Decades from now, Arsenal historians might look back on this period in Arsenal history as the Acronym Wars: The WOBs against the AKBs, with a few others thrown in – BSM, AST, AAAs, you name it, someone’s made up a TLA for it.
But why is there a division between WOBs and AKBs? What don’t they like about each other’s opinions? What this all boils down to is quite simple. One side laud Arsène Wenger as a genius for keeping Arsenal in the top four every season (so far), while the club has gone through a stadium move of the kind that has crippled other clubs who’ve tried to self-fund. The ardent Wenger fans go so far as to say ‘he built the stadium’. They imply – nay, insist – that without him, Arsenal would have been sunk if the club tried to spend £400m on a new stadium AND maintain a relatively successful team – no trophies admittedly, but top four, the odd final and continual Champions League participation. To them, Arsène Wenger is an unparalleled genius; the greatest manager ever.
They say, look: we were successful before the stadium move, we won trophies. Since the stadium move we have won none. But we have the same manager, so therefore, they infer, the clear reason for the lack of trophies in recent years is the stadium. The spending on that hampered the manager so much that we have been less successful on the pitch. But Arsène is a good egg who refuses to blame the Board, so he never says he was hampered by lack of funds, and the Board have always maintained that funds have been available. The AKBs don’t really agree with the Board (this is a dilemma for the most extreme of them, as they want to believe everything the Board tells them). The AKBs believe that one day Arsène will come out and tell The Truth: he’d have won many more trophies if he hadn’t had to scrimp and save just to buy Bendtner some new hairbands.
At the other end of the Arsenal-supporting scale there are those who say no other manager would be indulged like Arsène Wenger has been. We have gone eight years without a trophy – anyone else would have been sacked long ago. Yes, we have moved stadiums, but look at all the money he’s spent on wages for dross. Who else would be allowed to do that? What other manager dictates every bit of spending in a big club like Arsenal? No one.
And, say the WOBs, it wasn’t the Board who forced Arsène to sell Henry, Vieira, Fabregas or anyone else. They’d had enough of him and wanted to go. Look at his overall spending: wages are, and always have been, very close to Man Utd’s, but without any of the success since 2005. We should sack Wenger now, he’s been holding the club back for years with his ridiculous policies on trying to win with kids. He’s spent loads of money. He could have spent loads more if he wasn’t a stubborn old fool.
Obviously most of the calls for Wenger’s sacking have been more muted this season – no one is realistically going to expect the manager of the team leading the table to be sacked. And equally obviously there are a lot of Arsenal fans in the middle of the spectrum who recognise a great manager, but also recognise his limitations. People who appreciate subtleties and shades of grey, and the many factors that contribute to success or failure. People who believe it’s possible to support a football team without blindly assuming everyone who works for the club knows best every time on every subject; such fans might therefore criticise sometimes without that actually affecting their support. If you’re one of those (the majority), I’m not trying to wedge you into one of the extremist camps, but believe me both camps are well populated.
Back to the point in hand: AKBs say Arsène’s a genius, because he’s been hampered for years by the stadium move. WOBs say he’s not been hampered, he’s just a manager who is past his sell-by date. But which of these is true? How much has the stadium move really prevented Arsenal from spending? It cost about £400m, but it brings in a lot more income than Highbury ever did.
Well, I’ve had a look and (with some help) worked out some figures to quantify the ‘stadium effect’. Tomorrow I’ll reveal all.
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