So a couple or days on from our horror showing at Stoke and more bad news piled on as Spurs beat the tragically broken Cardiff. 6 points now lie between us and them, so we really do need to turn it on against them in a fee weeks, because the top four crush isn’t a good look for a team that has dominated so much of the season.
Today I’ll talk about the manager and the concern over his new contract. He might not sign. He didn’t sign when he absolutely could have a few months ago, now we’re a few games into the collapse, the jitters have set in amongst some fans and most likely, the people at the club. Rumours are the manager might not feel comfortable at interference from the club. He might see where we’re heading as the club looks to modernise and he might realise there will most likely be an assault on his control over the duration of the next three years as the club readies an infrastructure to secure Arsenal for the next ten years.
Firstly, it’s important to understand why he is being offered a new deal, because it certainly wouldn’t be because he’s batting it out the park with incredible trophy winning and football. It certainly wouldn’t be because of his 5 year vision either. It’ll be because he suits Stan Kroenke’s business vision.
The American isn’t a short term investor. Everything he does is for the long term. First and foremost, he’s a property man. He’ll find out where new Walmarts are going to pop up, then invest in real estate in that area and hold onto it over 20 years and watch its value rise. With Arsenal, he’s doesn’t have any sort of Abramovich style power vision. He’s bought an undervalued piece of real estate that he can hold onto, not invest in… then in 15 years time, it’ll be worth over a billion. Shrewd indeed… but for a man that shrewd, having a manager who sustains the bare minimum (top 4) without spending heaps of cash… Wenger is the dream ticket.
Stan would like to win something’s, sure… but he’s not going to take a risk to do it. Wenger is the sustainable business model. Because sustenance is reliant on minimum investment. It’s based on unspent surplus cash. It’s based on balance sheet first, glory second (if you fancy it). It’s a nightmare scenario, because our manager, though clearly very strong at many elements of his job, is sadly lacking in ambition and he’s having problems adapting to the realities of the modern game. He can’t kick teams over the finishing line because he’s managing the same way he was in 1998. The extra 5-10% we need in the final stretch of the season isn’t there because it’s been over trained, over played and under-educated.
So this is the deal for me. If it all collapses again, Arsene Wenger either accepts an internal inquiry from the club where they assess how we operate versus other clubs in the league. From there, the findings are presented back and an actionable game plan is drawn up with regards to fixing the said issues.
Things I’d be looking at.
1. Scouting Network: Why are we being out manoeuvred in the transfer market consistently? How does our operation stack up against Dortmunds. They consistently uncover gems before others and they’re more constrained financially than Arsenal. What’s going on? Are we finding players and not acting on the recommendations, or is our approach old fashioned? A few cases I’d put to the manager. Last summer, the extent of our progress was to sign one of the best number 10s in the world, so hardly a major scouting win. We also brought an old player back who wasn’t wanted across Europe… and Sanogo. We didn’t manage to snare a single striker in the world. Oh, and there’s also the shambles of Viviano. So bad, he can’t even make the bench. In the whole of Europe, that’s the best potential number one we could come up with? Then there’s the mess that was January. Lose your best striker, your best box to box midfielder, end up with a team totally lacking in pace and power… and you sign an injured journeyman who is 2 years past the average peak.
In my line of work, recruitment disasters that end in the loss of revenue would end in an internal review. If you can’t recruit and the business suffers for it, there will be ramifications. What are those for Wenger? It doesn’t matter how legendary you are, there has to be accountability.
2. Fitness: Ok, so the state of our side this post December has been woeful. What’s going on here? We have the tech to see when players are ‘red-zoning’, but it doesn’t seem to get actioned. The performance of our side since Napoli has been poor. Stoke at the weekend wasn’t an unusual performance, we’ve had lots like that this year, we’ve just had the tools to get around those games. So what’s going on with the fitness department? Why are our players not recovering as fast as other teams? Why are our players dead on their feet? Why are our players breaking down when they’re coming back into the side?
Something must be going on behind the scenes that isn’t quite right. Teams like Bayern play at an outrageous tempo and they don’t seem to suffer the same injury problems we do. Chelsea have managed to keep their main men fit most of the year, Hazard and Ramires aren’t dipping at the action end of the season. Liverpool have managed to do the same, they are playing less games, but in fairness, they have less players. What is their approach to fitness and health? What could we learn?
3. Game plan: I’ve come back to this time and time again over the past 3 years. What are we doing to arm our players with the details they need? What is our approach to video analysis. Lahm of Bayern recently said that lots of managers analyse but he’s doubtful any go into the detail Pep does. Arsenal don’t study opposition to the extent they should do and it shows. The same approach every game really. The craziest we go is the change up a few names. We never do anything surprising, bar maybe drop a rookie in against the best team in the world. That was a pleasant surprise against for Bayern, not the Arsenal. There’s no innovation with our game plan, which makes it pretty easy for the best managers to play against us. Which is why we struggle against the top 4. Technique and class beats small teams with no game plan, details and innovation is what wins against massive teams with similar financial power.
We need a more dynamic set up. We need someone working on scouting the opposition, not Stuart Houston pulling together a 1 pager he’s knocked together in Microsoft Paint. We need young, dynamic people injected into the set up. We need fresh ideas, we need fire, we need people working for us who want to change the world. Having a senior backroom team with a very high average age isn’t practical and it isn’t going to drive the club forward. Serious changes need to happen.
4. The Manager: There are lots of problems at the club that stem from Wenger. The side has batted well above its average this year, which is fantastic, but the plaster didn’t manage to stick for the whole season… or at least that’s what the gut feel is on this. There are core issues with the infrastructure of the club. The biggest road block is the manager. He has too much power and he’s incredibly sensitive about losing power. Simply put, I don’t believe we’ll progress to the promised land until we have a new set up.
The next manager who comes in doesn’t need to be a marquee signing. At the very highest, I’d go Klopp, because he seems like the perfect mix of visionary / intelligent / charismatic… he could shift our set up to the next level and I’d be confident he could make us as a serious competitor in the UK market. However, I don’t think we need to go down the big name route. 2 years ago, I’d be calling for a Van Gaal or a Mourinho. If we do that, we’ll be opening ourselves up to another sh*t sandwich. Massive backroom teams, massive egos with a massive salary. The first thing Ivan needs to do when Arsene eventually goes is to get control of the club again. It shouldn’t be owned by an indispensable manager.
He can build out a team of experts in the various departments and bring in a manager as a figure head who manages those departments. Everton have proved that you don’t need a big name to do big things. Martinez has stamped his plan over Everton. They’re playing great football, they’re well organised and they’re always prepared.
Forget David Moyes, he was never the man to takeover from Alex Ferguson. It wasn’t just a bad decision, it was a horrendous decision. He is not the benchmark for change. Arsenal need someone young, intelligent who wants to do something amazing. You need a man with charisma, a man with a plan… a man who players can get behind. Football management is less about the figure head these days and more about the team that sits behind him. You need a world class approach to scouting, a world class vision for fitness, the best medical staff, the best analysis team (along with a manager who is about the detail) and you need a man who is a leader and a motivator.
We don’t have those ingredients at the moment.
It’s a big challenge for the club, but there are plenty of people who can help Ivan make that decision. Southampton are the vision of how a club should operate both on and off the pitch. Layer that approach over Arsenal, treat the playing side of the club like you’d treat a business and you’d have something really amazing. The best run club from a business perspective needs to become the best run club behind the scenes.
So in short, if Arsene doesn’t sign on again, it isn’t a time for fear and panic. Give me a bumpy season and a new vision and a approach that’ll last the next ten years over the same game plan I’ve seen fail every season for the last ten… all. day. long.
Change is waiting in the wings and we shouldn’t fear it…