Ihave to admit, I was confident that Arsenal would sign a goalkeeper before the end of the transfer window, even on Tuesday 31 August itself. Having admitted in pre-season that there was no obvious first choice, Arsène Wenger’s desire to bring someone in was confirmed by Fulham’s declaration of solid bids for Mark Schwarzer, and the Australian’s handing in a transfer request. So we can conclude that the manager was aware improvement was needed in this key position, and that he simply failed to sort the problem out until it was too late. For a club of Arsenal’s size and stature, this amounts to professional negligence in my view. The manager is paid over £100,000 a week and the directors employed to take care of the day to day running of the club and oversee such things as transfer negotiations are handsomely rewarded for their hours. One assumes it was penny pinching that meant the deal to bring a new keeper in so late collapsed. The club, obsessed with the balance sheets, tried to bargain hard and save a bit of money. What they have in reality saved is any stress for the supporters about winning the title this season. With Almunia in goal, there is no chance. The man who pushed the ball into his own net at St Andrews last season will cost the team maybe five points this season. A top class keeper could actually gain them five. Ten points can make the difference between finishing first and third. Sometimes I suspect that the way the club is being run is purely for the major shareholders on the board to increase the value of their investment. There seems little pressure on the manager – an employee after all – to use funds available to him to increase his chances of winning. Instead he is allowed to indulge himself in building his dream team with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow being when they prove him right and win the title playing football in the style of Brazil 40 years ago. It’s an idealistic approach that wins aesthetic plaudits but no silverware.
With the club continuing to sell out home matches, there is no imperative for the board to change anything fast, hence the award of a three year contract extension to Wenger. The income is close to being maxed out in terms of matchday revenue, so why spend more on players than necessary? Why bother going the extra mile to actually win something? Aside from the money spent on buying players that know how to pace themselves over a season, my guess is that bonus payments would kick in if the club ever won another trophy. And that would hurt the bank balance, which ultimately seems to have become the
Keith Burkinshaw said, ‘There used to be a football club over there’, pointing at White Hart Lane when he left the Spurs manager’s job in the mid-1980s. Certainly, the business has become more important than the fundamental aim of a football club (to win trophies) at Arsenal now. I am not asking for the club to follow the example of Leeds or Manchester City. All I am asking for is that where an evident weakness in the playing staff has been identified, then it is addressed by those paid a king’s ransom in wages to do their job.
I’d have liked a top class international keeper brought in (someone younger than Schwarzer), with a partner/back up for Alex Song to boot. Two players. Deals can be done in 20 minutes if you take the selling club seriously, as Spurs proved with the capture of Rafael van der Vaart. I can live with Arsenal’s aim of self-sufficiency if they’d spend some bloody money when they have it. Millions sitting in the bank are not going to improve their chances of finishing above Chelsea or Manchester United. Sometimes you wonder if the manager is on some kind of bonus himself for not spending the club’s money if he can help it. He certainly seems so obsessed with his idea of value that he treats the Arsenal chequebook as his own. Laudable in one way, but no way to win the league. I, for one, will not be giving Manuel Almunia a hard time. He does not pick the team or decide on how much to spend bringing in players. He knows the manager did not think he was good enough, but being the professional he is, he will get on with the task in hand. I hope he proves me and the many doubters wrong by having his best ever season at the club, as I hope the manager proves me wrong by actually winning something with this team.
I know there are many who hate to see critical writing about Arsenal, although I suspect even Wenger’s most fervent loyalists were hoping for a new keeper to be signed. However, it must be remembered that whether a supporter is critical or supportive of the manager’s ways, we all want the best for our team. The side have made a decent start to the season with four points on the road at two difficult venues, so let us hope they make a fist of it this time around, right up until the middle of May.
Arsenal started like a train a year ago, but were undone by lack of squad depth at the business end of things. Whether the same group of players will be able to perform better this time around remains to be seen, and the manager will argue they are more experienced. My concern, and lack of faith, is based upon the fact that they have won nothing yet, and that a few more who have been around the block would enhance their chances. But I have renewed my season ticket in hope rather than expectation. I accept Arsenal have no divine right to win trophies and that there are clubs in a far worse position. I’d just like them to maximise their chances of winning something, as a fan. I don’t think that’s being unreasonable.
- Kevin Whitcher
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