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Monday 14 March 2011

The Arsenal - Business Or Pleasure?

Hi folks,

I could've prattled on with a rant at least twice as long as this week's missive for the Irish Examiner (which was already a couple of hundred words more than what was required) and as a result, you are the "lucky" recipients of my cathartic efforts to get all my remaining gripes off my chest

It's growing increasingly difficult to argue against all those "throw the bath water out with the baby" Gooners who are beginning to lose patience with Le Prof. Nevertheless, if ever I need convincing of how fortunate we are to have Wenger, I always hark back to the fact that any number of massive clubs would be delighted to relieve us of his services and the certainty that they'll be dancing in the streets at the wrong end of Seven Sisters Road, the day Arsène does eventually hand over the reins.

However I can't help but wonder if the stability we've enjoyed during le Gaffer's tenure has reached a point where everyone at the club, from the suits to the playing staff, feels far too secure in their positions, to the extent that we appear to lack the edge of some of those sides whose employees exist with the permanent knowledge that they are only ever a few disappointing results away from being handed their cards.

There are obvious advantages to this situation, as most of the coaches of other major clubs will claim that they can't afford to risk their positions, by demonstrating the patience in some of their younger prodigies, of the sort that has given Jack Wilshere the opportunity to develop into such a promising star prospect. However we might well be enduring the downside to the Arsenal's rock solid immutability, as we jog along each season, with no wealthy benefactor throwing their toys out of their pram at our perennial failure to fulfill our expectations.

If I thought the performance against Barca was a complete betrayal of Arsène's footballing principles, it's nothing compared to the breach of faith that I'm beginning to sense, in the way in which I was sold a pup, when being convinced of the sound principles of moving to a new stadium. Personally I never ever wanted to move from my home from home, THOF in Avenell Road. However I understood the logic that the move was essential, in order to produce the sort of matchday revenues necessary for the club to compete with the rest of Europe's major players.

I was given to believe that an additional £3 million revenue per home game would afford the Gunners the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with any other club, in bidding for the games biggest stars. And yet having finally achieved this financial promised land, all we ever hear the Arsenal's CEO, Ivan Gazides prattling on about is "a sustainable business model", as if the Gunners' worldwide support, the people who fund the entire shebang from their hard-earned income, should merely be content with the prospect of our long-term existence, under the auspices of a manager who's able to work the oracle of Champions League qualification every season, on a fraction of the spending of many of those other clubs who aspire and regularly fail to squeeze their snouts into the trough of European football.

When you see the Arsenal spending £3 million on the close-season Club Level refurbishment of a couple of restaurants that are intended to produce a healthy return on the balance sheet, courtesy of all those high-rollers who (incredibly!) can regularly afford to stump up £200 for some matchday grub, instead of being invested back into the playing staff, you have to begin to question whether as football club, the Arsenal have lost sight of their principal raison d'etre, due to a shift that has seen us become primarily a profitable going-concern as a business first and foremost, with football as a mere subsidiary activity?

During the interminable delay before we were allowed to leave the Nou Camp last Tuesday night, I couldn't help but look around the cavernous expanses of empty terracing and be struck by the fact that aside from it's mammoth size, there's nothing very impressive about this huge concrete bowl when empty. In complete contrast to the impressive environs of the Emirates, with the absence of a Club Level, executive boxes, luxurious fine dining, or seemingly any apparent sign of the Catalan giants pandering to the obscene excesses of the corporate pound, one couldn't help but get the sense from their 95,000 fairly homogenous, cramped and uncomfortable seats, of an institution firmly focused on a single solitary objective, that of producing the best possible talent on the playing field.

Should Pep Guardiola fail to satisfy Barca's baying hordes, he has to answer for their disappointment. It seems to me no coincidence that the Arsenal's sojourn in the silverware starved doldrums dates back some six years, to the bad-blood which resulted in David Dein's departure. For all his perceived faults, perhaps Dein was the only suit at the club with a sufficiently close relationship with Arsène and with the burning expectations of a committed Gooner, to be able to call into question some of le Gaffer's more obdurate tendencies. Whereas in Dein's absence, we've been left with a bevvy of businessmen, who all appear to believe the sun shines out of le Boss's backside, with Wenger's miraculous achievements of maintaining the sadly all too gossamer like veneer of the Gunner's competiveness, simultaneously with a healthy profit and loss account.

Moreover, if there's no one at the Arsenal capable of expressing the obvious bare nakedness of our Emperor's not so new clothes, similarly with no one to question the fallacious verisimilitude of Arsène's seemingly unshakeable faith in players, who have time and again failed to prove they can cut the world class mustard, our retinue of constant under-achievers (need I really speak their names, as we all know who they are?) will endure in the warm glow of le Gaffer's unswerving adoration, picking up their vulgar wage packets, while resting on their laurels ad infinitum, when every Arsenal fan knows that for various regular squad members, the time for a "shape up, or ship out" reckoning is long overdue.

I didn't really expect to win at Old Trafford on Saturday (at least not until I saw Fergie's piss-takingly poor team selection) but what I wanted most was to see a reaction to our midweek humiliation, from a team of players determined to display the sort of passion and commitment which would at least serve to comfort us with the reassurance that they shared our pain (the sort of Gooner pride that had 9000 of us embarrassing the huge but hushed home support for the last ten minutes of the match, as we resorted to lauding bygone Gooner gladiators, with an endless, hearty rendition of "we won the league at Manchester" - with nuff respect to all those present, as this was of far greater comfort than much of the uninspired football on the pitch).

From the little I can recall (as I've been trying to erase the memory ever since), only the likes of Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny showed anything like the sort of determination that was necessary to win the day. And it pains me greatly because this sort of wholeheartedness needs to be nurtured, by surrounding such fervent stars with the sort of stalwart personalities capable of encouraging the youngsters to ever greater feats. Instead of which, I seriously fear that it won't be long before their enthusiasm is stifled, by playing alongside the diffident and lackadaisical likes of Diaby and Denilson.

It's not the fact that the Gunners are so far from greatness that frustrates me, but the fact that we continue to remain only a couple of big personalities away from being able to fulfill all that potential. But the contribution of winners of the calibre of Carlos Puyol, or dare I say the John Terry of old and their ability to inspire those around them with their win at all costs willingness to risk all when required, unlike pass completions, or yardage covered, this is not something that can be measured on a statistical spreadsheet. As I result, at such downhearted moments as this, I wonder if a pragmatist like Arsène can ever truly appreciate this glaringly obvious missing ingredient in the current Wengerboys mix?

Myself I would've much preferred to have seen Aaron Ramsey in the starting line-up on Saturday, as even if Ramsey had an utter stinker, I would've rather we'd taken a gamble on his all action efforts and lost, than to endure yer another 90 minutes of sideways and backwards football from the shrinking violet that is Denilson, or the heartbreaking sight of Diaby languidly loping back towards his own goal, seemingly expressing utter indifference at the possibility of influencing play, once the ball had passed him by. Considering Arsène was perhaps the only one present amongst the 9000 plus Gooner contingent, who didn't know full well to expect yet another disappointing contribution from this midfield duo (and the likes of Rosicky), I can't help but feel that a more instinctive manager might have gone with the hunch of having nothing more to lose by giving young Aaron a go instead?

Meanwhile I don't want this to turn into a tirade that might see me align myself with the ever burgeoning band of Gooners who believe Arsène's time has been and gone. Just like big personality players, great managers don't exactly grow on trees and sadly many of us will never fully appreciate quite how privileged we've been to have savoured such fabulous football during the Wenger era, until such time as we've endured a succession of duff managers. In my most humble opinion Arsène is no less of a legend than he was when the trophies were rolling in wholesale, it's just that he and his players are crying out for someone capable of telling them what time it is!

Come on you Reds
Keep the faith
Big Love

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Jack said...

Our wage bill would have been unsustainable without the stadium, wages are a much more important number than transfer fees these days.

DrShaglove said...

Always a pleasure to read your writing, Bernard.

Unknown said...

Top article as per.

A few of our players could do worse than reading this to know just how much it means to us fans. A bit of reality for a change and better than them constantly blowing smoke up each other arses on twitter (Jack asisde, as you just can't fault his commitment week in week out!).