By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
The Arsenal: a club whose fan-base, player-base, scouting networks, and trophy case have all been globally spanning at any point in time, but for how much longer?
Many a fan has sat through the trophy-less spell between 2005 and 2014 as being a disgrace, regardless of financial burdens. The question is not whether or not this period – which, in terms of league glory, persisted from 2004 until the time of writing – was and is a disgrace to one of the most decorated and most beloved clubs in footballing history, but as to what the cause truly is.
To begin with the least controversial cause, we arrive at the stadium cost. Unlike the questionably funded stadium Tottenham Hotspur are currently building – which will cause them financial issues, regardless – or the Olympic Stadium debacle, the Arsenal Stadium cost its namesake more than material wealth: it nearly cost Arsenal the coveted top four position, who their much-maligned manager has consistently achieved or surpassed throughout his tenure. The question, however, is whether or not Arsenal are susceptible to criticism on this front.
Many decry the rise of Leicester City as the proof that football does not require financial clout, but the opposite is true: in just the previous two seasons, Leicester had spent an excess of £55 million, with a net of £49 million spent from 2013-14 to 2014-15. In comparison, Arsenal’s net was £78 million for both of those seasons – not quite a huge gap, is it? Despite breaking even, not even Tottenham Hotspur have escaped this: matching Arsenal’s spending for both seasons in just 2014-15. In essence, the rule remains constant: you pay in order to win. Or do you?
An issue with this argument is that Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool have spent more on their own than all three of the current contenders combined – doubled, in United’s case. As such, money is not always the deciding factor in how a league plays out. Arsenal, one could argue, had no right coming third or fourth consistently during the ‘banter era’, as the expenditure – net or otherwise – was consistently lower than that of Liverpool, Everton, and even neighbors Tottenham.
With money out of the equation, as Arsenal spent more in 2013-14 than in 2014-15, and achieved a lower league position… That leaves us with the next issue, as we go down the controversial path of ownership and management. Starting with the former, many – particularly other victims of the same ownership – have bemoaned Stan Kroenke’s majority shareholder status at the club as a catalyst for consistent mediocrity – if top four can be considered mediocre, which it should be for a club like Arsenal. The truth of the matter is that his input is less negative than it is neglectful.
‘Silent Stan’, as he’s dubbed, cannot be both silent and malignant at once: his status as one of Arsenal’s many scapegoats is not undeserved, however. Under Kroenke, Arsenal have been used as more of a bargaining chip than a sporting enterprise. Others have outlined his strategy in far more depth than I can even hope to get into, though the gist of it is as follows: although Kroenke doesn’t directly extract funds from the club itself, – around £5 million per year, which is nothing for a club of Arsenal’s financial clout – he does often prevent the club from taking financial risks in order to preserve its status as a financially stable enterprise of his: perfect for large-sum loans.
Besides Kroenke, the only other majority shareholder is Alisher Usmanov, whose supposed view for Arsenal’s future is not too different to his fellow Russian billionaire residing in London; a future I, as with many others, would not like to see come to pass. On paper, the ‘chairman’ of Arsenal, or rather the club’s version of a CEO, would be Sir John Keswick, or ‘Sir Chips’, as he’s known: a man whose policies have often been more business-oriented than fan-oriented, but what club’s policies haven’t been?
Without condoning this view for a moment, no club in England’s top flight is truly run for the fans. You may cry out ‘Liverpool’, as is the cliché among the media who often vilify Arsenal and paint it as the epitome of corporate football – which ignores a certain duo of clubs in varying shades of blue. However, the reality is that Liverpudlians have been consistently set aside by their club through ticket prices, the creation of new corporate boxes at the expense of seats, et al; all policies Arsenal, and all other clubs, have taken to heart.
The very notion of the chairman or any of the owners – at any club – not wanting success is ludicrous: what better way to make a profit than off of a successful club? No, the issue is that footballing success – and the method of play – is secondary to said profits, with the fans holding a tertiary position in this corporate order of play. Take, for example, the aforementioned corporate boxes in clubs. The Emirates Stadium – whose name alone is indicative of corporate influences – possess one of the highest number of corporate boxes in any football stadium.
The atmosphere, as a result of the fans becoming dejected, and being substituted for those who can afford to go – oft looking for a spectacle, rather than a passionate night out with their beloved club – becomes horrendous, even volatile when the spectacle ceases to be enjoyable. However, the atmosphere, while it is a factor in whether matches are won or lost, is not the primary factor: as the games are oftentimes lost or drawn by the opening whistle.
Now we move on to the most controversial of these factors: the players and manager. Allow me to preface this point by stating that while I do admire Arsène Wenger, and view him as a veritable genius who has changed Arsenal and football forever, he is not perfect. Many of the negatives have been stated, and often on social media, I’m mistaken for a die-hard proponent of his for attempting to balance it out with the positives of his continued tenure. Albeit, I will mention the negatives, and will not hold back.
Before any argument can be made about the playing personnel and their motivation, we must acknowledge that it rests on the shoulders of the manager to acquire the players, mold them into the club’s philosophy, and provide them with the mentality and motivation required for a win. The much-hated Wenger has succeeded far more times than he has failed with the previous two, but has often failed at the final hurdle: motivation.
In the bygone years of the Invincibles, the team itself was rarely spoken to by Wenger: they motivated each other, he simply allowed them to be free and express themselves, which is very admirable, especially at the time. Where this view falls apart, however, is in his failure to motivate players that he has inadvertently crafted into his own, quiet image. In much the same way as himself, the players often flatter to deceive, with moments of absolute genius sandwiched between abject mediocrities.
For every amazing pass from Özil, Alexis, Santi, Coquelin, or Bellerín, there are two moments of those very same players bowing to the pressure, and letting each other down. Take, for example, the half-nelson Özil was put into by a Swansea player, where he was brought down without the referee so much as batting an eyelash. The sole player who escapes the criticism of not looking out for his teammates on the field is Francis Coquelin, who was also the only one to attempt to remedy the situation.
While Petr Čech is quite the leader, the team requires outfield leaders, such as they had previously. In the same mould, the support has not quite been the same. While the eleven players on the field are solely responsible for their horrendous performances, the twelfth player has been perpetually injured at home, while often scoring hat-tricks away. The fact of the matter is, frankly, the support has been just as horrible, which you can ascribe to Wenger as well in a way.
The failure to win titles for a long spell has been horrible for all fans, myself obviously included, but no one person – player, manager, owner, or fan – is responsible for it: it was and is a combination of factors that combined as time goes on. The reason our title chases peter out after January every year is because cynicism sets into the fans, which in turn sets into the players, and matches the anxiety exhibited by both the manager, and the players.
It is your choice whether you want to truly support the club or not, but I encourage you to do so, as otherwise, the club will never win another title, no matter what superstars are signed. The players themselves are more than up to the par needed to win the title, this season especially. The manager is obviously up to par, as his record suggests. Are the fans? Is the board? Are the investors? From what I see, that would be an obvious ‘no’.
The fans, rather than supporters, have been all too ecstatic to find faults in the club at every angle, and find other clubs to be the image of perfection, all under the guise of ‘passion’. Why not translate that passion to the field, or translate it positively to the players? If you don’t want to be treated as a consumer, don’t act like a silent customer, act like a supporter. I say this not because the fans are the sole issue, but because the fans are the only aspect I could ever hope to influence in any way.
To leave you with food for thought, remember that the big players we’ve got have all left bigger clubs in order to seek success at Arsenal, and that our manager has – for better or for worse – decided to turn down offers from those very same clubs in order to guide Arsenal through a period that could’ve been far worse. As someone whose name eludes me once tweeted: “While Sir Alex Ferguson left United to save his reputation, Wenger destroyed his to save ours.” Whether or not you agree with him or not, it’s best to take out your anger, your frustration, your ‘passion’ on the other side.
The grass is always greener at the Arsenal Stadium, whether you see it or not.
Ahmed Nada is a blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner