we do well and how we can be stronger everywhere. This is a strong group of players and with some additions we can be even more successful. We’re committed to mounting a sustained league challenge and that will be our focus this summer and next season.

Kroenke said:

Our ambition is to win the Premier League and other major trophies in Europe. It’s what the fans, players, staff, manager and board expect and we won’t rest until that is achieved. Arsene is the best person to help us make that happen. He has a fantastic track record and has our full backing.

And I love you all too much to inflict any of what Gazidis said, but it was slick, polished, and had about as much substance as a breakfast-table discussion at the Kardashian house. If you fancy reading it, you can check it out on the official site here. Suffice to say, I found it profoundly irritating after months of abject silence that we’re supposed to lap this up now.

The manager spoke about his summer plans, about players coming and going:

First of all, we have a very heavy squad at the moment so maybe we might lose some players. We want to keep the strength we have and build on that. We will work very hard to find the additions of top, top quality.

I believe that our squad is very strong and we will only look for top-class people who can strengthen our team now. The basis is there so we need the additions who will make a real difference.

Which of course sounds fine in any other context than one where you’re hearing it for the 20th time. Even Thierry Henry says it’s stuff we’ve heard before. And this is the thing. I didn’t expect them to go into great detail about what changes they might make when it came to releasing this news, but that doesn’t mean that those changes aren’t still necessary.

What we do this summer; how we operate; how quickly and efficiently we do our transfer business; the quality of the players that come in; how we show our strength as a football club in terms of who stays and who goes; what we do to make things better behind the scenes; all of those things are fundamental to how people will view these next two years.

If we see things happening that acknowledge the issues we’ve had, that are designed to address those and improve them, then I believe people will start to get on board. I feel like fans want to do that, because this is their football club, and even if the manager is one they might not have faith in any more, if we do the right things and results are good then most people aren’t so wedded to their position that they can’t be convinced.

However, we have been here before. And before. And before. We have heard them say all the right things. We’ve heard Gazidis preach about what a fantastically, super-duper, tip-top football club we are and how everyone is determined to do this, win that, and all the rest. We’ve heard it time and time again about bringing in top, top quality players.

We talk the talk better than anybody else. If there was a Premier League for talking a good game, we’d be champions every year by a country mile. But that’s not how it works. Whatever issues there were behind the scenes, and don’t let what came out yesterday fool you into thinking there weren’t, they have to be sorted out because if we are to do things differently, all of those people – not just Arsene Wenger – need to work together for the benefit of the club.

This is football, of course, and we won’t be able to measure properly how things have gone until the opening day of the season. But we will be able to judge our preparedness, how ready we are, how we’ve managed our summer and everything else by then, and the club have a duty to make sure fans don’t turn up on the first day of the season to served up a gloopy, stale helping of more of the same.

There is a genuine need and a genuine appetite for change. That has not come in the shape of a new manager, so must now come from an existing manager who has to do things differently. Whether he or the club are capable of it, I just don’t know. If I had to put money on it, I’d use what I’ve seen for years to make my bet, not on what I heard from them yesterday.

I cannot tell you how much that’s a bet I’d like to lose, so fingers crossed they can surprise us all.

In other news, Lucas Perez could well be one of the first of many summer departures as his agent made the Spaniard’s desire to to leave the club public. You can’t blame him one bit. He’s a good player who contributed well enough when given the chance, but it’s clear that Arsene Wenger doesn’t fancy him at all. Why would he want to hang around?

It remains to be seen how much we can recoup of the £17m we paid for him – not a small amount of money either – and a move back to Spain seems most likely.

Finally, given the big news this week, I’m going to bang out an Arsecast this morning. I’ve got a few opinions on the Wenger news, what it all means etc, including a very animated conversation with Ian Wright, so stand by for that mid-morning.

Until then, have a good one.

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