Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Give me something to get behind

I’ve been incredibly fortunate as an Arsenal fan. I’ve grown up supporting the club in a period of time when there has been some fantastic football, success in the Premier League, the most successful manager ever in the FA Cup, the Invincibles and regular Champions League football. For fans of most clubs, they’d love to have the problems that Arsenal have.
But it’s all relative. As an Arsenal fan, it is painful to see the greatest manager in the club’s history losing control of the team and looking lost as to how to get the best out of his players. It’s painful to see the club looking like it is treading water in trying to be a big club in Europe when the infrastructure should be there for it to flourish. It’s painful to see the divisions developing in the fanbase while the majority shareholder gives the appearance of not caring about how the team does.
In other stages of Arsene Wenger’s reign, it at least felt like there was a plan as to what direction the club was going in. There were debates to be had over whether those plans were the right way to go about things, but they were something for fans to get behind. The acquisition of talented French players, the faith in youth, the stadium move and the self-sustainable model were all things we could understand as fans and at least see how the club were trying to develop. All of those were geared towards Arsenal eventually being successful on the sporting front, even if it meant chances on the field were weakened in the short-term.
It is now beginning to feel like we’ve been sold a dream as fans and now the club, especially Ivan Gazidis, are trying to spin it to lower expectations. In particular, the faith in youth and the stadium move were meant to eventually lead Arsenal to be one of the top clubs in Europe. The footballing landscape has changed in that time with large broadcast deals and billionaire investment in clubs, but the age of austerity was meant to be over for Arsenal by this point with the Emirates Stadium now 11 years old. Some larger sums of money have been spent on players in recent seasons, but the Gunners are still being left significantly behind others.
Arseblog hit the nail on the head earlier in the week in saying that chief executive has known nothing but the big luxury stadium and the place in the upper echelons of the Premier League. The same goes for the owner. They weren’t around when the heart-wrenching decision to leave Highbury was made and didn’t have to go through it as fans. But that move was made easier to take because those who drove the project forward were Arsenal people. I felt as a fan that they had the best interests of the club at heart and were doing it to give the club the best chance of being successful through its own means. From a fan’s perspective, there now doesn’t appear to be much motivation from those with power at the club to do anything to drive it forward and put success on the pitch at the forefront of the business.
The ham-fisted and lacklustre way Arsenal went about their transfer business this summer has only highlighted the lack of a plan at the moment. Apart from the acquisitions of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette, the rest of the summer seemed to be made-up as it went along with numerous players set to be sold, but deals were unable to be done and then the squad wasn’t strengthened as a result. Meanwhile, quite a few players expressed their desire to leave during the summer. Financially, it looks like great business to turn a profit in the mad transfer market at the moment. But this is a football club and the business should be about creating a successful team, and after finishing outside the Champions League places and with rivals all strengthening, it looks incredibly naive to not reinvest in the squad.
Some of the recent comments from Ivan Gazidis are very concerning with reference to Arsenal now looking to the fluke of Leicester City’s title win as justification for how things are going at the club. To overachieve in that way, you need to have a strong collective belief and be incredibly organised on the football side of things. That’s simply not the case at the moment. If that really was the direction the owner and board wanted the club to take, the manager shouldn’t have been given a two-year contract as he doesn’t look a man who can motivate his players, get them organised and play as a collective for each other. They couldn’t have been further from that in the embarrassing showing at Anfield.
I’ve had a feeling in the last few weeks that there’s now a completely muddled picture as to what Arsenal stands for. There’s nothing clear for fans for hang onto or a discernible plan to get behind. The thing keeping me going is simply is that it’s the Arsenal and there’s always a irrational feeling that things will improve. Personally, there’s still an excitement in going to a game and seeing the cannon on red shirt with white sleeves (not this two-tone blue or black and pink nonsense Puma have produced as change kits this season). That irrationality is there because of what Arsenal has represented and meant to me in my life so far, not because of the current mess the club is creating for itself.
There’s no quick fix either. With the two-year contract signed, I can’t see Arsene Wenger being sacked. But the problems run a lot deeper than the manager. While Stan Kroenke has ultimate power at the club, I fear that the culture of mediocrity will only continue as he’s shown no ambition whatsoever to do anything to make Arsenal the major European club it has the potential to be with its history, stadium and global fanbase. Kroenke is just wasting it.
The club motto of Victoria Concordia Crescit, Victory Through Harmony, feels a long way from the truth at Arsenal right now.