Talking Reds by Kevin Whitcher
We go to press on the evening after the defeat at Swansea. As well as this editorial for the printed issue, I have to reflect on the match for the onlinegooner website, a pleasure I shall save until Monday morning. However, to avoid repetition, I shall try and look at the bigger picture here. And really, it’s one of frustration as to what has occurred since the club moved from Highbury.
Make no mistake, the logic of the move was sound. Arsenal were sacrificing over £1 million in potential lost earnings every time they played a home match at their historic home. And yet, now we find the club in serious danger of no longer being amongst the top four teams in the country, with absolutely no i l lusion of being the best any longer, a situation that seemed possible as recently as the first couple of months of 2011.
In the words of the famous George Best anecdote, “Where did it all go wrong?” In theory, making a year-old Thierry Henry is viewed as a short-term salvation tells its own story. There is no escaping the reality that whereas once Arsène Wenger had an eye for a quality signing, his ability to bring in talent that will deliver silverware has unquestionably declined. Something somewhere has gone very wrong, and we are now in the position of having a squad filled with players we hope will come good, rather than believing they will. It’s wing and a prayer stuff and in games l ike that at the Liberty Stadium, when it falls apart, it makes for pretty ugly viewing.
I think – to put things into perspective – you have to remember that Spurs are managing to make a fist of a title challenge playing in a stadium with a similar capacity to Highbury, paying their players significantly less than Arsenal. Granted, it’s not happened a lot for a long time, but the fact that it is happening now can either be viewed as a blip or a sign that the Gunners are on a downward slope that should never have been allowed to go as far as it has.
Compare Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos and Benayoun with Vieira, Campbell, Cole and Edu. Things ain’t what they used to be hell of a lot more money than the club were able to before 2006, the team should be stuffed with players of at least the equal of the quality we witnessed in the final decade at Highbury. And yet, things have declined alarmingly. That a 34–
There are still many who trust Arsène Wenger to put things right. Certainly, the changes made at the club after the travesty of the early season start were encouraging. A batch of experienced signings to address the obvious imbalance in the make-up of the squad, a change of approach to the coaching of the defence at London Colney. Improvement occurred, and Arsenal put a run of games together which saw them rise up the table. However, it was papering over the cracks. The players brought in were decent enough squad men, but compare Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos and Benayoun with Vieira, Campbell, Cole and Edu. Things ain’t what they used to be.
Arsène Wenger has in recent seasons brought in a number of young players that he had high hopes for, paying substantial fees and high wages. It’s worked out financially in some cases, as profit
4 onlinegooner.com has been made on certain of them, although on the pitch, the l ikes of Fabregas, Nasri and Adebayor have been surrounded by too many weaker performers for the club to have got the best out of them. Theo Walcott is still around, a striker whose goal return does not justify the description. He has been joined by Gervinho, a serial misser of gilt-edged chances, with Marouane Chamakh waiting in the wings. The club cannot find buyers for the l ikes of Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson and Manuel Almunia, once cornerstones of the bright new future. Arsenal fans are being asked to pay top dollar to watch a group of players that simply do not justify the admission prices.
And yet, it is the fact that people will pay the money to continue watching this that means change is difficult to foresee. The owner of the club is happy, and at the moment, it seems that the only real benefit of the stadium move has been the income received by certain selling shareholders, small and large. Perhaps failure to qualify for the Champions League might force a re-think at board level. The £50m plus that could be spent on new players will be held back to plug the gap of the lost revenue that a season out of UEFA’s blue riband competition will mean. However, were it spent now, there is the chance that the club might actually bring in good enough players to ensure Arsenal qualify for the
2012-13 tournament. Sadly, ambition is lacking, the idea of speculating to accumulate never on the agenda. Ivan Gazidis scoffs at Milan’s business model, but the team delivered the title last season. Arsenal are too obsessed with the bottom l ine and pursuit of glory is not the priority anymore. Arsène Wenger is an economist who used to know a good player when he saw one.
If you want to sum up where Arsenal are now in a nutshell, think back to the negotiations for Mikel Arteta. To persuade the player to move from Everton, the carrot the club dangled him was £10,000 a week less in wages than he was earning in the North West. With that kind of approach, do you ever wonder why the quality of signings brought to the club in recent years has declined? And how many decent targets they might have missed out on? The manager is complicit in all of this, a de facto director playing the active role he does in transfers and the playing budget, so the question as to whether it is the board or the manager to blame is a false one. He is handsomely rewarded to spin things as being hunky dory and convincing fans we should all believe in the bright future we have been sold, but his body language on the touchline at the conclusion of the numerous defeats suffered in recent seasons tells a different story. Still, on £7 million a year, he’s not about to do the decent thing and give someone else a chance. Roll on 2014...