Arsenal’s Decline: Is It Down To Form Or Class?

This is my column from issue 229 of The Gooner, which came out for the Fulham game a couple of weeks ago. Last Saturday’s match against Aston Villa makes it still very pertinent.

I have the privilege, if that’s the right word, of writing this after the defeat to Man Utd. Lost to Norwich with a performance that would shame a Sunday League team; lost to Schalke without threatening them; scrambled a late and fortunate win over QPR; went 4-0 down to Reading before finally overcoming them; and finally losing to Man Utd with barely a whimper. It’s been an up and down couple of weeks for Arsenal – mainly down – and bang in the middle of it was the club’s AGM.

The number of shareholders in Arsenal has fallen quite a lot in the last couple of years, what with one billionaire after another hoovering up any and every share they can. However, as you might expect it seems to be the more passionate supporters who still have their shares, and so the AGM attendees become more outspoken at the Board’s perceived problems. I say perceived, but let’s face it, the Board and the club have problems. How serious they are depends on whether you think the recent performances are down to a temporary loss of form or a more permanent decline in class.

It’s blatantly obvious that Arsenal are not the same class of team that they were between 1997 and 2005. The class level – overseen by the same manager, oddly – has dropped from certain challengers for the League title to a team struggling to stay in the top four – and for most of last season and the first part of this, not even being in the top four, despite the record books showing we finished third in May. Whether the current squad still has sufficient class to finish in the top four this season is debatable.

Back to the AGM. Peter Hill-Wood was his usual self, patronising to supporters in general and small shareholders in particular. His father and grandfather would be ashamed of what he’s become – a lackey for an American billionaire who cares nothing for the club he owns. Ivan Gazidis as usual talked a good game, but the story becomes less convincing on each telling. Stan Kroenke doesn’t want to be there facing other shareholders and doesn’t understand why he needs to be. The rest of the Board are even less relevant to proceedings than those three.

That leaves the manager sat at the top table. Arsène can’t lose at these gatherings, because the one thing he can guarantee is that whatever reception the Board gets, he’ll get a better one. Win everything in sight: we’ll be happy with the Board and ecstatic with him. Out of everything by February: he’ll be unpopular, but the Board will get more flak. So he can come along safe in the knowledge that his past record is enough to keep him as the most popular man on display.

Frustration with both parties, Board and manager, was all too evident this year, though. Ivan’s amazing bonus of close to three quarters of a million pounds for apparently nothing more than keeping everything off the pitch just ticking over was the subject of questions. The manager’s refusal to spend money that we all know is there is equally perplexing. It seems like every financial decision at Arsenal is being taken by George Osborne. Unfortunately, despite the opportunity to heckle the men in charge and symbolically vote against their resolutions to allow themselves another three years on the gravy train, we can do little to effect real change unless we all act together and start boycotting matches. One day that might happen, but the team has not yet fallen far enough for the plan to stick. Decline in form or decline in class? If it’s the latter, the calls for boycotts will become progressively louder.

Still, on the plus side, we came back from 4-0 down and we’re still in the competition that we have by far the best chance of winning. It’s a sad and damning indictment of the current Arsenal Board – and, yes, the Arsenal manager – that we are only a quarter of the way into the season and yet most of us accept that the League Cup is our best chance of silverware. Even worse, we have more chance of winning the League Cup than we do of getting our hands on the ‘fifth trophy’: the top four place that keeps Arsenal as one of elite of English football, with the extra money and the pulling power that goes along with it. Again I come back to the question: form or class? I almost don’t want to find out.

Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5


12 thoughts on “Arsenal’s Decline: Is It Down To Form Or Class?

  1. Spot on! As you guys say in England. The thing is that ive just lost my hope that Arsenal actually gone win something again. Im not even getting nervous when we play, because i know we are not fighting for any titles anymore. Must be like supporting Sunderland or Stoke…//Frank

  2. Actually it’s down to the negligence and fading ability of Arsene. How often did we hear the words that Arsene only waits for the right players. As if it’s difficult to get players ‘good enough’ for Arsenal. As if other teams do not buy players of the class, ability and pricepoint of Arsenal. Well, wow, ‘take a look at us now’, as the song goes. You’d have to be wearing blinkers not to notice that many of the players we are buying are actually quite poor. Obviously this team is not good enough to win anything. That is ‘only’ down to Arsene Wengers choices. Whilst I truly believe Kroeke, Gazidis, Hill Wood are a bunch of clowns, Wenger is not some innocent party in all this. Yes he produces some very good players out of youngsters. He buys the occassional great player like Cazorla, but many of the players are poor and would not get into the majority of the higher quality teams. The insane protection of Arsene Wenger is one of the strangest phenomenons I have seen in football. At his best he relied on the qualities of David Dein, and now seems to live in a deluded world of his own. The team is not good enough and the man who has created it is Arsene Wenger. Yes with Kroenke, Gazidis, Hill Wood and Wenger together the ‘CLASS’ is fading away. 1 + 1 = 2.

  3. Now we have Wenger saying youth is the future of Arsenal . He must know youthful exuberance must be complemented with experience. If he were to focus 100 % on youth,it will ,imh,be another step towards terminal decline. You must have experienced and quality players.
    His project y has failed and and if he were to do so again ,he will cause the gunners to be another Pool.

  4. A great post, Phil. But it is not only a decline in class on the football pitch that we are witnessing. Perhaps even more disheartening is the disgraceful decline in class of behaviour, ethos, honesty. Does anyone any longer believe anything that the hierarchy say? They mislead, they hedge, they spin, they lie. The sales of Robin and Song are two cases in point. The transfer of Robin to Man U nailed the lie that they had any serious intent to challenge for PL title. It wasn’t simply that they sold our best player and captain: they sold him to one of the favourites. The sale of Song nailed an even bigger lie: that they were developing young players for the future, that these players would spend their peak years at Club, so be patient…. Well we had seen Cesc sold off the summer before – but perhaps he was a Barca boy returning to the nest. Not so with Song: he was an ARSENAL product, with his best years ahead of him. And the same could be said of Theo, should he leave. Do the hierarchy realise they are walking a tightrope. Have they caught the whiff of gunpowder in the air? Their arrogance, their contempt for us is so great that I honestly expect Hill-Wood to tell us that if we’re not happy with Arsenal, go watch Fulham or West Ham.

    • I’m not so bothered about Song, but RvP . . . why the hell was he allowed to go to Man U?
      And the statements we are fed, you’re quite right, it seems like its all spin these days. I blame Blair and Campbell and New Labour.

  5. Hey Phil…….a short answer to your long post is that Arsenal are still class, when compared to the oilygarch playboy Clubs and the Seven Sister’s Road Spudscum. They are in a sort of seasonal plateau and not at their best but they will improve. To compare them to a league and a team that was absolutely different than today is unfair and inaccurate. But, it took Graham and then Wenger 4-5 years to develop this team and in 5-6 years it was past its prime. The league didn’t have oilygarch Clubs back then and only Manure really offered any competition to AFC. Today, getting into the top 4 and the CL each season on a restricted budget and despite losing some core players each season, as well as topping the injury list AND fighting the PGMOL prejudices is nothing short of remarkable.
    AFC’s class will show through in the medium and long term…..keep the faith!

    • I think the club, despite the many faults of the current Board, still has class when compared to almost all others. However, the question really is whether we are now saddled with a whole squad that’s not good enough despite their huge wages, or whether they are great players who are just not playing well in general – or at least often enough.

    • It is a cop-out to blame our decline on benevolent owners like Roman and the Sheik. Our problems are of our own making – or rather of our greedy owners. The amount of money that needed to be spent (on buying quality players, on keeping quality players) to maintain the squad up there with the best was well within the Club’s resources. If you think not doing so was ‘class’ then we have different perceptions of what class is. And the regime that runs the Club is crass not class.

  6. If Wenger thinks he can still win the epl 12 points behind the leaders,he must be living in fantasy island. Arsenal will be lucky to finish 4th. I say he is the cause of Arsenal’s decline. There is no need to elaborate.

      • “….Back to the AGM. Peter Hill-Wood was his usual self, patronising to supporters in general and small shareholders in particular. His father and grandfather would be ashamed of what he’s become – a lackey for an American billionaire who cares nothing for the club he owns…..”

        Enough with the xenophobia already. In case you havent already figured it out the same Hill-Wood was “lackey” to the Dein and Fisman and Bracewell, who had a long-term plan to cash out spectacularly – and DID.

        All else that follows is a consequence of those people’s actions. Whomever bought their shares at those kind of prices could only be interested in business.

        This should be a textbook story in the commercialization of a club, not an excuse for the laziest sort of knee-jerk xenophobia.

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