Monday, August 15, 2022

The final boss


A subject which has come up a bit recently on the Arsecast is the idea of success for Arsenal in the years ahead. We’ve just seen the best Liverpool team since the 80s fall just short of the title, pipped to it by a point by Man City, and lose the Champions League final. Their two cup successes probably feel like scant consolation when held up against what might have been.

They now face the prospect of a bit of a rebuild as they look to keep pace with City, whose summer business has already seen them sign Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez, a player who scored six goals in one Copa Libertadores game last week. And that’s just the start of it. It’s like playing a video game boss who you manage to inflict some damage to, but then their health bar goes all the way back to the top as you’re one whack away from death.

When you consider Arsenal’s place in the pecking order, there’s still a big gap. Let’s imagine that everything we do goes as well as it can. We buy well, we sell well, players develop, the team continues to grow and get better, and the manager’s progress continues alongside that – we’re still probably two years away from being what Liverpool are now, and as that has shown, that level isn’t good enough to win the Premier League most seasons.

The reality of Man City in the Premier League, as with Chelsea before them, possibly Newcastle in the future, and PSG as we turn to Europe, is that the deck is stacked against you from the start. Fans of those clubs don’t care, and that’s completely understandable, but it’s a reality we have to consider.

I’m sure many of you will have seen this thread from FT journalist John Burn Murdoch which shows the growing financial disparity in the game, and in particular how the Premier League is moving away from the other big European leagues. It’s well worth your time:

It’s something I’ve referenced more than once, but the Premier League is now almost like an exclusive gated community. Properties within that community are valuable, while the values of those outside the gates are lower. We all understand if you have a player who is worth £25m if you sell him to another Premier League club, that value is not the same if you sell outside – unless you sell to one of the few very rich clubs that can keep up.

For a club like Arsenal, that means a depressed market when you sell, because the only players the rich clubs would want are our best ones, and we don’t want to lose them. So, perfectly serviceable squad players who we need to shift to bring in new ones who can take us to the next level don’t attract the kind of fees we’d like. Don’t get me wrong, I still think we can do better when we sell, but I can also acknowledge the challenge the market itself presents.

As for what we can do in this Premier League, I’m not sure. I can’t fully let myself think it’s an impossibility, because football can surprise you, but let’s be honest here: without the emergence of the best Liverpool team in a long, long time, City would have won the last five, it would be basically a closed shop, and all the talk of how competitive the Premier League is would be exposed as absolute nonsense. People criticise the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich’s dominance, the last side to win it apart from them was Borussia Dortmund in 2012 (under Jurgen Klopp), but how much different is the Premier League really?

As an aside, I know it’s difficult to praise opposition managers, but I do like Klopp and I do wonder does he ever rue the fact he’s around in the era he is. For me there are shades of Arsene Wenger whose Monaco side were cheated out of the French title by Marseille’s match-fixing, then coming to England to face a financially much more powerful rival. Man City’s ‘cheating’ probably won’t be viewed as blatant as the brown envelope corruption of players themselves, but it’s surely more egregious when you step back and look at it objectively – they have corrupted the very structures of the sport.

From an Arsenal perspective, we can all see the gap that exists between us and the top of the table, and we all see that there is a hell of a lot to do to even get close to that. Even if we do, even if we knock a few points off the health bar of the final boss, they can replenish via the transfer market again and again and again with endless resources (while their manager ludicrously tries to tell us they can’t compete on a financial level with other clubs).

One of the things I like about Mikel Arteta is his ambition to make Arsenal a challenger again. He speaks about it consistently, and I don’t think there’s any other way to look at the job from his perspective. At the end of the day it’s 11 men kicking a ball against another 11 men, and you have to believe you can bridge the gap and achieve the kind of success we’d all like to see again.

However, more and more the idea of seeing us winning the Premier League feels aspirational. Perhaps that’s why the failure to qualify for the Champions League this season stung so much, because in the back of our minds that’s now success. Not that we should settle for that, of course, but you can’t be blind to what you’re up against. And maybe, as ridiculous as it sounds, the Champions League is potentially more winnable than the Premier League if you’re in it. It’s cup football, with all the vagaries it produces, and while I’m not comparing us to Real Madrid, their pathway to this season’s win produced the kind of variance you just don’t see over a 38 game league season.

It’s such a tough one. I can’t, and never would, tell anyone else what to think, and like all of you I desperately want Arsenal to continue to improve and to be competitive at the top end of the table. But maybe we have to stop and think, to assess what a success means in the era we’re in, and try and enjoy the ride more than the final destination.

Because when you get there, the boss is a right bastard.

Previous articleThe 22
Next articleEddie’s Brand New Start

Related articles

Share article

Featured on NewsNow

Support Arseblog

Latest posts

Latest Arsecast