The more I pondered where we are as a club, the clearer it became that we’ve made a total hash of the rebirth. A lot of that comes from Ivan Gazidis who has to be one of the worst decision makers in the world of football. Guided by ego and shite people getting in his ear, he’s overseen a transition that’ll likely go down in history as poorly as the one at Manchester United. The main difference being that Arsenal doesn’t have the same resources to claw their way out like our northern brethren.
I think a lot of the issues start with our identity problem. Arsenal never recovered from our delusions of grandeur after the incredible progress we made in the late nineties and early 2000s. We won three Premier League titles, we built a new stadium, we were promised riches beyond our wildest dreams, but then Chelsea and City came along with petrodollars and we didn’t adapt.
Think about this, Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger’s strategy for beating out the big spenders was to convince themselves that regulation would level the playing field. Guess what, it never happened. It was like the two of them had never watched megabrands like Starbucks and Amazon evade tax laws with armies of clever lawyers and influence purchase.
Instead of recalibrating for the modern era where we’d have to work out a strategy that went beyond pound note expenditure, we buried our heads in the sand and hoped. We effectively became a second tier club that believed it was top tier, and sadly, we’ve still not woken up to our place.
That’s why the club will still complain about money issues (despite being top 3 net spenders over 5 years). Our culture is built on excuses as to why we can’t, instead of how we can. As fans, we bemoan our lot in life while Spurs, Bournemouth and Wolves massively outperform expectations. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t be performing with the best teams in Europe. Our wage bill is 263m euros and it’s 55% of our turnover. That’s the 9th highest in Europe. Higher than Juve, Roma, Dortmund, Altelti and Inter. We’re a couple of players shy of Bayern. We’re the only club in the top 10 for wages not in the Champions League.
The reason we don’t compete is we haven’t accepted our reality.
There is no guiding philosophy at Arsenal. There is no identity. Our structure is not built on an idea, so we get by throwing shit at the wall, but the chances of succeeding are greatly diminished.
Just look at how we hired. Emery seems like a lovely guy who wants to do well, but he doesn’t have that special sauce you need to win at a club like Arsenal. Sure, give him PSG and he’ll drop a title at the second attempt, but moving Arsenal to the next level? How is that ever going to be on the cards in a league that has Pochettino, Klopp, Sarri and Pep Guardiola. You need to battle ideas with ideas. Arsenal took the safe option. Someone who will come in and upgrade the basics and bring a bit of intelligence to the setup. That’s table stakes though, and we really were in a situation with Wenger where basic competence was needed towards the end. That lowered our standards and we landed where we landed.
For me, there is no scenario or amount of money that is bringing us up to our rivals levels. We’re 6 months into this project and we still don’t have a defined style. There’s no excuse for that, just throw on a Leeds game and tell me 6 months is too little time. Our defence is worse than last season despite investing in it and making it a focal point. We have a DM we all adore, yet we’re still leaking goals like a Sunday league team. Halftime subs were our drug at the start of the reign, now they’re starting to look like a predictable panic ripcord. We’ve not led at halftime in 18 of 19 games. Injuries are piling up like we suspected they would. They’re so problematic, Hector Bellerin is out. Double sessions come at a cost. For all the tactical nous we hoped we’d hired in, we went to Anfield with a game plan that was so bad we conceded 5.
Doesn’t bode well, does it? However, I can see the flip side. We went on a terrific run, he is modernizing the club, we fight harder, run further and we’re in better shape than we were last year regardless of what the naysayers try and convince you of. That said, it’s not good enough and nor will it ever be.
We have a historical example of a very similar situation like this just before Wenger arrived. Bruce Rioch came in after we’d finished 12th in the league (6 points off relegation), he purchased Platt and Bergkamp, and moved us up to 5th. David Dein knew he wasn’t good enough and pulled the trigger on his tenure, replacing him with someone who did have the special sauce needed to find the next level.
To find that next level, we need to decide what our footballing philosophy is. How do we want to play, what do we need to play that way, and how do we achieve our objectives without Man City money.
Liverpool are heavy metal football and guess what, they hire for it. The players they bring in are fast, powerful, technically gifted and hugely resilient from a fitness standpoint.
R.B Leipzig has a stunning approach to growth that’s brought them huge success in a short space of time. They play high octane pressing football, they buy in young players under the age of 23 years old, they have a very smart youth academy, and they build feeder clubs that supply them with the players they need. This is the group that produced Keita and Mane (Salzburg just dropped an unbeaten season). They know who they are, and what they want to achieve.
What are we looking to do? Why the fuck are we binning off Aaron Ramsey for EVER BANEGA? What is the vision there? What are we planning for? If there were a clear strategy of who we wanted to be as a club, tell me why Mesut Ozil was allowed to stay on? There is no defined vision for what we’re about.
We’ve had different variations of a north star in the past. Originally, Wenger wanted to play the most technical football in the league with the fittest and most powerful players he could find in the then closed markets of Europe. Then he shifted gears to Project Youth, which was taking strategic punts on the best kids in the world and growing them into world-class players.
What exactly is our policy? Half-baked again. We buy in a little bit of everything and it all looks a touch meh. But then again, what are the parameters we’re working within? This is not the sharp player purchase strategy we’d hoped for. We have two great strikers who can’t really play together. We bought an aging right back who isn’t fit for purpose. The swap deal with Mikhi has tanked. Guendouzi and Torreira are great. Sokratis has done well, but again, he’s at the heart of a defence that’s failing. Leno was an expensive gamble that doesn’t look to have worked. What unites all of those purchases? Nothing.
The youth academy is another area where you fail if you don’t have a guiding principle or vision. It’s also an area you can win greatly. I love Per Mertesacker, but if you are a club that can’t compete, growing your own is a great way in, however, you don’t put generations of young footballers in the hands of someone who has no experience of developing kids. I am not for one minute saying Per can’t be great, I’m just saying it shows the lack of leadership at the club. Taking a punt on a young manager is very different to taking a punt on the Dean of a University.
So how do we move forward from here?
I think the club need to be brutally honest about where we’re going and whether the current approach is going to bear fruit. There’s no point in pissing around for 2 years to find out that the decision we made wasn’t the right one, or even worse, a stasis move. We need to make a bold decision about the future.
We need to be honest about who we are as a club. We then need to craft a plan around how we make it back to the top, or at least to a level where we’re building towards something. #Top4 is not a strategy, it’s a goal. We need to envision a style of fast, powerful technical football and then figure out exactly the type of players we need to deliver on that. That means the best coaches, the best young players from around the world and that means and investment of faith from the fans because we’re going in an exciting new direction.
At the moment, it looks like we’re just going to keep on investing in something that has little chance of succeeding. We can’t spend another 10 years in no man’s land, we just can’t.
Happy New Year, thanks for reading! x