I can’t imagine ever wanting Arsenal to lose in order to force a change at the club. I suppose the only circumstances I might hope for a loss would be if it were to prevent Spurs winning the league, or perhaps more likely, if we’re out of the running for top four come the last day of the season, and our opponents need to beat us to finish ahead of Spurs and keep them out of the top four, then so be it. Mind you, I think our last game is Norwich, so that isn’t very likely either.
I digress already. Probably because There’s not a lot to say about Arsenal right now that hasn’t already been said, and footballistically it’s all depressing anyway. There are so many questions you can ask about what has happened at Arsenal this summer, but the real problems are the relationships within the club.
If you’re one of those who insists on saying “We don’t know what really goes on within the club” then you may as well stop reading now. Of course we don’t know the fine detail, we don’t know who says what to whom on a daily basis, but we do know the big picture. We know enough. Information gets out. People talk to other people, and of course sometimes they have their own agenda and reasons for saying things and you have to take things with a pinch of salt, but you can piece things together.
And the big picture is this:
Arsenal have an owner who doesn’t care much for the club. He cares about the value of his investment, but that’s about it. He’d like some success on the pitch to share in, but it’s hardly his passion. He supports the manager unless things go so badly wrong that the value of his investment takes a tumble and doesn’t look likely to recover.
Arsenal have a chief executive who is less powerful than his employee, the manager. The CEO answers to the owner, but doesn’t have the owner’s power. Why is he less powerful than the manager? Because by the time he arrived the manager had worked himself into such a powerful position that he had a say in who got appointed as CEO.
How did the manager become so powerful? Two reasons: he was amazingly successful in his first nine years at Arsenal, and when he’d reached the peak of his success the club’s Board and ownership disintegrated around him. In-fighting and selfishness on the part of several, ahem, ‘custodians’ of the club left the Board in the position of having to invite one of the two billionaire shareholders to join them. I’m not saying they made the wrong choice, but I’m not saying they made the right choice either. But they made a choice, and went with Kroenke.
Having invited him in, the remaining Board member shareholders decided that as they were mostly getting on a bit and they’d seen others disappearing into the sunset sitting on uncomfortably large wads of cash, Kroenke was perhaps fit to own the whole club, so they spent £3m of the club’s money for advice to sell all their shares to Kroenke at a price of £11,750 a share. Two years later Kroenke has just bought two shares for £15,500 each, so if the advice was really worth £3m then Fred Goodwin still has a chance of a comeback as a consultant to the banking industry. Compared to the sheer underhanded ruthlessness of the Glazers’ takeover at our former rivals Man Utd, it pales into insignificance, but it wasn’t the best behaviour we could have wished for from the Board, that’s for sure.
So, due to a combination of factors the manager found himself in the most unusual position of having everyone at the club deferring to his every whim. He didn’t ask to be put in the position of losing his best mate on the Board, nor to be granted quite as much power as he was, but like Bendtner and his outrageous salary, you’re not going to say no, are you?
Arsene got the chance to do exactly as he wanted. You don’t like what I do? Sack me then. But you don’t want to, do you, because I’ve won things and made money. And I know about football and you don’t.
So we come to this summer. Now, as most people now accept, Arsenal have had reasonable sums of money to spend for at least four transfer windows – I’m talking tens of millions – and it hasn’t been spent. And that is down to the manager.
Arsene likes players to fit his system. He has a strategy far more than he has tactics, and he only wants players who can work with his strategy and who he believes are perfect for his system. He’s also not a big fan of confrontation with players, so he’d never grab a player by the throat (like Mancini with Balotelli) or speak out against a player (like Fergie with – well, just about anyone eventually). If players want to leave he tries to talk them round, and if that doesn’t work they go with his blessing. If he can find a ready made replacement, great, but if not he’ll make do.
When one big player wants to go and the unspent money leaves maybe £30m in the bank, it’s mildly annoying that nothing happens. When another goes and that money doesn’t get spent either, it’s a bit more annoying, even if the club continues to (just) make it into the Champions League each season. When a lot of new commercial deals come along and the build up of cash is getting embarrassingly large, then some people want to make it plain that the money is there waiting to be spent. Hence Ivan’s comments at the start of the summer. It was going to be ‘a big summer’ he said at the fans’ Q&A. He didn’t promise spending – not actually promise – for the simple reason that there is only one man who decides on spending on the team at Arsenal, and that’s the manager.
It’s not his fault he couldn’t promise, it’s just the situation he’s inherited, but that’s why I treated Ivan’s comments with a pinch of salt at the time, and haven’t been shouting about ‘big summers’ myself. Other people who shall remain nameless speak to people within Arsenal and got the same kind of message: the money is there and we all want to spend it. (So they shouted about it, somewhat rashly in my view.)
Okay, YOU all want to spend it, but how about the manager? Because unless you’re taking the decision out of his hands – and I think we all know how that’s going to end, and it won’t be well – I want to hear it from him.
But of course Arsene never promised to spend anything.
And here we are having lost the first game of the season and he still hasn’t spent anything.
Arsene has his own values for players and doesn’t like to exceed them – this is also a fact, however many people say ‘You don’t know that’. Yes I do. He’d rather walk away than pay what he thinks is over the odds. I think he’d rather spend more on giving all his players what he thinks is a fair wage than spend extra on transfers. He may have other reasons; I’m not going to speculate on that. Of course there is always a balance: how much is it worth to the team to spend an extra few million, and how does that affect what’s left to spend on wages? Given the injuries today I think the balance might move a little towards some higher transfer fees quite soon.
It’s sad for Arsenal, its fans and Arsene Wenger that it’s come to this. I just hope it’s not too late to save the season already.
There are people who seem to unconditionally support Arsene Wenger. The problem with totally unconditional support is that you end up looking a bit foolish when things change so much that the vast majority now hold an opposing view. Arsene is now in more danger than ever of tarnishing his reputation for ever. The next two weeks could be the most crucial for Arsenal in very many years.
Good luck, Arsenal.
ps – Some will see the title as a dig at Arsene. Truth is I didn’t have a title, and the bulk of the post actually explains the title. So suck on that.