The Facts The summer made many Arsenal supporters (including me) wonder whether the club was heading in the right direction. The team had just ended one more trophyless year in more or less the same manner as the previous years; fans were reassured by the manager that 95 per cent of whatever was needed for success was there, and that only one or two additions would be needed to make it happen; the Board repeated that substantial funds were available. And yet all hell broke loose: Cesc and Nasri left without the club having adequately thought about replacements; the newcomers came one or two days before the end of the transfer period, which meant that they had absolutely no time to blend into the team; the team got off to its worst start for decades and underwent a very humiliating defeat (again) at Old Trafford; and it was probably thanks to a penalty save that the team booked a place for the group stage of the Champions League.
It is, of course, at the end of the season that we should make an evaluation of the situation. But these are special circumstances. As I will try to explain, it is the basic AFC model for running the team that needs to be rethought. To do that, nevertheless, one needs to first assess the situation with a cool head. In football, things change rapidly only because there is a succession of games: two victories in a row make you forget a defeat and postpone the need for criticism. Then the usual suspects come out, calling fans to get behind the team and distributing certificates of ‘Arsenalness’ to those who rally behind their voices - and denying them to lifelong fans who dare to question the course of events. This is wrong, and I for one cannot adhere to this way of thinking and acting.
On the other hand, I might be accused of acting opportunistically when voicing my criticism now, when Arsène’s critics are having a field day. I am prepared to take this risk for the club that I have loved and supported all my life. At the end of last season, I was in dismay listening to our coach, who has brought so much success to our club, saying that 95 per cent of the team was there and that we needed one or two signings. No disrespect to Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho (in fact, I think the second will become a great player), but, like many Arsenal fans, I was hoping for a couple of centre-halves and one holding midfielder. With the astonishing emergence of Frimpong, maybe midfield is becoming less of an issue. The centre-halves are very much needed though, especially as Thomas Vermaelen is yet again injured. Instead, we waited for three months; we heard time and again that our coaching staff and Board were working hard to get us new players but that this was no easy job; that Cesc and Nasri would not leave. And we woke up one day only to see Cesc and Nasri leave, and the hard work of the summer apparently paid off in 48 hours when
In football things change rapidly only because there is a succession of games: two victories in a row make you forget a defeat and postpone the need for criticism we could sign five players (knee-jerk reaction) that we could not have signed in the previous 100 days. This is, in my view, a classic case of management failure.
The Management and Busines Model I want to ask the question whether this failure is intrinsic to the business model under which we have been operating. If not, one might be willing to attach little importance to it since outliers do exist in most statistical observations. I fear, though, that it is. I assume Arsène Wenger is something close to a ‘one stop shop’ here, a safe assumption since, repeatedly, AFC Board members from David Dein to Peter Hill-Wood to Ivan Gazidis have underscored the fact that he is solely responsible for all team issues: who plays, who comes in, who goes out, etc. I have little to add to the voices of people with greater expertise than me on technical issues, who claim that Arsène has failed repeatedly to strengthen the back four, except for one thing: not for lack of trying. Stepanovs, Cygan, Senderos and Squillaci have all been signed to fill this position and failed miserably. Djourou and Koscielny do not seem to be doing much better now. Yet, on the other side, it is also Arsène who brought in Touré and Sol, players who contributed a lot to AFC’s success, while the jury is still out on Mertesacker.
It is also quite amazing that we have been playing for years with an average goalkeeper who has cost us so many points, when capable goalkeepers (Given) have been on the market for reasonable sums of money. Was it worth waiting until 2011 and the emergence of Szczesny? Especially since a couple of seasons ago we were close to winning some silverware only to see Ronaldo score with a 40-yard free kick, or WBA score three goals in one half at our ground? These are questions only the manager can answer, first to himself and then to the Board and the fans.