Hello everyone, Alex here, coming out of mini exile to deliver some new words on Arsenal Football Club.
In recent months I have not had the time nor the inclination to put any thoughts to the keyboard, mainly because so much of the joy of watching Arsenal has left me that nowadays our bad performances pass me by like a fart in a wind tunnel.
But I wanted to pull out a couple of themes following the latest shitshow at Anfield. This is not a blow by blow report of that game but rather a suicide note for the end of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger is putting his ego before the club
There is no tactical reason on earth to drop your best player for one of your biggest games. The whole point of your best players is that they can deliver on the big occasions. Whether through a sincere but misguided tactical insight or, as it has now emerged, a desire to show Sanchez who’s boss, the manager’s little folly cost us the game and put even further distance between us and the league leaders.
Arsenal’s spinners are now putting out that Sanchez was dropped because of a training ground bust up with the manager and some of his teammates. It would take less of a cynic than me to note that the club really is in a parlous state when it is briefing against its star players in order to protect its underachieving manager.
However, putting that aside for one second, this resolve by the manager to send a message to players through his team selection is all the more galling because it is not applied evenly. More obvious candidates for tactical rotation were Arsenal’s first choice “defensive midfielder” Francis Coquelin – the Justin Lee Collins of professional footballers, instantly detestable and with so little talent you wonder how he got there in the first place; or Alex Iwobi whose breakthrough season has been tarnished by the fact he has been played into the ground.
The team is crying out for bold tactical variation and for underperforming players to be given a boot up the jaxie. To see it applied so erroneously is why Sanchez and Perez will be off this summer, why Coquelin and Gibbs won’t be, and why Iwobi will only go from a kid with great potential to an overpaid bottlejob under Arsene Wenger.
People were pointing out on Saturday that Arsene had 12 days to prepare for the Liverpool game. What data or tactical insight from his coaching team led to a recommendation to keep Coquelin on the pitch and start Iwobi again ahead of Perez?
The reality is, and everyone can see it, these are the last days of the dictator. I don’t mean that literally, Arsene Wenger is obviously not a dictator – this is just football after all.
But in the same way Richard III’s tenure ended with him offering up his kingdom in return for a horse, Arsene Wenger’s increasingly bizarre decisions (which let’s be honest started a few years ago when he refused to upgrade on the likes of Almunia and Sanogo) are nothing to do with the welfare of the club and all about the demonstration of power and control as it ebbs away from him.
Don’t blame the talent, they want to win
The difference this year is that he has lost the dressing room. The club can brief that the other players were happy Alexis was dropped but the reality is he is our best player for now. And he has no faith in the manager, just like Van Persie and Fabregas who came before him.
The news that Ozil has also given up and will quit this summer should pile worry on top of worry. Yes these are egos, and their contract demands may be a bridge too far, but what we are seeing play out in Arsenal team after Arsenal team is the best players losing faith in the manager and wanting out. These guys have performed, and won, at the highest level elsewhere and they know Arsene Wenger does not have what it takes. Why shouldn’t they throw a tantrum when the team gets beaten 5-1? What is the mentality running through the team, when that is considered the exception and not the rule?
The more Wenger loses his grip, the more we can expect to see this kind of behaviour but it cannot go on forever. Even if the board and Stan Kroenke want him to stay, at some point reality will overcome the fantasy he has constructed in his mind that only he can take this club forward. I genuinely hope it is sooner rather than later. I’m with the majority of people who want him to go out on a high with fans and players alike grateful for the way he has enriched both the club and our lives. But the longer he holds out, the less likely that is to happen. At this point, it’s entirely up to him.
Our performance was terrible but it wasn’t even in the top 5 worst performances this season
One of Arsene’s favourite straw man arguments is to say there is no guarantee that we would win every game with a new manager. I don’t remember ever asking for that. All I want is for us to compete again. That means doing something better than last 16 glorious failure in the Champions League and coming within 10 points of the league winners year in year out.
However it also means keeping the number of “what the fuck was that?” performances to 1 or 2 per season. You can expect most top clubs to have a rainy day here or there. Sometimes things don’t click or the opposition sets up in a way that takes you by surprise.
But Everton away, Manchester City away, Watford at home, Chelsea away and Bayern Munich are all performances that were worse than the Liverpool game and have all taken place in the last six months. It’s incredible really that a team that can point to six performances as underwhelming as a Robbie Williams comeback tour can still be in contention for a Champion’s League place.
But here’s the rub, fans can accept defeats, what they will not tolerate is paying the highest ticket prices in the land for performances as insipid as those we have seen this season.
Change starts with the manager
The malaise that has been around the club really began when Stan Kroenke took over. Distant, dispassionate and only concerned with the bottom line, he is the very antithesis of a sports fan.
Our board is about as dynamic as the English Indoor Bowling Association’s lifetime members’ club. Their slavish devotion to Wenger in recent months has shown them to be both cuckolded and completely at odds with the fanbase.
However, beyond trying to move the stadium to Wigan, the reality is no one would care about Stan or Ivan Gazidis or the board if the performances were right.
There are deep-seated issues at Arsenal that will take years to resolve but the first, essential step is to change the manager.
Its cliché but fans really are the lifeblood of a club and you can only take their support for granted for so long. At some point someone in a position of authority at Arsenal is going to need to start listening to fans because the unrest runs much deeper than they realise.
The offer of a 2 year contract, which is reportedly on the table for Arsene, may be the proverbial straw. If it is accepted, I imagine the next two seasons would start to see the club getting hit where it really hurts – declining gate receipts and season ticket sales.
There are no more excuses to hold on to. The money is there, he has spent it and still been found wanting. This is the fourth iteration of a team the manager has had since 2007. The players are different, the opposition is different, their managers are, the kits, balls and even the referees are different.
And yet the performances and outcomes are identical.
The one constant is the manager. Only when he leaves, can Arsenal begin its road to recovery.