Lee Dixon: “Arsenal’s Team Spirit is Poor”

We’ve had the annual supporters’ Q&A at Arsenal, on the evening of Friday 3 June. Most Arsenal fans congratulate the club for holding this event, as it’s more than other clubs do – and that is certainly one point of view. But the reason it’s held is down to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, who instigated it as an event for their members to speak to and question the club’s CEO, who when it started was Keith Edelman. That was pre-Kroenke, pre-Gazidis; it was the regime of Danny Fiszman, who encouraged supporter involvement and meaningful interaction with the Board. It was when all the Board members owned shares and ran the club jointly. They needed each other’s support, they wanted the fans’ support and many of them or their families had been involved long before football was about making money.

Since 2011, though, Stan Kroenke has become the first majority owner in Arsenal’s history. He isn’t interested in supporters, except to take their money. For many reasons, but chiefly to do with Kroenke, relationships between the AST and the Arsenal Board are distinctly cooler than they were. The Board widened the remit of the end-of-season event to include other supporter groups and shareholders. This is on the pretext that they don’t want to give priority to one group, but for them it has the benefit of allowing them to say that it fulfils Kroenke’s promise to meet supporters and share his vision, if only through his representative in the UK – Ivan. It also gives shareholders a perk, as their meetings with Arsène were stopped when the manager got a bit huffy about Silvestre being called geriatric.

Then there’s further dilution of the original purpose by shortening the time for questioning the CEO and replacing it with an ex-player or two – which is where Lee Dixon comes in – plus a season highlights video compilation and now a compere (Tom Watt in this case) to ask most of the questions. But those are all things fans want much more than the chance to ask proper searching questions of the CEO… I’m sure the club’s extensive research has found.

Tom Watt and Ivan 3Jun2016

“I’ll let you get a word in soon, Ivan, don’t worry” (photo by @10Akhil)

A couple of years ago Ivan spent so long on his introductory speech that people going home from nightclubs were on the streets by the time he finished. After some forthright feedback they came up with the compere idea instead: someone reasonably popular with fans asks questions that are reasonably probing, but nothing too tricky or controversial – then if we’re lucky there’s just time for a couple of questions from the floor to fulfil the all-important ‘having regular meetings with supporters’ brief. Boxes ticked, job done. Cushty. Thank you for your interest in our affairs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt have cause to say it again: it honestly doesn’t matter how long Ivan speaks for, as he never says anything of any substance. Five minutes or five hours, the result is the same. If you have a good idea how Arsenal functions as a club and who does what, then you already know all Ivan’s answers before he’s given them. The thing is, though, some people don’t know how the club functions and are fooled by Ivan. But then lots of people read the Sun or the Mail, watch TOWIE without realising it’s more fake than Katie Price’s knockers, and believe horoscopes.

This year it was even easier to predict Ivan’s answers, as he’d given an interview to the Telegraph the day before, presumably to rehearse everything he was going to say. Jeremy Wilson often seems fooled by Ivan – indeed he’s so susceptible to spin that I reckon revolving doors probably make him vomit. In one of my tweets during the Q&A I even coined the term ‘spinterview’ for the piece Wilson had written on Ivan.

Spinterview (n): an interview given to a newspaper or other publication purely for the purposes of delivering a PR message.spinterview

But enough about me, what did Ivan actually say? If you cared, you’ve probably read the transcript from Tim Stillman that’s on arseblognews. Tim recorded the whole thing so no doubt has it all accurate. What he didn’t record though was the second half of the evening, with Lee Dixon.

I like Lee Dixon. I liked him as a player (not like I liked Liam Brady or Thierry Henry, but I still liked him – and as he’ll tell you, he was a better right-back than they were), I like him as a pundit and I like his interaction with fans on twitter. I like him even more after listening to him give his views on Arsenal for 45 minutes or so. But it would be useful to compare what Dixon said against what Gazidis said.

Ivan’s position is always that everything is great and everyone at Arsenal is doing all they can to make things even greater. Specifically what they’re doing he can never say, but rest assured they’re doing it. They all have fantastic knowledge, drive and ambition. They’re all experts. Arsène is absolutely the best manager he can possibly be – I mean, boy, if you saw him at work, you’d realise! Not only that, but Kroenke loves Arsenal MUCH more than he loves money – in fact he doesn’t love money – who said he loves money? – and he’s incredibly supportive of Arsène and wants success as much as any fan and blah blah blah blah blah.

To sum up: you can’t criticise anyone at Arsenal because they’re all doing a top job and it would be impossible to do it any better. This is the message from Ivan. And if you don’t believe it then you’re a bad person and Ivan will be very disappointed in you and will look at you in a sad and thoughtful way.

So why don’t Arsenal win everything every year? To be honest I’m a bit vague on Ivan’s reasons why success hasn’t already happened to a greater degree under his and Kroenke’s leadership.

Lee Dixon, on the other hand, does not follow Ivan’s agenda of trying to convince people that corporate and footballing perfection have both already been attained. I honestly don’t know how much Ivan knows about football, because he never says anything useful about it. Dixon, though, definitely understands football. He understands why Leicester won the League and Arsenal didn’t: they were a better team. Not better players; a better team. Individually Arsenal have better players than Leicester, but Arsenal’s players in 2015-16 didn’t care as much, didn’t try as hard, didn’t work for each other like Leicester.

In between Dixon’s highly amusing anecdotes about his fight with Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright punching Steve Bruce, and why David Seaman was so pathetic at stopping balls going over his head, Tom Watt made the mistake of praising Arsenal’s team spirit. Dixon was unimpressed. In his view, he said, Arsenal’s team spirit, and indeed their fabled mental strength, is poor – unlike Leicester’s. For him, team spirit is demonstrated when a goal is conceded as much as any other time. What are the players’ reactions? Do they shrug and walk back to their positions for kick-off, or do they gee each other up, have a go at each other about doing their jobs properly, and obviously care enough to make an effort to change things to stop another goal being conceded? And far too often at Arsenal they don’t care. Most of the defenders don’t even care enough to jump in the way of shots to block them. They’d rather turn their backs and hope the ball doesn’t hit them.

Dixon didn’t claim to know what goes on in the dressing room, but he said in his day no one was afraid to point out when others weren’t performing. Everything was brought out into the open. It didn’t matter whether teammates were friends – team spirit in professional sport is not about all being mates together and having a jolly time, it’s about helping the team to win by making it more than the sum of its parts. It’s an attitude that not enough Arsenal players seem to have.

In contrast, in Ivan’s world everything is rosy. No issues here, move along now.

So despite Arsenal doing their best to dilute this event into a happy-clappy “we’re all in it together, we care as much as you do and that’s why we work so hard for you” affair, we did get some hard truths about Arsenal’s problems this time. Just not from anyone inside the club, unfortunately.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5

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4 thoughts on “Lee Dixon: “Arsenal’s Team Spirit is Poor”

  1. Correction: “The Regime of Danny Fisman, who encouraged supporter involvement and active engagement with the board”

    Should be: “The regime of Danny Firman, who pandered to the appearance of supporter involvement, but actually never gave the fans an institutional role, and took Kroenke’s coin without endowing the fans with a significant ownership state or a formal role with the club”.

    Just so we are clear and don’t mythologise. Kroenke is not a corporate raider. It is false and misleading to paint him as lone (and not coincidentally, foreign) villain, while ignoring the Englishmen who sold off Arsenal and took the profits to Switzerland to guarantee that their children and grandchildren will never have to work a day in their lives.

    Re Kroenke: yes a poor speaker. That said, I suggest reading this. You’ll recognise his tactics. And understand why that would come out of his mouth, abut not out of the mouth of an ex-foootball player:
    Niklas Sandell and Peter Svensson:
    The Language of Failure: The Use of Accounts in Financial Reports
    International Journal of Business Communication January 2016 53: 5-26, first published on March 30, 2014 doi:10.1177/2329488414525452

    Lee Dixon is correct, but could have gone a bit further to explain. I suspect that TEAM spirit is actually good in many ways at Arsenal. What’s lacking is individual spirit. The individual self-drive, that, as it achieves internal goals blossoms into and external will to drive others collective:TEAM drive.

    Simply put: no doubt these guys get on. They do the selfies, they have meals, they don’t stab each other in the back. But do each of them as men want MORE. Really want it? I think all too few. And you can see who they are. Alexis, Welbeck, Cech, Coquelin, maybe Elneny.maybe gabriel . Giroux is getting there. That’s about it.

    Very obvious then, the many individuals who are iconic and well paid, but lacking the will to deliver nothing less than their best and earn to rich to demand it of others: Ramsey, Wilshere,Walcott, Mertesacker.

    Ozil is a bit of an in betweener here. His game is subtle and very team-oriented, so it would be unfair to say that he isn’t driving himself in the games where he doesn’t shine. But curiously lacking is self assertiveness and the on-field coaching to say to others “no – you need to he here” – “no make that run more precisely” , “no that pass wasn’t good enough”. I don’t know why he hasn’t got there, but once can see his annoyance when the others don’t deliver. I don’t see his spirit crushed by adversity, online many, but I don’t seem him clawing his way out other.

    Either way I think the root cause here is personal drive first, without it, there can’t be any geeing each other up constantly.

  2. Excellent, well put. I get the feeling that they just don’t give a shit whilst the club is making money. To quote braveheart with a few tweaks in a football sense. There’s a difference between the fans and Ivan. Ivan thinks the fans of this club exist to provide him with position. We think his position exists to provide those people with trophies. Whether you’re in the “Wenger in” camp or “Wenger out” camp doesn’t matter, what does matter is are we honestly progressing. Stop looking at the team through red and white canon motif glasses and shoot from the hip! We were lucky to end up above Spurs, they were better than us this season. Leicester won the league, that’s right Leicester!! The days of Wenger bemoaning other clubs spending power is over, he can never utter those words again because a team with zero budget did it! So all of those flag waving Wenger loving fans who sing the most pointless chant at the stadium every week “we hate Tottenham” even when we’re not playing them, giving Spurs the feeling that we consider them a bigger threat than they are will now applaud Wenger when he attempts to rinse an under financed second rate side for their better players in an attempt to win the league on a shoestring. We all know that Vardy had a great season but can he do it again?! Maybe, but that’s never a reason to sign a 29 year old player who doesn’t even suit your style of play. The Vardy purchase is about price! Wenger doesn’t want a striker, he doesn’t believe in them, he thinks goals can be scored by anyone but mainly wide players and midfielders with wn additional 10-12 goals a season from an average striker (Giroud). One thing Wenger does know is that the fans want and insist on a striker and if the current regime (Wenger, Gazidis etc) are to keep their extremely well paid jobs a striker most be bought. The top striker is world football will cost in excess of £45m which of course is not what Wenger wants to spend so, but Vardy for £20m and argue that he’s top class! This is all great if he does score 24+ goals again next season (IF) but two seasons down the line we’re back where we were, hunting for a world class striker and having to pay £50-£60m + and not being prepared to do it! I guess we the fans will have to sit back, pay our money and let the people who know best run out club and make bags of cash whilst accepting the fact that top 4 is a trophy because not many clubs can say they have done it consistently for as long as we have!

    • “This is all great if he does score 24+ goals again next season (IF) but two seasons down the line we’re back where we were, hunting for a world class striker and having to pay £50-£60m + and not being prepared to do it! …”

      That’s one way to look at it.

      Another way to look at it is Vardy buys you enough time to see if Welbeck recovers and see if Iwobi can do more, if Akpom is worth keeping or if Mavididi has enough in him to make the step up. I wouldnt skip over the latter: he’s really efficient, really direct. Something Arsenal hasnt generally been succesfull in developing with strikers. In recent times only Afobe and Jay Simpson in that mould and neither were quite top notch. I think Mavididi is ahead of where both were at the same age…

      So maybe Wenger isnt crazy and he can build one superstar attacking out of those three.

      I’d guess he is still looking for one more striker, so he can flog off Walcott though. He benched him at the end of last season and from the looks of it, for good.

  3. Nice post.
    To say spurs was better than arsenal this season is an understatement. The table doesn’t lie. We expected too much bur our team disappointed us, does that means we were shit and they were class? C’mon, we won as much games they won. No point, we were the better team but in truth, this season was a huge disappointment

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