An Arsenal Existential Crisis

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An Arsenal existential crisis.

I know what you’re all thinking. We have lost two games in a week and he’s gone off the boil. By no means is this the end of the world, and we have been in darker places than this by a long way. But what I’m talking about right now goes much deeper than just a few bad results.

The dictionary definition of an existential crisis is – An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has any meaning, purpose, or value. This issue of the meaning and purpose of existence is the topic of the philosophical school of existentialism.

Now obviously this could all be a little overdone by yours truly. And in truth, it could be my own thoughts towards a so called existential crisis as to why I’m writing this article.
If I can take a step back before I delve right in and indeed, do take a huge step forward with this piece, my initial conception for this was going to be based off another title I had in mind, and different article all together. But I felt I could cover that all in this article too. So, the initial title was something along the lines of “How much for that Premier League title?”

So let me touch on that very title before I really get to what I’m here for. How much for that Premier League title? Well, if the entire goal of the sport is to win games, and trophies, this is a serious question to ask. What outlay from any club, not just Arsenal is sufficient to not be ridiculed in the realms of Manchester City or Chelsea levels of spending?

How much would you think is a reasonable amount to spend for only a chance to win it? As we know, money is a massive factor, but it doesn’t guarantee titles. City and Chelsea could spend 250 million in one window, both of them can’t win it now can they? All the while, it will likely secure them a top four finish.

So let’s get in to it. Let’s say we were seriously going all out to try and win the league, for argument sake, let’s say we spent the much talked about “200 million in cash reserves” on, well, again, just for fun, let’s say we bought Lewandowski, Reus, Jerome Boateng and Busquets. And it cost us 200 million to secure all four players. Again, this is just for the sake of debate.

The serious part of this is, while the money to win the league via television deals and so on has gone up, and you do then guarantee a minimum 6 Champions League group stage games, how much money have you recouped? So again, let’s say we spent that 200 million. (Now for fun, think of players you want for that amount) but let’s say we did win the league after spending 200 million.

We know for guaranteeing the 6 group stage games, you’re getting at least 50 million pounds from that, plus I think it’s around 15 million pounds or maybe a little more to win the Premier League. So everyone’s favourite topic, net spend then comes in to this part. Approximately you are 135 million in the red just from that simple, beautiful season where we splashed the cash and went all out to win the league.

Now, is that the kind of club we want to be? Cashing in for the pure ecstasy of winning the league? Do we have any other choice if we want to win? 99 percent of people are going to say, of course, and feel vindicated because “well Chelsea, United and City do it, why shouldn’t we be allowed to do it too?” It’s not about allowed or my thoughts of “well we shouldn’t sell our souls to win it” or whatever. But the truth is, you really have to spend to win it. You really do. Maybe more than what’s within your means.

And what if that one season of glory is all we got? Spent 200 million pounds and didn’t win again for five or more years? Would that then have been worth it? I bet more than most will say “well yes, we competed and were the best team that season, we deserved it.”

Now, I realise I’m quite the pessimist in life itself (hence the existential crisis stuff.) But when it comes to Arsenal, some of my friends look to me as a voice of reason and hope when shit hits the fan. I’m looking at you, Drew and Wes. Now let’s look at this spending from another point, and this is where the existentialism also plays a part. What if we, under Wenger or another manager, went all out, and spent big to make a squad more than capable of sustaining a title challenge till may, but this in turn caused s major reaction from Manchester City, Chelsea and United? Splashing all that cash and not winning? What a waste right? Or is it good to see us trying to compete at the very top?

Anyway, those clubs sit there and see “Arsenal announce signings of Lewandowski, Reus, Boateng and Busquets” (dreamland I know.) Clearly they know we mean business, and they too go, “Ok, want to play the money game huh?, We will show them a statement of intent.” Signings galore!!! Now let me take a quick step back in time. We built the Emirates on the precipice that it would keep us competitive and to “be one of the biggest clubs in Europe.” Going forward.

A decade later and now we are starting to see some of the pleasures of that money and a lovely new stadium to boot. But when we committed to that idea, Manchester City weren’t around. One team shouldn’t change things. But in truth, it has. Without their’s and Chelsea’s cash injections, it would still be Arsenal and Manchester United more often than not topping the tables.

We had big ambitions. We wanted to be like Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid and so on. (Now prepare to swallow the red pill,) we aren’t those clubs, and sadly, we never will be in their positions. Because you see, while we have done so much the right way to keep the playing field level, the Barca’s, Bayern’s, Real Madrid’s, PSG’s, and the aforementioned United, City and Chelsea’s are always going to be a step above us.

While this doesn’t mean we can never win again, or is it impossible to finish above those clubs, or ever win the Champions League, we are always going to be a financial step behind. City we weren’t prepared for. Same can be said about PSG. The point I’m trying to get to here is, the next time we try step up to their financial level, we are forgetting, some of those clubs don’t play by the same financial rules we do. Only a few seasons ago, City were fined 50 million pounds for breaching FFP. And while that would be a reasonable setback for us, it was literally pocket change to them. FFP, it seems, doesn’t really affect the truly elite and wealthy does it? (Cue some David Icke documentary.)

By being the good team of football, and not having the pulling power and tv money the Spanish clubs do, or an oil Barron, or just complete and utter dominance that Bayern do in Germany, we are always going to be behind the eight ball. Am I suggesting that we need an oil Barron to be one of those teams? No. But here’s one for you? Would you, if that offer came, be that glory hungry that you would willingly accept it? After years of ridiculing Chelsea and City for “buying titles?” Would be a little hypocritical wouldn’t it?

A lot of Chelsea and City fans don’t care that their clubs have been bought. It doesn’t bother them what others say, and why should it, right? They’re winning and “you’re just jealous it didn’t happen to your club.” Might be the case for some. But what are we really looking at here in football? For the hardcore and old school fans, the game has gone to shit. What was once beautiful is now just like anything else on earth, he who has the greatest resources comes out on top.

The days of Nottingham Forest winning back to back European titles, or almost an entire Ajax squad winning the European Championship after 3 European cups, is so far gone, younger fans wouldn’t believe the stories we tell them. And Arsenal are a club right in the belly of this beast. We are a fantastic club with a massive global appeal. We should be able to get ahead one day and RISE UP AND CONQUER THOSE ABOVE US!!!!

…I’m sorry, but no, we won’t. Again, it’s not impossible for us to have some glory days, or a era of greatness, but, the truth is, we are always going to be stuck in a perpetual state of limbo. Some think this will pass when Wenger goes. But Wenger or not, our financial situation will always be a step behind. It’s like this. Either we join the wealthy elite, or we stay who we are, and with that, things will always be how they are now. On the cusp between fighting for a European place or being also rans.

The point of the new stadium and finances was for us to stay competitive at the top. Unfortunately, those days of us verses United being the pinnacle of Premier League matches is over, and it’s not coming back. I know this is a rather negative step from me as I consider myself quite positive in the world of Arsenal fandom. But for every world record transfer fee we may one day pay, those ahead of the cue will top that at the drop of a hat.

Those teams are in positions they will not give up without a fight. On a footballing and a ownership front. The money to be made at the top of the European pyramid, along with the trophies and sponsorship money, television deals, shirt sales, ticket sales, media marketing money, website hits, and all the other revenue streams, are just as much as part of the fight as out scoring your opponent.

To say “football is dead” because my team isn’t winning everything isn’t fair on the fans who still love the game for a bit of skill and entertainment. But that’s not me personally. I’ll watch Arsenal any time, any place, on any shitty stream, at any ungodly hour. That’s been the norm for as long as I can remember, well, as long as I’ve been granted access to satellite telly and high speed internet (more cash cows for football mind you.)

Whether you like to admit or not, Arsenal are suffering from this crisis of existentialism, and if they’re not, they should be. The owners, the board, the manager, players and fans need to ask themselves, is this what we are going to be? Attempting to catch up with clubs who will always have a head start on us? Or are we going to eventually be fighting off West Ham and Tottenham for a Champions League place, when they both move to new stadiums and in turn have finances that may only be a level below us. Which, as long as it is a level financial playing field, they can catch us and be on a level playing field.

Good for the games competitiveness for sure. Great for the neutral fan. But I’m sorry, F*** them. I care about Arsenal, limbo is unacceptable. We should always be trying to win things and contend for titles, that was the goal when we built the stadium, to catch Europe’s big boys. Understand, this has not been brought on by a shaky start to the season, I had this blog in mind for a long time coming, but I just didn’t know how to word it. I’m not sure I have done my mind any justice with this article as it is. But I know we are playing a game it seems we just can’t win.

What has to change is more than Arsenal, and no. I’m not naive enough to believe if football went the right way, we deserve or would be a more dominant force. Things are this way because certain aspects of our world are this way. “The world game” it’s often called, funny how what powers the world also powers football, MONEY. And while we have a lot of it, their will be those above us who have more. And more often than not, they will reap the spoils.

That is my existential crisis with Arsenal. What are we doing? What’s the long term goals? Can we compete the right way with those clubs who have more? So many questions and it can be a little deterring, but it’s something myself and many others ponder in our existence as Gooners. I will never want to be winning every trophy every season, where is the fun in that? Competition is fun, and interesting, but when the competition are holding you away at arms length while you randomly swing at them and never land fatal blows, this Gooner questions just how much we can take?

Finally, let it be known. I’ll never pack it in as a Gooner and stop supporting. But it does get a little depressing when I think like this from time to time. We live for those 90 minutes a few times a week. And as long as they’re on offer, I, like many will be cheering for the boys long in to my later life. I just wish things were a little different I suppose…

Jake also writes about Arsenal on his own site, The Loaded Cannon – go check it out!

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