What came first, Arsène or Arsenal? His name is so synonymous with the North London club that it has become difficult to distinguish the two. After all, his demeanor is Arsenal’s demeanor. His attitude is Arsenal’s, his frugality on transfers, his pride in the club’s current standing, and his ultimate ‘live to come fourth another day’ outlook. Arsenal are a very good club and an excellently run business. Can it become a great club?
An order of excuses please…
The days of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and company seem as long in history as Liverpool’s last league title. That in itself, is worrying. Even more worrying, however, is the indoctrination of the fans into the idea that this is acceptable. Every game, every season, brings more and more carefully crafted and articulately expressed excuse. We’ve heard the finances excuse. So then what about Leicester? In what can safely been described as probably the weakest league in recent memory, Arsenal find themselves in familiar territory: anywhere but fighting for the title in the business end of the season. We hear that they have been plagued by injuries. Manchester City has managed a title with Sergio Agüero, Vincent Kompany, and David Silva out for long stretches of time. In 2013/14, these three made 23, 28, and 27 appearances respectively and it is well known that represents three quarters of their core and inspiration. The 2012/13 Manchester United had a Wayne Rooney playing 27 times; in the 2010/11 season it was 28.
The critical difference is that these teams had the foresight to recognise that injuries do happen and for that reason City could call on Edin Džeko, Yaya Toure, Dimitar Berbatov, and Robin van Persie.
Instead, Arsenal can always use the ready-made excuse that Santi Cazorla got injured. The problem is the man is on the wrong side of 30 and as classy as he is, he cannot be your plan A to Z in that position. His absence has been so palpably defining to Arsenal’s season but did it have to be that way? His replacements in that position are Jack Wilshere who has made a grand total of 114 league appearances since 2008/09, Aaron Ramsey who in addition to being often bitten by the injury bug is also notoriously inconsistent and streaky, Mikel Arteta who…well…is not the answer, and a whole host of inferior substitutes. The problem then is not one of injuries but one of failing to prepare for what are inevitable injuries each season and the stubborn reluctance to move away from those that forever promise but rarely deliver. If Arsenal have a problem, it is their own doing.
Doing one thing repeatedly and expecting different results
This is Arsenal of the last decade in one phrase. That Arsène-al still had hopes for Abou Diaby returning in 2015 speaks volumes, not only for the humanity and character of the manager but that weak spot that can be manipulated by those such as Jose Mourinho who always knew how to get under his skin.
Arsenal are extremely consistent, but in football world, and indeed life in general, standing still is as good as going backwards. Why is Olivier Giroud your primary striker? History says titles are won with strikers of better ilk than the Frenchman. A good footballer no doubt but in a title winning team he should be second choice. We can only wonder how much better Arsenal’s fortunes would have been with a Wayne Rooney, fit-for-more-than-one-season Robin van Persie (oh wait), Sergio Agüero, and oddly enough Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy on current form over multiple seasons. You only have to take their best period where they could call upon Henry and Bergkamp to realise how misguided the caution in signing a top quality striker is. If other teams can make the moves, Arsène-al can. No excuses. There’s nobody available? There is always somebody. Whether Cavani, Higuain, Reus, Lacazette, Icardi, Lukaku, Ighalo…somebody is available.
Renewal and learning from those mistakes
Each season brings renewal and renewed hope to Holloway, London. Mohamed Elneny looks a good signing, a step on the road to solidifying that injury hit area for the club, and Alex Iwobi is doing his uncle Jay-Jay Okocha proud so far. The hope is that they will not rest on this as they always seem to do. Always making enough to have a good shot isn’t enough. The strong move of intent must be made as it relates to a striker. Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck cannot be seen as the answers, not on their own. It’s already criminal to effectively waste the talents of Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, and Cazorla.
The truth of the Arsenal situation is that top to bottom they are one of the best in England and with a few strong moves in addition to some sensible astute ones to bolster a squad they could be the very best. Being good cannot be good enough. Being two or three injuries away from capitulation in a title race cannot be healthy, especially if it happens with such regularity that it becomes expected. Arsenal must understand that a title is rarely won by an eleven; it is won by a squad and with multiple competitions and inevitable injuries and loss of form the squad needs care. Hoping that you will be boosted by ‘new signings’ such as Wilshere when he returns for his half dozen games cannot be the way to go. He may well magically find some form of fitness but this is the less likely outcome. Even more distressing is the faith in Theo Walcott as a striker over the sensible move to acquire a proven goalscorer. The words uttered by the two most recent City managers and many others about having two top quality players for each position can be something to aspire to in the medium term. It’s the way forward in a physically demanding and bruising league such as the EPL that doesn’t even make provisions for a winter break.
Arsenal are not Leicester. Football is a business but it mustn’t get lost that sport is a results business. As Wenger in all likelihood prepares for life after Arsenal in 2017, the foundation must be set for a manager similar in philosophy to play exquisite football when the mood hits but also different in mindset. The new manager must see results first and not the balance sheet. Both are not mutually exclusive and Arsenal can be smart but still make the few strong moves they need to escape this rut of confidence and mentality of woe is me.
Injury excuses, money excuses, referee excuses? We don’t want to hear them, Arsène-al. Be the club your ‘fair’ ticket prices allow you to be.