Monday, May 20, 2024

Arsenal draw with Fulham as Arsenal draw ire for Super League involvement

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I was going to talk a bit about VAR in today’s blog. Not to complain that it was to blame for our result yesterday – we have to look at ourselves for that. The drop off in quality in a couple of key positions, even if there might have been good/sensible reasons for change, and our season-long lack of consistency were the main culprits.

We thought we’d scored, but by the letter of the law Saka’s toenail was offside, so there you go. I also thought it was ludicrous the way they spent an age looking for an offside in the build up to the Fulham penalty rather than replaying the ludicrous dive. The tiniest contact on a player’s foot shouldn’t make him leap through the air like he’s been hit up the arse by a ten ton truck. Why we still can’t come to terms with the idea that not all contact is a foul is beyond me.

Even when Eddie Nketiah scored the late equaliser, they did a VAR check. I know some will say it’s not VAR, it’s the implementation of it, and that might well be true. But when it seems like its main purpose in the Premier League is to find the smallest possible reason to disallow a goal, what is the point? If it was being used to correct clear and obvious errors, there would be far fewer complaints, but it’s not.

VAR, as it operates right now, brings nothing positive to the game, and takes so much away. The best thing about football is scoring a goal, and it’s now got to a point where you can’t even experience that moment of joy without without that worry in the back of your mind it might be ruled out. Is that worth the trade off of the precision of a pixelated shadow of a toe being half a centimetre offside?

I wish they would scrap it. Officials would still get things wrong, but what VAR has done is ensure the decisions we endure fester for much longer. I guess it’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, little wanker of a genie that he is anyway, but unless they find a way to do it better, it’s having a negative impact on the sport, in my opinion.

Also, Arsenal were turgid. If I see Mohamed Elneny pass the ball backwards one more time when we need to go forwards, I think I’ll scream. It’s not all on him, of course, but it showed how big the gulf is between our best midfield player and the one we asked to do the same job. A job he couldn’t do. We kept going, so fair play for that, but we came within a whisker of losing our 13th league game of the season.

Not good enough, although I did enjoy our goalkeeper winning a header in their box deep into injury time to get a pre-assist for the goal.

Anyway, on a day when I thought VAR was going to be the biggest threat to the integrity of the sport, along came The Super League. A group of big clubs owned by rich men who want more money. Arsenal, sadly, are at the forefront of this horrible idea, and last night posted a generic statement about our involvement:

I don’t know what’s worse: the hubris and arrogance of capitalising ‘Founding Clubs’ in that statement, or that something of such magnitude – in which Stan Kroenke is a ‘vice-chairman’ – was published on our official website with a quote from Joel Glazer, co-chairman of Man Utd. We’re used to Stan being silent, and I get this was a blanket statement from all involved, but that’s pathetic, and another example of how little they care.

The reaction to the Tweet was something too. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such an outpouring of righteous indignation and anger to anything the club has ever posted before. I feel sorry for some of the people working at the club right now who have been railroaded into creating this ‘content’. Arsenal is packed full of employees who love and understand the club to its fullest extent. Its place in the community, its history, its ambition, even if we’re not anywhere close to that right now, and this is so far removed from all of that.

From on high comes the edict to post something they know the fans, in vast numbers, will hate with all their hearts. Tough gig. What of the managers too? Arsenal fans are not alone in despising this idea. If a Klopp or an Arteta has genuine objections to it, how awkward is it to express that when the club’s owners have nailed their colours to the mast? It’s the kind of situation that forces you to compromise your integrity, or you lose your job. Maybe that will happen, who knows?

The prospect of a European Super League has always swirled around in the background, and I can say it’s something I’ve always dreaded. We have to acknowledge that when we hear people from Sky (and I thought Gary Neville spoke very well last night), from the Premier League, from UEFA, and so on, express their concerns about this plan, there are levels of hypocrisy that are off the charts.

They are not the protectors of the game. They will do, and have done, everything they can do make as much money from football as possible. They don’t care about fans, look at how they mess with kick-off times, sending a team from one end of the country to play at the other end at a whim – knowing there’s no public transport, knowing the inconvenience it causes. They don’t care about player welfare, as evidenced by the last international break, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and a punishing schedule that saw teams play three games in six days. The litany of injuries suffered since then shows their only real interest is self-interest, in bank balances and beyond.

At least there is a structure of competitiveness though. We know the decks are stacked in a system which wants the ‘big’ names come out best, but there’s still a 38 game league season, teams like Leicester and West Ham are potential Champions League qualifiers, and that’s what makes football and sport so interesting. This abomination of a ‘super league’ is a closed shop for the 15 ‘founders’, who can never be relegated, can never lose their place, and it is everything sport should not be. It’s not sport. It’s television. It’s entertainment. It’s pay per view subscriptions. It’s everything that every football fan should absolutely despise. And the ludicrousness of Arsenal, wallowing in 9th, being part of a ‘Super League’ shouldn’t be lost on any of us (nor too the involvement of a club like Sp*rs who haven’t won a league title for 60 years).

I remember the Champions League final of 2006 like it was yesterday. The pain of defeat was intense, but that incredible moment when, at the final whistle, there was sea of yellow as Arsenal fans, gutted beyond belief that we’d come so close, stood together with pride at what we’d done to get there will live with me forever. There was appreciation that our time to win that famous old trophy had almost come, and from that some sense that we could do it in the future. I can guarantee you no game in this new format, this glorified exhibition tournament, would ever generate anything like that. If you’ve had a dream that one day we might win the European Cup (as it was known first), it’s over as that tournament will cease exist. For what? So billionaires can get richer.

The huge amounts of money on offer are what’s driving this. The timing of it, during a pandemic when many clubs have suffered losses, is more than likely down to the debts being incurred. If you’re Barcelona with £1bn debt, why wouldn’t it be tempting to erase your history to erase your debt? If you’re KSE who have ‘restructured’ Arsenal’s debts and someone basically comes along and offers to pay most of it off in a lump sum with guarantees of ring-fenced revenue that can go anywhere you want it to go, you don’t think about what the fans want or care about it.

I feel deeply sad that Arsenal are involved in this. This is a club I have supported my whole life, and while everyone has their own breaking point, it’s not something I can just switch off. I don’t feel like this represents the Arsenal I care about. And look, I get it. Maybe that’s just a idealised vision of the club, but I also think the vociferous reaction to that Arsenal Tweet tells you I’m not alone in thinking this is not who we are, what we are, and what we represent – as one of our most beloved sons once said.

It’s difficult, but I think we have to try separate the club from the vultures who own it. As I said on Twitter – and this doesn’t just apply to Arsenal fans, but fans of all involved – don’t hate your club, hate the owners. The club as an entity is important to us. It is something worth fighting for … at least until there’s absolutely no point anymore.

This thing is scheduled to start in August, despite objections from UEFA and the Premier League who insist that those who take part will be banned from their competitions. It’s a power play to get more of what they want, and how it all plays out now in the next few weeks will be fascinating. But if this is what it is, what’s the point of what remains of this season? I want us to win the Europa League because I want Arsenal to win a European trophy, but also to qualify for the Champions League. What does it matter where we finish in the Premier League if we’re assured our place in this grotesque reality TV show next season?

Maybe it won’t come to pass, but even if it doesn’t, there is a stain left on the relationship between our football club and its fans that will never go away, and that is genuinely saddening. There’s loads to be angry and concerned about, but the way something like this was pushed out when they knew fine well how it would be received, is just so depressing and disheartening.

Stan Kroenke. Andrea Agnelli. Florentino Perez. Joel Glazer. Ivan Gazidis. John W. Henry. And all the rest: enemies of football. As Jonathan Liew wrote brilliantly, “Only someone who truly hates football can be behind a European super league.”

They hate football. They love money, and they don’t give one single shit about what they destroy in order to get more of it. And that is the bottom line.

James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. If you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast will be out around lunchtime, until then, take it easy.

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