Thursday, 27 March 2014

Arsenal and the future

Arsenal are an odd club. Then again, I suppose all clubs are.

In many ways their fans are hyper-rational. In a world where they are competing with billionaires who can almost buy the league the club has done remarkably well to remain in the top four. In a world where most clubs who build a stadium are relegated they have managed to compete consistently whilst others around them simply haven't had to deal with the same pressures. Their fans understand the difficulties the club faces - rich rivals, financial pressures, trying not to bankrupt themselves in the transfer market - and accept them. Given those difficulties, and despite the guffawing of other fans, they realise that fourth is a decent position. In fact they will be the ones guffawing in the long-run when the Russian oligarchs and the Emirs leave and Arsenal's careful approach to financial management wins out.

At the same time, in many ways their fans are even more irrational than other fans. They ignore that the club seems to suffer injury crises more than their opponents (is that because Wenger buys injury prone players or because something is happening at training? Or both?). They explain away what AvB would have described as ''expressive results' against title rivals. They ignore that Arsenal should, despite all against them, should be benefiting from incumbency (all of their major rivals have a manager who has been in post for under 2 seasons). They should be reaping the rewards of the vision that Wenger has been formulating for years. It is difficult to overstate - given Wenger's genius - how much incumbency should help him. It is astonishing that it doesn't.

On the one hand, Arsenal have arguably been more consistent than in previous years. They have generally played very well, have - at points - been scintillating and if they beat Manchester City this weekend they'll be just about back in the title race. On how good the Gunners have been? For all Liverpool fans will crow over their own 5-1 win at Anfield they shouldn't forget just how good Arsenal were when at the Emirates earlier in the season (or the week after the 5-1 in the FA Cup). Arsenal are, surely, favourites to the FA Cup. The long awaited trophy - the jam tomorrow of all these years - may be just around the corner.

On the other hand, the reverses they have suffered at City (3-6), Liverpool (1-5) and Chelsea (0-6) seem that they are further away than ever. Yes, all teams lose games but few teams - few teams as fine as this Arsenal - get thumped like that. This suggests, in the biggest games, that they are disintegrating. Each of the results can be explained away - Liverpool played exceptionally well, Chelsea started well and capitalised on Oxlade-Chamberlain's idiocy and the referee's error to ruthless effect - but it is difficult not to conclude there is a troubling pattern there.

What happens next? If Arsenal win the FA Cup, and finish fourth or better (which is still probable), the calls for Wenger's head will diminish to nothing. The long wait will be over. The pressure will land, assuming the Reds do not win the league, on Rodgers. Where's your trophy, Brendan? It will be his albatross. Wenger's careful approach will be vindicated. Those who wrote obituaries for Wenger's career will laud him.

If Arsenal do not win the FA but finish fourth the grumbles will continue but he will be safe. Better the devil you know and all that.

If, somehow, they do not win the FA Cup and are gazmped by Everton then surely the cries will become louder. Martinez will already have outshone Moyes and he will, with little resource, have outsmarted Wenger. Wiser heads than mine will say ''shouldn't Martinez jazz up Arsenal?', 'couldn't he get Cazorla, Ozil, and Wilshere swinging?'.

Perhaps the man who is most important in all of this is Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal will see what has occurred at Manchester United when they failed to replace him adequately or plan for the future.
 They will be terrified that the same will occur after Wenger. There is no obvious Paisley to his Shankly. There are plenty of men who could become the Souness, McGuinness, or Moyes of Arsenal. It is easier to mess up the next appointment than it is to stick with a man who has served the club so well.

Admittedly, Arsenal's squad is stronger than the one Moyes inherited but there is a risk that the next man will try to overhaul Wenger's work or slump in his shadow. Wenger dominates Arsenal in an impressive and quiet way. The next man will not have it easy. The club, who have been so careful for so long, are unlikely to throw a gauntlet at a man they are unsure of. 
Given Wenger's importance to the entire club and its image of itself the man who is most likely to keep him in a job come what may is his old adversary from the North. Even when he has gone, he's still the most important man in the room.



dearieme said...

When I saw the clips of the Chelsea debacle I could scarcely believe how bad Arsenal were. They just kept repeating their mistakes. Except Chamberlain's unique one; the diving save was presumably a sign that they'd already lost all composure. There is also the problem of imbalance: lots of clever wee midfielders is fine, indeed better than fine, but you also need a Vieira. You need a second centre-forward too for when Giroud is knackered or out-of-sorts.

Of course the real measure of this season's failings is their failure to spank ManU, when everyone else of any merit has.

As for the injuries: who knows? They do seem to happen often, and to drag on, but maybe it's just the statistics of small numbers i.e. essentially chance.

I can see that they might want to replace the old boy but maybe this is the wrong summer to do it: some good candidates won't be available until after the World Cup. So maybe they should give him a two-year contract but replace him after one. There again, should they hire the guy at Dortmund before ManU get him? Or Pep if he falls out with the Krauts?

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