It’s been a while since I wrote about my beloved Arsenal. I guess I find it can be a bit more difficult because there are so many different gooner voices out there in blogland, let alone the blogosphere and spblogace, that I wonder if I’m adding anything of interest to what’s already there. But after a trying few weeks I’m going to add my thoughts to some things that have already been written. Hopefully my voice adds something to the conversation!
(picture by Dan Leydon)
I have read quite a few different reactions to Arsene over the last number of years and they seem to ebb and flow with regard to ‘he knows what he’s doing’ to ‘what the hell is he doing?’ I’ve always been a massive fan and supporter of his ideology and I still am. When arguments used to happen in pubs, I was standing up for the need to build the stadium and an acknowledgment that there might be a few years without a league trophy (wasn’t expecting the current trophy drought!) and the need to go for youth. Arguments against this philosophy were never personal attacks like these days on the beautiful magic interweb. What Wenger did in the first years of the stadium was nothing short of miraculous. I don’t think the fans were ever told the whole truth about monies being available to the manager but I accepted that belt tightening was a necessity due to our circumstance. However, what was apparent was the ever-increasing competition for the top 4 places. That Wenger has kept us there is proof of his ability as a manager and a coach. Yes there have been seasons with luck and seasons where without a certain 30 goal scoring thing we wouldn’t be anywhere but that is part and parcel of football. The point is that it happened, nothing you can do now except reminisce. I’m not like others in that I don’t get strung up about when Wenger talks about 4th place being like a trophy. Yes an actual trophy would be nice after such a drought, but in todays football world, putting the effort in to winning a cup like the League Cup and/or the FA cup can cost you League points. I look at Liverpool – yes the club that everyone likes to compare us to and if you ask Liverpool fans about blah blah blah, they say they wished blah blah blah. You’ve heard it all. My point is regarding their struggle post Benitez. Liverpool were like us. They were one of the teams pre season who was going to finish in the top 4. Then they didn’t. And look at their struggles since. Look at the money they have spent. Yes they’ve bought quite a bit of mediocrity but it’s a very, very tough journey back to the promised land of the top 4 and the margins for error are getting slimmer and slimmer every season. Arsenal this season are showing slight signs of slippage and despite Arsene’s previous miracles, there is just something missing from the club today that I think is the cause of this slippage.
What I feel Arsenal currently lack is leadership at every point in the club. We have an owner who is silent. We have a CEO who says the right things to the right people at the right times. We have a manager whom I don’t think is even questioned. Now I’m not asking for ownership that interferes in the day-to-day managers job – that’s not Arsenal. The leadership I feel we’re missing at the top are the custodians. People like Danny Fizsman and David Dein, who while not questioning the manager, would (and I certainly feel this) subtly have asked questions about players, teams and matches. Even if it were to subtly encourage or motivate Arsene to think a little differently. What they cared about was Arsenal. Well in Dein’s case, he did up to about 2007 when he sold his shares to Usmanov. I don’t buy into his reasoning for selling and if he truly cared about the club he’d clip his son around the ear when it comes to being an agent for some of our past players. We currently have an owner who cares about a club that will make him money. He is happy to keep things going the way things currently go as it keeps our share price high and ultimately I feel that is his sole goal having seen and heard nothing to inspire me or make me think otherwise. I remember the summer of 2001 where after a few mediocre seasons, Wenger whipped out the cheque book and brought players like Van Bronkhorst, Sol, Richard Wright and Jeffers to the club. Now some signings were inspired, some great squad additions and others didn’t work out. What happened after the additions? My own personal thoughts are that Wenger was told from above that the money was there, tell us who to sign to make us title challengers again and let us worry about the money for now. There was mutual understanding between everyone and Wenger trusted them like they trusted him. Currently Wenger has to worry about balancing the books and the team and I worry he does it alone. I look at the run down in the fantastic blog from The Swiss Ramble where he lays it out brilliantly and plainly how Arsenal’s business plan means they really do need to sell before they can buy. No one on the board currently is an Arsenal man besides the honorary PHW who hasn’t much influence anymore. It’s very eerily silent.
The other lack of leadership issue I have has been the choice of captains. Since Vieira left I don’t think Arsenal have had a proper captain with the exception of a certain scoring thing last season. Yes I know the way he left, but last season he had the players doing things together, he knew the traditions of Arsenal and on the pitch he was a talker and an action man. Wenger has never been much of a ranter or a hairdryer style manager. He inherited Adams who knew the right things to say and gave 100% He gave the captaincy to Vieira. These were players who didn’t know the meaning of giving up, of not contesting every 50/50, but also knowing what to say and when to say it. Henry’s shadow was too great when he inherited the captaincy. Look at the freedom the team played with after his departure. Gallas? Need I say anything more than ‘center circle’? While Fabregas was one of the greatest players I ever got to watch, he was no captain. Vermaelen this season seems to be burdened by it. He doesn’t seem to be the player of old who made less mistakes but his slightly reckless mistakes were made up by the fact he scored goals. Arteta would have been the best choice for captain but the fact he’s not means he’s not going to try and step on Vermaelen’s toes. While Wenger doesn’t hold the idea of captaincy in the highest of regard and prefers his leaders to be in the dressing room and all over the pitch, there’s something that choosing the right captain can bring. Vieira calmed his insane temperament when he inherited the responsibility of captain. He was a leader on the pitch that if the team was down he inspired others to rise with him. After Vieira left we still had what Wenger termed ‘leaders’ on the pitch, but they didn’t do much without a proper captain and leader. There’s just something that can inspire you when looking to the man wearing the armband when you need inspiration. If you look and see an Adams or a Vieira with the look of anger in their eyes after conceding, or hearing them shout at you having done something silly – you awaken to the challenge. Right now while Arteta is respected and seen as a captain, the players will look at Vermaelen and see little to be inspired about.
So in summation – my belief is that Wenger doesn’t have leadership around him in the club and this is what is holding Arsenal back. He has yes men above him and players that respect the pants off him. I think what Wenger and Arsenal need more than ever right now, is a true captain major to run the ship and a true captain to rally the troops on the pitch. A club is made up of many elements all gently pushing, persuading, sometimes fighting, but all pushing in the same direction. Arsenal currently has a man trying to steer somewhere he knows he wants to go, but has no leadership to help him get there. I think Wenger is still the man to lead our club, but he needs his leadership around him in the supporting roles. I think he misses the subtle inputs of others who share his same goal: for Arsenal to win trophies.